Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Church Progress - Frustrations, Decisions, Excitement!

Well, I've done a lot of posts about emerging stuff, and art stuff, and personal stuff. So now I'm going to do a series of posts about our church plant, Communion of the Arts.

We started Sept. 15th, 2005 with a seven member core team. I dropped the term "start team" because I always had to explain what it meant, and I just found it easier to say core team.

We decided to spend our team meetings on Sunday afternoons praying, planning, and organizing all the things we would need to eventually start our Sunday morning worship gatherings in late February 2006. We also started a Thursday night meeting to draw in any others that might like to come along. We expressly stated that we would be putting most of our energy into the Sunday planning, and just let the Thursday thing be casual, and see where it goes.

Here is what has developed and evolved; Throughout the fall, our Thursdays would get a number of new people, but they would never come back, we were meeting at a space in the East Village, and it was a little big for our little group. Also, we were working hard on planning and organizing, and after a bit we started planning some fund raising.

I was very frustrated that none of the people would return a second time. We had like five weeks in a row where there were always new people, but not one returned. For a group that was planning on making relationship and community/communion it's focus (along with the arts) that was very super frustrating. I was not happy with that, and I was not happy with the big space we were meeting in because it didn't feel intimate. So, we decided to move to a smaller space in the building where I live in the Times Square area. It's essentially a living room, with a couch and some chairs, just like a home church or home fellowship group.

And then after that move, our meetings got even smaller, with no new people coming!! Oh boy, did I make a mistake to move?

At the same time, our other planning and organizing efforts were coming up often on the short end. Our hopes to do some fundraising were not going well, we realized that the process of applying for grants was going to be very labor heavy and we didn't have the experience, and it wasn't going to produce funds anytime quickly, so we decided to stop that until we had someone with more expertise to help us.

We decided we would produce a small brochure, and a booklet because we felt that some of our ideas and hopes for what we would be were not really widely understood, and if there were people out there who might vibe with us but couldn't because they didn't know what we were doing, the printed stuff would get the word out to them. But we didn't even have two nickels to rub together to pay for a printer or for a printing house, so we decided to do a small mailout to all of our friends and family to help us raise a quick $2000 to help cover those costs.

That went fairly well, we got it done and mailed out, and raised almost $2000. But the money came in slowly over a number of months, so rather than having a solid two grand, we had a trickle that was used for a number of things that came up as we were going along, and in addition I was having a hard time writing the booklet. I have felt that I needed to really put together some of the core ideas that God had been birthing in my heart over the last seven years, and especially in the last two, but it hadn't all come together in a way that was easy for me to express simply. So, I was spending a lot of time thinking and writing. I eventually made some breakthroughs in my understanding at the end of the year, and after writing close to a hundred pages, I had finally figured out how it all goes together. However, we were thinking of our booklet as being 5-10 pages. I finally realized that it would have to be at least 20. Now I have it all organized, and I'm in the process of reducing some seventy pages to twenty or so. I think I may even be able to get it down to ten, but I'm not sure yet.

So, back to the second half of the fall. The team was getting frustrated that not a lot of our plans were coming along well. I was struggling to produce the booklet. Fundraising had been okay, but not great. Thursdays were not going anywhere.

Our times of prayer were the one good thing. We were committed as a team to pray for an hour together every Sunday during our meeting. That is of course the one thing that has pulled us through - God on our behalf. God on behalf of his Kingdom.

The other frustrating thing was that I am not good at running planning meetings. I'm so relational and organic in my core, that we would waste too much time talking, and not get enough done, and with the overall lack of progress in ongoing plans, it was frustrating toward future planning.

Earlier in the fall, when we had talked for the first time about our budget, one of our folks who is such a classic detoxing emergent, who leans towards the house church movement with no money involved, became overwhelmed by the talk of money. To me it was very little talk about money, but to his sensitive institutionally-broken-heart, yearning to emerge from the mess evangelicalism had made in his world, it was a little too much. He stopped coming.

After a little break, he stared coming around here and there, but for all intents and purposes, he was off the core team. But we all loved him so much, and because he has still been coming to Thursdays mostly, we have kept him as a core team member at large. He is right alongside Steve and Josh of StupidChurchPeople, and I believe when he finishes detoxing he will emerge into an imaginitive leader in his Lord's Kingdom. In the meantime, he is a dear brother who's presence keeps me focused on the need to provide a new place, and to help others detox, and to avoid new follower's of Christ having to go through what he's gone through. It's not just ideas on blogs, it's real people with real spiritual anxiety and in some cases spiritual death that require us to emerge to something else. (As a personal note, I did my detoxing during the late nineties and early 00's, and it was deeply painful, and I didn't even know that something new could happen, so the rise of our arts group the Haven, was like my emerging. Then later my calling to start a church for artists kind of merged with the emerging conversation, and here I am).

Okay, so many details to add, let me get back on the main stream here. So, we were frustrated, Thursdays were not going well, and then three main ideas that came from the team, and that totally resonated with who we were came and pulled us back on track.

First, we were not having good Sunday meetings, and one of our team members is good at organizing meetings in a real creative and efficient way. He proposed this plan to me, for a five step process that would build our relationships, keep us creative, and get us more focused. I was thrilled, and totally in touch with my weakness, so he became the meeting guider.

