Chris Backert

Christ is Not a Stationary God in Central Pennsylvania

In the center of the Commonwealth, something is happening.

Several months ago, Jeff Neikirk, a Church Council Leader supporting a fresh expression of church out of Zion Lutheran Church in Lancaster, PA told us, “Christ is not a stationary God. He is out in front of us. He is already 5 miles down the road. It’s up to us to follow.”

His words are an accurate witness to the activity of Jesus in the state made famous by William Penn.  Something is happening.

A Faithful Witness in the Post-Christian Era

Within the small corner of the ministry world that fresh expressions occupies, we can see the incredible movement of the Holy Spirit taking place throughout the Capital Region as the church is re-imagining itself to become a faithful witness to the historic gospel in our Post-Christian era.

A few weeks ago, a third Vision Day was held in Harrisburg and the conversation is heating up.  Methodists, Lutherans, American Baptists, and Catholics joined the Evangelical Congregational Church, the Brethren in Christ, the Nazarenes, Charismatics, and Non-Denominational church leaders in grappling with the realities facing the church in North America.

Michael Beck, Lead Pastor of Wildwood United Methodist Church in The Villages, FL joined National Director of Fresh Expressions, Chris Backert to talk practically about transformation that a mission-based approached to congregational life can make alongside more traditional practices.

Beck shared the story of Wildwood UMC, a 180 year-old congregation, that was revitalized largely through taking a fresh expressions approach to its community.  There, a struggling congregation of 40 has transformed into a congregation of 300, with 2 worship services and 6 fresh expressions of church ranging from a fresh expressions in a Moe’s Burrito Grill to a Tatoo Parlor Church and many others.  Beck shared how the development of a “Mixed-Economy” of church was vital to the renewal and growth of Wildwood.

National Director, Chris Backert shared about the opportunity that exists around our regular, everyday congregations, if they can see  the decline in church involvement to be a time of great harvest and if they can transform their mental model of church from being strictly the people of God gathered to the people of God dispersed – together.

Vision Day participants heard from two churches – Community Evangelical Church in Reading, PA and First United Methodist in Williamsport, PA – that are starting multiple fresh expressions of church.  Both of these congregations are growing churches with multiple worship services.  In fact, First Methodist is the largest church in its region.

Both of them shared the need to integrate the mixed-economy within their congregations because of their commitment to reach people that will never come to a worship service on Sunday.  Local participants at the Camp Hill location also shared stories of everyday church people starting a Thrift Store with no funds that is now reaching 500 people and is looking to start a Dinner Church, to a new fresh expression forming around the Horsebreeding community and a Catholic parish considering decentralization into mission communities in order to reach it’s wide geographic territory.

A story was also shared of a Methodist congregation in attendance that had been in decline and without a pastor.  Yet, the Lord provided a prophetic vision to a congregation member that one day the church building would be full of people of all different colors.  This was a surprising word to a largely white congregation until they found out they would be getting a new pastor from India!  Today, Jesus is at work with power in that community.

Other Happenings Across Central PA

Vision Days are part of a series of opportunities for churches to look toward the future in Central PA.  In addition to a Vision Day in the Williamsport region in late March and in the Pottstown area in early April, an ecumenical gathering in partnership with the Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg focused on “Re-Imagining the Family for Mission” is planned for mid-March.

Conference organizers say:

The Amore Project helps the whole Church rediscover the family as the domestic church and the New Testament ‘oikos’ as a center for community and mission. Amore trains married couples to embrace their marriage as a sign of the gospel and a calling to minister among those who are far from God. 

The theme of the 2017 conference, “Bringing Church Home: Reimagining the Family on Mission” focuses on the goal of releasing a movement of married couples who live as agents of Christ’s self-giving love. Believing that mission often arises when the people of God seek reconciliation in the broken places, the conference will help attendees seek a great awakening in homes, networks, neighborhoods and families.

This first of it’s kind event will bring leaders who want to recover the witness of the family together from Catholic, Orthodox, Anabaptist, Protestant, and Charismatic backgrounds.

Jesus is up to something here.

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Chris Backert

Chris Backert

Working with church leaders to develop new expressions of Christian community is the passion of Chris’s life. In addition to his role as National Director of Fresh Expressions US, he serves with the Baptist General Association of Virginia the area of church planting and serves as the Director & Organizational Architect for Ecclesia, a national network of missional churches. Previously, he served as pastor of New Life Christian Fellowship, a large university congregation in Blacksburg, Virginia. Chris holds a D.Min. in Missional Church Leadership from Fuller Theological Seminary. He lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with wife Rachel, daughter Elliana and son Jase.


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