Before You Start a New Church Plant

"Are you starting a church, Heather?"  My friend Richard gently asked me as he dropped his daughter off for me to watch today.  "What?" I asked, puzzled.  Church wasn't a topic we talked much about together.  "Well there was a flyer on your gate, and I wasn't sure if it was an ad or was yours..." he trailed off.  I flew out, always curious about churches and their advertising.  After four years of church shopping to find our new church home here in Valparaiso, Indiana I was practically an expert on church marketing.

"You Bring your peeps, we'll bring ours!"  It was a super cute door hanger with sugary marshmallowy peeps on it.  The church was Rolling Hills Vineyard Church.  CURSES!  I'd wished there was a Vineyard Church as I visited my friend's church just two weeks ago.  But I already have a church.  I have a Valparaiso church I love and I am investing in and I love what God is doing in it.  

We looked long and hard at churches here in Valparaiso, Indiana.  We went most Sundays and even got involved, started investing in a few before realizing they were not for us.  Fine churches, all of them:  Valpo First United Methodist Church, Bridgepoint Church, Valparaiso Community Church, Gracepoint Church, Valparaiso Nazarene Church, Hobart Unitarian Church, Calvary Church, Crown Point First United Methodist Church, Lifebridge Church, GCC Laporte Church, New Song Church, Living Hope Church and several that are closed now.  If we hadn't found a church home yet we would check out this Rolling Hills Vineyard Church, Faith Church, Bethel, Acacia Church,  any others that cropped up.  All of them could be Wonderful churches.  Wonderful people following after God as best they know how.  BUT.

But.

I see all these tiny, struggling churches.  There are ten, thirty, maybe forty-five people there on an Easter Sunday.  With all the churches we visited I kept feeling, and kept asking, "Why don't you all join together?"  One answer is that each Pastor feels called by God to start a church.  Their church.  Honestly with how our society is don't we ALL need to do that?  We all want everything just the way we want it.  We want our God experience to be that customer service oriented too.  Don't we?  I was that way.

I ask the question, "Little New Church Plant, is God truly calling you?"

If you are leading or worshipping in a tiny little church and do not feel FED, do not feel YOU are living out a faith that gives God's love to others, maybe talk with God again.   

Maybe God put you there just for a time.

Gosh, how can we really know?  I think I hear God leading me one way, and after the fact, he probably wasn't even involved in the conversation.  Maybe it's just me, but what my heart wants often leads me past what God has for me in that moment.  This was true in our church search.

I wanted to wear jeans, rock out to praise & worship, bring a gay or pierced or three headed friend without anyone blinking an eye.  I wanted to cuss, apologize, and still be valued.  I wanted to drink my coffee during the service.  I wanted to be needed and I wanted to hear the Word of God taught, talked about and offered as a challenge.  I wanted to feel alive in my faith, to grow and change and feel God's presence in my life.  I wanted to live a life that demonstrated God's presence in my selfish little heart.  I wanted what I mean to give others when I speak to a group of people:  To make them laugh, cry, and Do Something Different.

We ended up joining the church we had visited during our first few months here in Valparaiso.  After going and praying and struggling and feeling so lost without a church home we revisited the church from the beginning.  I realized, as everything slid into place for us, as I felt God's peace and felt Him at work in our lives this is the right church for our family.  I can also see it was not right for us until I went everywhere else.  

I pursued looks, good music, strong teaching.  I went to churches where everyone was younger and prettier.  I let my self be amused by sparkle and showmanship.  At the end of our church hunt we found the church that gives actively into our community and calls each of its members to do the same.  Just as we joined, as God would have it, they began implementing Mark Waltz's "First Impressions" program and book.  I became a Christ Follower in Mark Waltz's church, Granger Community Church.  How awesome that the church we join (at long last!) uses what I think makes my past church Great!  God knew what he was doing with me.  This springboards our family into action.  We join a small group.  We serve in Kids Against Hunger.  I speak occassionally doing the Children's mini sermons. John and I are teaching Sunday School.  I'm leading the Modern MOMS Ministry any mom of any age can come to no matter if they go to our church or no church at all.  And of course, we are on First Impressions Team to create a welcoming atmosphere for new guests.  God is using us, our family, even my charmingly loud mouthed daughter Portia to bless people, make them laugh, get them engaged and fired up to love God, to show God's Love to Everybody Else.