Then, we were talking about Thursdays and what to do, and someone on the team said, "why don't we take turns leading them" Boom! I knew that was right. My whole method has always been about raising up people and their gifts, and being more in the background myself, so we planned the calendar with each team member taking a turn leading.

Here's what had happened; Because the team was generally frustrated, and Thursdays were not that great because we had agreed to put most of our energy in Sundays, and the Thursdays were the poor stepchild, the team had kind of naturally lost energy to invite people - so nobody was coming. All of a sudden, when the team members were each going to lead a week, they had a renewed reason to invite their friends to come see "their week". At the same time, the Thursdays had new energy from all of their great creative ideas, and so even more people were coming. Then the great miracle...people started coming back a second time!

Third big decision. We had decided in November, that our Sunday start date was going to be Feb. 24th, but we were facing many frustrations about our planning, and it wasn't looking like it was going to be very fun over the next couple of months killing ourselves to arrive on February 24th and suddenly put up a meeting that had never existed from scratch. So much to plan, so much to imagine in the abstract.

So, when all of a sudden in December, our meetings were getting bigger and so much more exciting on Thursdays (10-15 people), with people returning, we had a sudden revelation one Sunday afternoon.

What were we doing killing ourselves to plan some meeting on Feb. 24th, that would suddenly spring up out of nothing, when we had this fun and exciting thing going on Thursdays now?? Two of the team members were like, "we are trying to be a relational centered church, and we are tending towards the organic, rather than the planned and executed business church model, so why do we have to be so stuck on a date in February. Why don't we just start on Sundays when we are ready"? Bingo, blammo, Booooiiiinnnnnggggggg!!!!!! It suddenly all became clear.
We were totally wrong to be focusing on Sundays. We had a great exciting thing happening on Thursdays that had come and scooped us up out of our frustrations and so encouraged us right when we needed it. We needed to let go of planning for a future Sunday, and focus on building what we were doing on Thursdays!

Once we saw it, it was just so clear, it was hard to imagine what we had been thinking one moment earlier.

So, these three decisions, imbued with prayer, had led us forward. We improved our Sunday meeting process, which led to creative thinking. We broadened the leadership structure and energy - instead of me leading Thursdays, we had everyone leading Thursdays. That success and the energy it brought, allowed us to see the light that we were focusing on the wrong thing, and to re-focus on building the Thursday night gathering.

So, when will we move to Sundays? The little formula I have come up with is that when we have enough liturgy in place, and we have around 30 people, we will move to Sundays.

So now, our Sunday afternoon team meeting, instead of being a frustrating, work heavy meeting of planning abstractly for a future meeting that has never existed, is now a joyous and creative meeting of building into the exciting things that are happening on Thursdays.

As some of you may know, our plan for this church all along has been that we will be a community of artists of faith that will be tasked with doing the heavy lifting of creating an entirely new worship liturgy for the body of Christ in the West.

If you think about it, the entire worship liturgy - all the words spoken, music played or sung, the physical design of the space - all of it is art. I do not think that we can emerge into whatever it is we will one day be, by dragging our 30 year old pop worship music, and 20 year old seeker sensitive mass media stuff with us. To emerge we must have an entirely new worship liturgy. The impulse to go back in time and "mine" vintage forms of liturgy is, I believe, a response to this reality; that we can't go forward with what we have, so we go back to find what we used to have. Here's the dilemma; what we used to have is not enough, and even much of it that can be used has to be slightly modified to be used, and that is an artistic process. (Not to mention that our entire culture needs a renaissance of artistic excellence and so we could help with that).

So, whether we create new stuff or mine old stuff, we need a serious amount of hard artistic work to be done. Artists all over the country will be involved in this, but because here in New York City we have this huge number of artists, and artistic resources, we believe we are called to play a leading role in this. We will kickstart it, and we will do a lot of the work, but we hope and expect that others will join in all over the place. And in fact, some of those others who want to join in, will end up moving here to New York City to join in because of the community and energy we have here.

So, one of our future processes is to have liturgy creating teams. A word team (all the words, prayers, creeds, etc.), a music team, a space team (visual, interior, architectural), a performance arts team (for integrating various forms like dance and drama). All these various things will be worked on and integrated into the public worship liturgy.

So, now that we as a team are focusing on Thursdays, what we have essentially become is the first liturgy creating team. We are still small, so we will do it all. Once we grow larger, we will begin to multiply out into the different teams.

So, what we do is to plan and create the Thursday meeting. To write a prayer we can all say out loud, to plan the music, to prepare a bible dialog of some sort, etc.

The first round or so of core team people taking turns leading Thursday, it was kind of all up to them, now that we have arrived at this new understanding, we will have a point person each week, but we are all working on it together.

Now, instead of being a home fellowship group in feel, we are going to start evolving into a worship gathering in feel, over the coming months. Once we have enough of that in place (and the music is the biggest challenge right now), and we have around 30 people or so coming weekly, we will move to Sundays (mornings or evenings will depend on what space we get).

So, that's pretty good update of our fall. We are very excited right now, God is bringing some great people, and we are all just getting to know each other and become a community.


Cindy said...

Thanks, Jeff. That filled in LOTS of blanks. It's feast of famine with you, huh? ;-)

Cindy said...

that should read feast or famine. sigh.

Zeke said...

Cindy, I think you inadvertently came up with a great rock band name, or at least a great album name.