This is the message I preached at The Well tonight about the direction that we will be shifting in. Big shifts, but necessary and exciting ones.
There once was a boy who had a dream. From a young age, he had the same dream of a big, beautiful church building with the most magnificent steeple that seemed to touch the heavens. Every night, as he would close his eyes, and nod off to sleep, he would find himself standing before this majestic church, staring upward at the towering steeple, sparkling in the sunlight. As the boy grew into a man, he continued to dream of this church until it was at the forefront of his mind, even when he was awake. He knew that his task in life would be to turn this church from a dream into a reality. So one day, the man decided that the time had come to build the church with the big, beautiful steeple. He dove right in and gathered all of the supplies he thought he needed, and he started to nail boards together and weld pieces of metal. “This is going to be amazing! This steeple is going to be so tall and beautiful,” he thought to himself. “It will reach all the way to the heavens and all who see it will not be able to help but to see the face of God!” So he worked and worked until he had used up all of the supplies he had gathered. But when he took a step back to admire his handiwork, he came across quite a surprise. Where he expected to see the majestic church of his dreams before him, instead all he saw was a disjointed church steeple laying awkwardly on the ground. He said to himself, “Well, I guess I need to make some adjustments to this steeple. I’ll go and find some brass and copper to make it glisten. I’ll smooth down the rough edges and sculpt in rich detail. Then this will be the church that I have dreamed about for so long!” So he worked and he worked some more. But yet again, when he stepped back to admire his handiwork, he was met again with disappointment. Still, the steeple lay upon the ground. Sure, it was shinier and more polished, but it just didn’t look right, lying on its side. “I know!” the man thought! “I just need to find a pole to help prop it upright! That will fix everything!” So he went, and he found a pole and propped the steeple up. He looked, expecting to finally see his beautiful church, but still, he knew that it was just wrong. Where was the church of his dreams? Why wasn’t it standing here before him, just the way he saw it in his mind as a boy? He took two steps back and surveyed his work. He looked, and he pondered. This time, as he looked, he saw, and at last he understood. There was no building, no foundation. There was nothing for his beautiful steeple to stand upon. The man realized his mistake. He had put everything into the steeple and nothing into the foundation or the walls. So the man covered up the steeple with love and care, setting it aside until the day that the church would be ready for it. He then diligently began to lay the foundation, and as he worked, he smiled to himself and knew that when the steeple finally crowned the finished building, it would be beautiful indeed.
My friends, we are this man. For the better part of a year, we have made this worship service a labor of love. We have been putting our time, our talents, and our money, our hopes, our creativity, and our prayers into growing the worship service of The Well. We have been smoothing the edges and polishing the metal, adding details and trying to make it glisten. But if we take a step back and survey what is before us, I think we would all agree that we do not see the church of our common dream. As most of you know, I was in Florida about a week and a half ago for a training conference. This conference was for pastors who are trying to start new faith communities, whether it is beginning an entirely new church, or creating an extension ministry or a satellite campus like we are here. It was an intense few days where I learned a lot more that I expected going into it. Tonight I want to share with you the biggest realization that I came to, and the most important one that we all need to understand if we are to see this ministry succeed.
So first, let’s clarify what it is that we want with this ministry of The Well. We want to see unchurched and dechurched people come to a living and active faith in Jesus Christ. We want to see a vibrant community of believers grow numerically and spiritually. We want to see that community make an impact in the world around us, demonstrating the transformative power of God’s grace. This has been and always will be what we are laboring for. We want to see that big, beautiful church of our dreams! But here is where our problem lies. We, like the man in the parable, jumped right in to building the steeple. We jumped right in to having weekly worship without laying the foundation that weekly worship needs to rest upon. We started worship without having a plan for the other 6 days of the week, without a plan for intentional spiritual formation, without an idea of what our essential ministries would be. And we started without a critical mass of people. Without these things in place, we have no hope of supporting our beautiful steeple that we have been working to build.
With all of this said, we are going to be making some significant shifts so we can put our effort into building up a strong foundation for The Well. Instead of spending our Sunday evenings in worship, we are going to shift to a time of training and equipping. Sometimes we will open with a song or two, and there will be plenty of prayer happening, but the purpose of Sunday night gathering is going to be different than what we have become accustomed to. During the coming Sunday evenings, I will be sharing with you many of the principles and tools that I have received from some experts in starting new faith communities.
