If my church shut down, would the community wonder where we went?

By Andrew Munneke

Three people—me, my wife, and a friend from seminary—moved from Dallas to Fayetteville in 2013 with the purpose of planting a church. I didn’t know Fayetteville very well. I had never lived there, nor did I know a lot of people in the city, but we sold possessions and packed up what we had and moved to Arkansas.

Why? Because there were lost people there and the Gospel compelled us to go.

Most people don’t know this, but 18 percent of Fayetteville’s population are church-goers, which means 82 percent are unchurched. This also means 1) there is an obvious disconnect between believers engaging with the unchurched, and 2) there are large pockets of people here who don’t have a relationship with a Christian. That was something I couldn’t ignore.

Fayetteville is also a very global area with Walmart Corp. and the University of Arkansas. People and students come from all over the world, stay here for a short season, and then go back home. the-hill-church-logo

Let the missional opportunity of that sink in. We can impact the nations in our own backyard!

Another major reason we were drawn to Fayetteville is the projected growth of the area. By 2040, Northwest Arkansas is supposed to grow by 58.3 percent, meaning the population of Northwest Arkansas and Little Rock will be the same. Who will win? I don’t know, but that’s the projection. It’s an interesting reality.

Here’s the thing. You can always run stats until the cows come home because, yeah, we can find out percentages about the unchurched. But what’s more important is what is keeping the other 82 percent of people from setting their foot in the church.

{ What are people’s emotional, spiritual, etc. reasons for not setting foot in the church? Those questions can only be answered through conversations. }

What is their reason? Sure, why are the churches there not reaching them, but what are these people’s emotional, spiritual, etc. reasons? Those questions can only be answered through conversations. That was big for us.

So our initial model for a church was building around this question: What would our church look like if we understood that we are sent missionaries to the lost people of our city?

The Vision of Presence

We knew going in that making an impact in Fayetteville was something only God could do. It wouldn’t be my fancy vision, not my zeal for this or that, not my gifts or talents, but only the Spirit of God working.

Step one in reaching Fayetteville was prayer. My wife and I, our friend, and another couple all gathered in my living room to pray just the five of us. This prayer gathering was us literally saying that we believed this church was going to make Kingdom impact, and to do it we needed His Spirit. (And that wasn’t just a one-time prayer; we continue to have these prayer meetings on the first Wednesday of every month.)

The next step was casting a compelling vision for why Fayetteville needed our church. Not that established churches weren’t doing their jobs, but we considered the bandwidths where we could meet needs that other churches’ bandwidths didn’t.

One way we did this was by asking, “What is the brokenness in the city? What are some of the areas that need the Gospel and need Gospel work done?”

{ Step one in reaching Fayetteville was prayer… us literally saying that we believed this church was going to make Kingdom impact, and to do it we needed His Spirit. }

We saw certain areas of Fayetteville that were poor and impoverished and didn’t have a church presence. Churches were going in, serving these people, and coming out, but they were not an incarnational presence. These churches were doing a good job making a needs-transaction, but we wanted to meet a self-worth need. We thought having an incarnational presence could really be a big factor in reaching these people.

From the beginning, our church has had the desire to be incarnational. In our early gatherings, we met in our house. Later, in our first location, we met in a shopping center, but we felt this angst. We were in a very visible spot, but here’s the reality: it was hard to build intentional relationships with people who needed us. This need outweighed our desire to be seen, so we sacrificed visibility to live incarnationally and moved to an old church building in a neighborhood.

So all of that to say, we started what we call Gospel-Communities. We did this first because the Gospel community gathers people and then sends people out. We started in June 2013, and by January 2014 our first Gospel-Community multiplied into three Gospel-Communities and we were ready to launch our services. 

service-launch-january-2014
Our shopping center location at the time of the launch. 

A City on a Hill

This month we are celebrating three years at The Hill Church! We have changed things that we wrote on the whiteboard three years ago, and we might change things in the future. But we know our city, our neighborhood, and who we are called to serve better.

Church planting isn’t what I thought it was—pastors who know more about what they are against than what they are for, or youth pastors who couldn’t be promoted any higher in their church. There is a necessity for it, and the book of Acts explains that clearly.

andrew-preaching-2

Church plants are 60 to 80 percent more likely to reach the unchurched. In other words, church planting is the best way to reach unreached people. Knowing that church planting is the best tool we have to reach the unchurched is a pretty strong conviction for me.

The number one purpose of a church plant should be to reach the lost.

Something we have said since the beginning is this: If our church shut down, who would knock on our doors wondering where we went? That is the city on the hill that vanishes, like a light that goes out in a dark place. This truth has led us to not only build relationships with people across the street but also at the community center next door to us.

I don’t think we shine as bright as a huge light, but the neighborhood feels our presence. I hope that we are being enough of a light for the people around us so that if we were to shut down, the lack of a Gospel presence would be felt.

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