Grassroots Discipleship: Five Reasons to Join a Church-Plant Instead of an Established Congregation
Six months ago I decided I was unhappy with my church. As a young professional in my early 30’s, I felt stifled by an organization that was already set in its daily activities. I asked if I could get involved, and I had to wait for training classes or for positions to open up before I could serve. On top of that, everybody in the large congregation already knew each other and had formed bonds. While they were friendly towards me, I felt like a stranger. Since their habits were already established, I felt like a seed planted beneath a tangle of vines, with nowhere to grow and no way to reach the sunlight.
Church, I reasoned, should be a place where I can make a difference. Then, I stumbled upon a local church plant called Connect Church. Today, I want to share with you five lessons I learned that make being part of a church-plant an entirely new level of spiritual experience.
Seriously, it’s like a new awakening for your soul.
One. You can never be faceless because you are the face of the church.
Some people are intimidated by church-plants. As new church-goers, they want to remain faceless in a crowd. Or, as regular church-goers, they like to remain somewhat anonymous. When you are anonymous, there is no pressure to ‘always show up’ for church on Sundays. You can hide from doing service work for your congregation because there are already plenty of people to help out.
But as part of a church-plant, you are immediately a leader. A plant can begin with anywhere from ten to thirty people, and every person plays a vital role. After a few months, when we launched our first Sunday service, each ‘founding member’ had a role to play and we wore badges to distinguish ourselves so new members would know who to speak with about questions.
Could we hide in the back of the service, quietly mumbling the songs to ourselves and texting on our cell phones while the pastor gave his message? Absolutely not!
Distinguished as leaders, it was essential that we lead and inspire, setting the tone for the newer members by sitting in the front, singing loudly and joyfully, and paying close attention to the message. And guess what? By acting as an example for the rest of the newer members, I was more involved in the sermon and got far more out of it than I would have sitting quietly and anonymously in a larger church full of strangers. When you have certain expectations placed on you, you pay closer attention and grow more as a Christian.
Two. Everyone has a vital role to play. You matter.
Very early on, certain tasks were requested of me. Could I please contact one of our partner organizations and see how we could help? Can each member of our group please bring a donation for a local family in need?
It felt amazing to be needed, to be a vital part of this church’s growth. In twenty years, when my church is established, I can look back and say I helped pave part of the foundation.
That feeling of being absolutely necessary to the spiritual growth of your own community is a very important part of growing in Christ. In a larger congregation, I never felt like it mattered to anyone else whether or not I attended. I got up and went because I wanted to be spiritually fed. But the disciples didn’t just listen to the gospel of Jesus; they walked with Him and were each personally valuable to His mission. Being part of a church-plant is close to the roots of Christianity. Each member knows and relies on each other’s skills, talents, and love. You need the church, but the church also needs you.
Three. You will get phone calls and facebook messages when you miss a service.
Some people like to be able to slip out of a service or two without being noticed—hey, I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to this! And sometimes problems and struggles in your personal or even spiritual life make attending church difficult for an extended period of time. When I missed services in established churches, I wasn’t often contacted about it. I won’t lie, though; I preferred not to be contacted. I was ashamed of missing services, especially if I skipped more than one, so I was glad nobody payed much attention. However, this provides an easy ‘escape hatch’ when it comes to your faith. If you can slip away silently, it becomes easy to do so and not to feel guilty about it. After all, nobody really cares anyways, except God. And God isn’t posting on your facebook wall.
Being part of a church-plant holds you accountable. You have duties to fulfill. You church needs you, just like you need your church. It honestly warmed my heart when the first time I missed a service, I got text messages and wall posts from several members of my church, asking me where I was and how I’ve been. We miss you, they wrote. We hope to see you next week!
This kind of gentle encouragement keeps a Christian on the right path because their fellow Christians notice right away when something’s wrong.
And when I missed several services in a row and virtually disappeared—you better believe I started getting phone calls from members and messages from the pastor and his wife asking me when I was going to come back. Yes, I felt guilty for letting my own spirituality slip, but rather than just push it to the back of my mind and let life take over, my church reminded me again and again that they missed me. When God can’t post on your facebook wall directly to say, “Come home. I love you,” it certainly helps when He can speak through the members of your congregation.