What if you had more time to volunteer, help others, and learn more about God?  Dear little new church plant,  what if God wants your passion, your life in an existing church?  What if instead of struggling to pay the bills and stir up new visitors, what if you plugged into an existing church?  I know we want what we want the way we want it, but what if?   What if in our town there were ten strong churches who ACTED like The Church?  Imagine the power God could use to help people if instead of twenty start up churches and five established churches in town, all His followers worked together for His Purpose?

I know some little churches who became Mighty.  I know a home church of twelve people  with a guy named Jesus who changed the world.  I know Big does not mean Good.  Do not misunderstand me, if your church is alive and God is at work, carry on!  Maybe get connected to  ministry with other little churches, with other bigger churches.  A great first step is connecting with the Valparaiso Christian Ministerial  Association.   Talk with God.  Talk with people who love God and will talk with God with you.

I've walked into so many little churches.  I've seen what works and what doesn't from the perspective of a girl who didn't know God, then got grabbed up by God, and cannot stop loving him ever since.  I want to live my faith in a way that makes God real and inviting to everyone who knows me.  I want to preach the gospel without needing words.  I fail.  I try again.  I recommit.  I study the Bible, I go deeper with my friends.  And I am doing all of this in a church home that inspires me.  Thank you God, for leading me to the  life you have for me.  I pray you do this in the hearts of any who read this post too.  It is a joy to feel your exciting peace when I live my life (even clumsily) with my church community and YOU!


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"Sweet Spring Swing" NPR (88.1 WVPE) Radio Commentary with Michiana Chronicles

You can listen to this NPR radio piece by CLICKING HERE

Spring is now here and those fresh, balmy mornings on my front porch have begun.  You may know I have this tiny porch crammed with life: too many chairs, benches and tables, a couple people at any given time, an oversized canine and the decorations!  All around the ceiling I have more kitsch and sassy decoration than a TGI Fridays server has flair.  (Or had flair, apparently they don't do that anymore?) Anyhoo.  I love my porch.  I like that I can kind of be inside and outdoors at the same time.  I feel less lazy somehow, taking my mug of coffee to the front porch instead of the couch.  My little girls prefer it too.  We often carry a haphazard array of items outside to enjoy; breakfast, bubbles, a book. 

And don't get me started about my hammock!  Mother's Day last year was very very good to me.  Now we have a lovely hammock that can support 500 pounds of family cuddling-- though I usually kick everybody out and enjoy it all myself.  The kids needed something other than my hammock to enjoy in the back yard.  

John and I weighed the possibility of a swing set castle treehouse fortress thing.  We saw the prices for those suckers and immediately grew nostalgic for a simple metal pole swing set for the girls.  They are elusive, it seems.  And our yard is the size of a postage stamp.  And we live one block from a lovely park anyway.  What about...no swing set?  Is it unAmerican to not have a swing set in the yard for our kids?  One walk through any subdivision will scream it as part of childhood.  To have your own swingset castle fortress.  What if we just...didn't?  

My husband had saved a ruined tire from his car a year ago with the thought of a simple tire swing.  I thought that might be simply tacky.  And dirty.  I still struggle with my girls getting dirty.  (I know, I know, I am working on it, friends!) A tire swing.  A tire swing!  

After weighing all of our options and fighting the girls out of my hammock again I began to plot.  A tire swing was just what we needed.  Except I'm uncomfortable with heights.  And I don't tie good knots.  John is an Eagle Scout, so tying rope knots would be great if he did it, but if he climbed up a ladder that high he could fall off of it.  I asked my Dad to do it.  I love him a lot too, but...ummm, let's not say he's dispensable, let's say he has more experience and would be less likely to fall off a ladder to his doom.  It sounds better.  (Does it sound better?)

