So our crew gathered in Philadelphia this past weekend. Here’s a rundown of what happened:
»» On Friday, we put 176 miles on Derek’s car driving around the city meeting with different ministry leaders in Philadelphia. These brothers have years of experience in church planting and church ministry, and so, we were eager to meet them. Overall, it was a great time of introducing our vision, learning about Philadelphia, talking about church planting, building relationships, and being prayed for. Each of these men expressed interest in what we were doing and offered to help in anyway they could. You better believe we’re going to take them up on that. So thankful for their time and willingness to meet.
»» On Saturday, our crew spent the whole day together. After stuffing our faces with 3 different types of quiche, we piled into Saju’s living room and started our morning session. For about two hours, we caught up with each other personally (faith, family, life, church, work, etc) and with what was happening as a group (preaching the vision, exploring the CCCC and Acts 29, seeing a growing interest among Indians, etc). So much had changed since the last time we met and we marveled together at God’s kindness to us over these past few months.
We broke for lunch (stuffing our faces with more of Anu’s food), played some football, and then got back together for what was my favorite part of the weekend. We got out a big dry erase board and started dreaming together. We talked about who we were called to reach, what those people were like, and what a church that was missionally reaching them would look like. Here’s what we came up with so far:
We are planting this church to reach:
› 2nd Generation Indian Americans
› Anyone who doesn’t know Jesus that God gives us access to
› Previously churched folks/Christians who are coming along in their understanding of the Gospel
Many of the people we are trying to reach are:
› Young: either in college, or recent graduates of Philly’s many universities (UPenn, Drexel, USP, etc)
› Educated: many have 2-3 degrees since graduating from high school.
› Professionals: many work as doctors, lawyers, engineers, nurses, etc.
› Young families: couples in their 30s and 40s who have small children
› Higher socioeconomic class: as young educated professionals, many of these guys are wealthy
› Transplants: many have moved to Philly from areas like New York for school, work, cheaper housing, and to remain close to family that still live in NY
› Semi-urban: a lot of these guys go to school in the city, work in the city, recreate in the city, but don’t live in the city – they live in semi-urban-suburban areas outside of the city
› Religious: many have grown up in the church, are very traditional, and are culturally Christian with nominal faith.
› Moral: having grown up near religion, they place a high value on moral behavior and external perfection/performance while ignoring deeper realities within the heart
› Evolving: as the culture changes and with greater assimilation, these folks are constantly changing too (values, beliefs, practices, etc)
A church that was effectively reaching these people would need to be:
› Preaching, teaching, believing, living the Gospel
› Focused on the heart and internals rather than behavior and externals
› Theologically conservative and culturally liberal
› ‘Un-churchy’ and avoiding ‘Christianese’
› Honest, transparent, and genuine; refusing to put on a mask of religious perfection
› Outward faced; constantly looking to the culture and those who are not a part of the church; constantly calling members to mission
› Offering deep Christ-centered (as opposed to ethnic-centered) community
› Committed to planting other churches in Philadelphia and abroad
› Serving the poor and adressing the poverty that is so prevalent in Philadelphia
› Loving and engaging the city of Philadelphia to its redemption
› Evolving with the culture and seeing it as a moving target
› Seeing life and sanctification as a journey and inviting people to walk together
We have so much more to talk through, but as a start, I could get excited about a church like that…couldn’t you?
»» On Saturday evening we had an “Open House” and invited people from the area who were interested in learning more about this vision. And so about 30 adults squeezed into Saju’s living room. (We sent all the kids to the basement. As a side note, man, do these folks have kids! Saju and Anu have 5 themselves. If nothing else works, our strategy for growing the church will be regularly sending them away for a weekend in the Bahamas!) Anyway, I got to present the 40 minute sermon I preached at 7 Mile Road Boston in a reduced-fat 7-minute version. Afterwards, we fielded questions from the room – things like: What denomination will you be a part of? What do you mean by reformed? How will you reach people and why would people come to your church? Are Indians your primary target group? We had good answers to some of these and admitted we were still working through answers to the others. Overall, the night was a great chance to connect with some of the believers in Philadelphia.
Since a part of our vision is the redemption of the city of Philadelphia, we had also invited some other guys who were headed towards church planting in the city. See, we’re not trying to build our own little empire or kingdom. We want to get swept up into this Kingdom work that God is doing in the city. So after I talked about 7 Mile Road, I invited these guys to share their story and their hopes for church planting. You would have loved hearing from them and it was a great time of encouraging other men who were on the brink of starting missional churches.
Ok there’s still more to say – but that’s good for now. By Saturday night, we were wiped…but even more excited than ever.