I learned a lot about the time frame and the stages of launching a new faith community, and I want to lay that out for you now briefly, though we will talk a lot more about this in the coming Sunday evenings. A new faith community goes through four different stages before it can successfully go public. We jumped to the last stage without the first three. The first stage is one of simply gathering people together and beginning small groups. This is the stage that we are going to begin now. Our biggest priority is to meet people, to tell them about what we are doing, and to help connect them to other people. My biggest task at this time is networking, but this is not a task for me alone. It is for all of us. Each and every one of us here who wants to see The Well succeed needs to have a keen eye for those people in our lives, those who we know well, and those who we may only just now be meeting. With the focus off of worship for the time being, the focus can now truly be about cultivating relationships.
After this initial gathering stage, we move into a preview season, which will last from 6-9 months, where we begin to build our worship service back up. During this time, we will have occasional worship services, most likely once a month. There are two main goals for worship during this time: to tweak our worship service, the flow, and the atmosphere, and even more significantly for us, to bring people to these worship services. If we do not bring a significant number of people in through these preview services and increase with each one, then we will not be ready to move beyond that stage. During this time, we will also really focus on special events and increasing the number of small groups as well as other ways to continue to connect new people with our hopefully growing faith community.
The next stage is called the exhibition stage. Here, we will start having worship weekly again, and get into the groove of having things every week again. We still need to be working and inviting and connecting people during this time, seeing an increase in the number of people who attend each week. This will last for a month or two. During this time, we need to have all of our essential ministries in place. We will need to have different teams to run worship and hospitality, greeting and the nursery. We will need an audio-visual team, and a setup team. We may discover over the coming months that there are more teams that we need in place for worship. But above all, in order to move from the exhibition stage into the final stage of going public with this ministry of The Well, we will need a critical mass of people, which for us will be around 60 people. This means that the majority of the people who will be here when we launch are not here now. This means we need to focus on finding those people! I know that right now, this sounds like an incredibly daunting and overwhelming task, but that is where we will need to be. Tentatively, we will be at this point at the end of next summer if we move through each stage in a realistic but appropriate amount of time.
You may be thinking, that is so far from now, I cannot wait that long. If you feel that way, I certainly understand. But this is the direction that we must go in if we want to see The Well not only flourish and grow, but also become sustainable.
Please hear me: just because we will not be meeting for weekly worship in the way that we have been for a time, this does not mean that there will be a big void. In fact, what this means is that we will be working even harder and channeling our energy and our effort into other things to make The Well grow. Some of that energy will be going into working on this space through painting and building and changing lighting. We will be working to make this area a more sacred space. Some of our energy will go into forming small groups that pray together and study together. More energy will go into networking and building relationships with the people we are trying to reach. Other energy will go into creating special events to host, whether it is having regular concerts here in this space, or having an event out in the community. And we will spend time working to find ways to serve the community, whether it is raking leaves, helping out kids who are in need, or anything else that we can think of. When cannot rely on invitation to a worship service as our default setting for growing The Well (which obviously is not doing too much for us), we are going to have to get creative about how to build community and invite people to know Jesus Christ, and this is only going to make us stronger.
I realize that I have said an awful lot tonight and that it is a lot to process, but if we want to actually see The Well grow and flourish, then this is a shift that we must make, and we must make it now. This week, take some time to let everything I’ve said sink in. If you find that you are still on board, please be here next Sunday night at 6 pm as we start to lay the first foundation stones. If you find that you are not on the same page and are not prepared to make this journey, then that is ok too and you can walk away. Growing God’s kingdom is a challenge and a journey, but it is an adventure well worth seeking. I invite you to be a part of this new adventure, as we follow where God is choosing to lead us. And let’s not forget the parable of the steeple. So, like the man, let us cover up our own steeple, that is, the worship service, with love and care, setting it aside until the day that The Well will be ready for it. Let’s diligently start to lay the foundation together, and as we do, let’s remember with a smile that when our steeple finally crowns our ministry of The Well, that it will be beautiful indeed.