Four. Church-plants are still growing, like a living thing. They do not become stagnant.
One thing I had observed about older, established churches is that they find a routine that works and stick with it. Outreach slows down because their membership is large and solid. Church-plants, however, are small and must constantly grow in order to survive. While an established church is like a solid rock, a church-plant is like a living being, growing in the sunlight and rain. That life keeps its members very active in the community.
Since a church-plant needs a flow of new membership, it is constantly reaching out and spreading the gospel. I believe a church-plant has a far better chance of reaching on-the-fence Christians and non-Christians than a well-established church. Established churches, like rocks, exist to give a solid foundation for the flock and their families. Plants, however, exist to reach out and draw in wandering sheep.
Similarly, since newer churches are still growing, they tend to be less stubborn about divisive issues and more open-minded to a variety of interpretations on the tertiary beliefs, like birth-control, same-sex marriage, divorce, home-schooling, and other hot-button issues that drive debate and sometimes schisms in larger churches.
In short, church-plants tend to be more flexible. Therefore, if you have a passion for service or are wary of church-debates, you will find far more discipleship going on in a new church.
Connect Church, for example, is involved with several local non-profits, and we make connections within the community by serving people in need. I remember one particularly exciting night, when instead of having our meeting, we went and surprised a single mom of nine children with groceries, new clothes for each of her children, and rent for the next year. As a team of disciples, we went, and I was personally able to watch the shock and tears in her eyes and hand a bag of clothes to a little girl. Afterwards, some of us stayed and played with the children in the housing project, letting them show us around their playground. I even played basketball (and lost horribly!) with a group of young boys in the community center. This is the kind of work I imagine the disciples doing: Not merely sitting in service every Sunday, or serving within their church, but actually going out into the world, finding the sick and impoverished and weak, and holding their hands, watching them smile, offering them compassion.
Five. Church-plants foster an incredible sense of spiritual community.
In my life I have had a handful of truly amazing spiritual experiences, when I can literally feel the hand of the Holy Spirit reaching into the room. My church had a “Leadership Intensive” weekend, during which we all lived together, worshiped together, played together, and broke bread together. The twenty of us sitting around in the living room, singing songs and projecting our intentions for what we prayed our church would accomplish in the following years. It wasn’t a grand congregation of two-thousand people, singing with an operatic organ or the jazzing melodies of a church band. Instead, it was twenty people with a unified vision, singing together while Josh played the acoustic guitar.
During that weekend, we made Cook-Out runs and watched YouTube videos together. Where as in most churches, my pastor was always the man who preached up on stage during Sunday service, in this church-plant my pastor is Jason, who passed me the football when I scored a touchdown out in the park. We all know each other. We’re a community. And he said, during his final message that weekend, “In twenty years when our church is thriving at two-thousand members, we will still all look back and remember this weekend and say, ‘Hey. Do you remember that weekend, before we even launched, when we all hung out and worshiped at Neal’s house?’” You see. In a church-plant, it’s personal. And when he spoke to us about his vision for our church, about how God has been speaking to Him and to us, we all cried together.
The Bible says: For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them. That weekend, we asked the Holy Spirit to join us as we worshiped and sang. Together, twenty people, gathered in Neal’s living room, praying for God to join us and bless this church. As we sang, the acoustic guitar plucking, grassroots, growing, reminding us that we were a living body of Christ, we sang: Holy Spirit, you are welcome here. Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere. Your glory, God, is what our hearts long for, to be overcome by Your presence, Lord.
The guitar playing, our small group raising our hands and raising our voices, I felt the spirit moving. Connect Church, small but with big dreams, was alive. God was with us.
I’m certainly not saying there’s anything wrong with established, large churches. These churches are the solid rocks, the foundation and homes for thousands of Christians. However, reading the Bible as a child, I was always drawn to the lives of the disciples. I wanted so desperately to know what it was like to throw away my possessions and just walk around the world with Jesus and a group of close companions, spreading the word and providing love and care for those in need. In a church-plant, I have found that kind of life. There’s work to be done, and for you Christians (and even non-Christians) who are wishing for a feeling of community and closeness, or even who are longing to do more outreach and humanitarian aid, and who want to help shape the foundation of a church-home for future generations—this is your chance. There are dozens of church-plants in the Triangle area. Let’s get to work.