The girls and I headed to Home Depot and chatted up a perfectly nice fellow about the merits of this or that rope for a tire swing.  I settled on a thick, coarse, natural colored nylon rope but didn't buy it.  I was still uncertain about the reality of an old tire hanging in my back yard, so I just took a picture of the rope I wanted with my smart phone.  Love it.  I listened as my five year old daughter Portia quizzed the employee on the different ropes and chains in the aisle.   He did his best to answer her questions with respect and a straight face.  I thought maybe I should be a little nervous about her fascination, but I was once a little girl in a hardware store. I could remember enjoying the rows of trays of tiny metal things and how different the fragrance of a hardware store was from any other store I would visit. 

I also had a tire swing when I was a little girl.  I had practically forgotten this fact until my Dad started climbing up the ladder to hang the rope for the swing.  We had a large wandering yard and great big Oak and Walnut trees on our property.  I do not know how old I was when the tire swing went up (or who was on it when it broke and came down) but I loved it.  I was renewed in my pursuit of a tire swing for the girls.  Cheap and now nostalgic: Yes Ma'am!

Dad got the swing up and ready without falling to his death from the ladder.  We got it the right height.  We got it scrubbed clean.  I had the girls wash the tire with a bucket of Murphy's Oil Soap and water.  I told them it would be white when they cleaned it well enough.   When the swing was up we all took turns yahooing around on it and even my Dad had a twirl.  GLORIOUS!  I also learned a tire swing will swing farther and more haphazardly than a standard swing can.  More fun.

My girls may not have the big wooden activity center of a swing set in their yard, but the park a block away has one.  My girls, they have a dirty old tire swing.  They push each other on it or clamber onto it together with a few stuffed animals of the day.  I watch them as I lounge in my hammock almost jealous of their fun and little girl chaos.  We all smile and revel under a canopy of leaves in the warm Spring sun.

One Simple Organization Tip for Managing Your Mom Time

As I sit in my 'dressing gown'* at the computer I am relaxed and peaceful.  The girls are (hopefully) getting themselves dressed and my coffee is at least lukewarm.   I already cried this morning through Boot Camp class so my hateful workout is over.  I even have my plan for the day written out.

It isn't even 8am yet!

As I wondered what I could offer you with my words this morning, one simple thing came to mind: LAMINATION.

 I love having a daily list, even if I ignore what is on it, but I do not like wasting the paper.  I've used several different Daily Plans I print off of the computer and then toss it in the recycling.

One of my favorite free, printable, daily to do lists is Tsh Oxenrider's "Daily Docket".  You can see it & download it HERE!  I have used this for years (AND NOW IT'S LAMINATED!).  She has several versions of it and it is just wonderful.  I devoured her book "Organized Simplicity" and even my hubby put it on his iPad.  Great changes began in my life thanks to this wunnerful book.  

My friend Tess recently tipped me off to laminate the sheet and just wipe it off each day!  LAMINATION, people.  

Even if you aren't nerdy enough to own your own laminator, you can take a page into any office  store and they can laminate it for you. A Scotch brand laminator like mine goes for $20 at Target and has already earned it's value for me.  

I also fumbled through finding the right markers to use on laminated things: EXPO Vis a Vis WET ERASE markers.  Wet erase means your notes do not smudge or disappear!

I love using this one simple tool to keep myself on track and motivated. Want to hear more?  I've written before about getting organized even with toddlers underfoot.   I would love to hear your solutions and thoughts on the Daily To-Do list we all work with each day. Comment below!

(FYI Comments to a blogger are as good as a cup of coffee, you know.  Cheaper than flowers.  Might motivate me to get back to posting regularly.  If you are into that sort of thing....THANKS FOR READING THIS!)

*Dressing Gown is FabSpeak for bathrobe. (Thanks for this Sleepwear post at Daily Connoisseur!) 


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