Back in the 8th grade, I played softball. I played on two teams and loved every minute of my time behind the plate calling the pitches and getting dirty in collisions. I was the only member of my family who played a sport, and I couldn’t imagine playing anything else.
Then one spring day in social studies class, my athletic trajectory was interrupted. It was an interruption that would change the course of my life.
It came by way of my social studies teacher, a man fresh out of college track and field. This teacher encouraged me to go out for the cross country team in the fall of my freshman year. “You’re fast,” he told me. “And running is a sport that will be with you for a long time.” I knew I was fast, but the thought of running on a team had never even crossed my mind until those words came out of his mouth.
And I’m glad they did.
Twenty years later, I’m still running (and placing) in races. And I owe it to a man who pointed out—and encouraged—something in me that I hadn’t seen before.
A Church that Encourages Church
What if fresh expressions of church could be encouraged in the same way I had been encouraged—to see something that hasn’t yet been seen?
In any local church, regardless of size, there are people we don’t quite know what to do with. They may have attended our snazzy membership class and taken an hour to fill out our spiritual gifts inventory. They may show up every week or on occasion. They may be serving in a ministry area, or they may quit a ministry area, frustrating us to death. Often, we try to assign them tasks and have them fill spots, but it just doesn’t seem to work. We ask ourselves, our staff, and our friends, “What should we do?”
Perhaps the answer is to call them out and equip them to start a fresh expression of church. Here are five people you might find in your church who may have the potential to be pioneers.
1. The Kid Who’s Aged Out of Youth Group
You know him or her and the parents. After graduating high school, she’s stuck around town to work or go to a local college, and there are a few of her peers still around. She doesn’t quite fit into an adult class or small group, yet she’s too old to be part of youth group—so she becomes a helper.
But what if her ministry was to start a fresh expression of church in her context—with folks at work, at school, or part of her arts or sports community? What if the ‘kids’ who’ve aged out of youth group could be encouraged to be missionaries among others their age who are not connected to Christ?
2. The #1 Sports Fan
He wears his team’s jersey just about every Sunday, and he’s in fifteen fantasy leagues to date. His wife dragged him to church initially, but he’s seen the impact it’s had on his kids.
She’s always dressed in leggings, running shorts, or team gear when she comes to Bible study. Sports enthusiasts rarely cheer or play alone. What if this man’s or this woman’s ministry could be combined with the sports he/she loves instead of being something like just being in charge of altar flowers or counting the offering?
3. The Scout Dad or Mom
Ten of the fifteen kids in her troop don’t go to the church they meet in—but she knows all the parents and even has had dinner with several. He goes golfing with the other Scout Dads a couple times a year. These folks have connections with families who know about your worship services, yet are not inclined to go.
Yet, Jesus still loves them, and the Scout Mom or Dad loves them too. Why not start a gathering for parents and families who love the outdoors and may be open to spiritual things—just not your church’s services?
4. The Family That Just Moved to the Other Side of Town
You almost gave up on them when they told you they were moving. They’ve continued attending Sunday worship, but that’s just about all they can do with the church due to the distance. Instead of mourning their lack of involvement in a small group, what if you encouraged them to get to know their neighbors and start a fresh expression of church where they have been planted?
5. The Patron
The last time you went out to lunch with him there wasn’t a person in the local establishment he didn’t know. Every Saturday morning you can be sure to find her in her spot at the coffee shop down the street—and the barista already has her drink ready.
The disciples most often ministered in the midst of food and drink, and the persons I’ve just described can do the same. Having already won the confidence of the restaurant’s manager makes it easy to arrange a gathering place. What if he/she saw the waitstaff and other frequent visitors as people with whom God has strategically connected them?
What Do You See?
Sometimes all it takes is recognizing and pointing out potential in someone—especially if the idea is outside the usual thinking pattern of the person. After all, that’s exactly what Jesus did as he walked the beach and past tax collecting booths.
What if your church could begin to disciple a fresh community in the same way?
Kris Beckert is a Mission Strategist/Trainer with Fresh Expressions US. She serves as Pastor of Innovation and Multiplication at Salem Fields Community Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia.