Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Our “new take on church” is embracing a different strategy to pursue our same old vision in Richfield.

A year ago this week, a person whose opinion I greatly admire told me that I’m a terrible church planter. I took the evaluation as an incredible compliment.

In a blog posted on New Years Day of this year, I made a comparison (apparently quite controversial) between Sunday-centric church and “fabric conditioner.” No, I wasn’t encouraging regular church attendees to stop attending corporate worship gatherings. My thesis was rather simple: the church in the United States has become more obsessed with attendance at church than being the church in the places they find themselves. In response, I opined that local churches need to update their “product” — not only the “packaging” and “branding” — if they want to be compelling signposts of the kingdom and viable members of their neighborhoods and cities.

At the time of the original post’s writing, we at Community Church Richfield (CCR) were having broad discussions about what changes we needed to make in order to more fully embrace our vision to be a church “in, with, of, and for Richfield.” While acknowledging the importance of public worship gatherings for the life of any local church, we wanted our time, energy, and resources to make clear that Sundays are just one of the ways we are publicly present as followers of Jesus in our community.

The months that followed included deep discussions and difficult decisions about what the next right steps are to bring CCR in line with that vision. What follows is a brief sketch of what we’ve learned about ourselves and where we go from here.

For those with neither the time nor interest in reading this entire post, here are the cliff notes.

  • Community Church Richfield is beginning to actively pursue the purchase of a new facility that will function as a community gathering space for East Richfield.
  • This gathering space will not only serve as the new home for our worship gatherings but more broadly as a place dedicated to bringing our diverse population together for the development of relational, physical, and spiritual wellness.
  • To focus our time, energy, and resources on this vision, CCR is vacating its current location and changing our Sunday strategy for the summer or until we purchase and move into our new facility.
  • In the meantime, our new Sunday rhythm will include two weeks per month for in-home Bible study and prayer, one week serving in our community, and one week hosting a public worship gathering.

For those of you who need further context, here’s the story of how we got here.

Two Steps Forward

From our genesis as a church, CCR has held a handful of core values that continue to inform all that we do. While having a generous orthodoxy, one of our central theological convictions is the pervasive work of the Holy Spirit that precedes our entrance into our community. We trust that the Holy Spirit is already on the move and we seek merely (1) to ask the questions necessary to determine where she is already at work and (2) to pray for the courage to follow her in it. This practice involves listening to both the assets and needs of those in our midst and aligning ourselves to contribute to the building up of our community. In theological terms, you might say we are working towards revealing the kingdom of God through the pursuing the renewal of all things or shalom — but that sounds terribly academic, inaccessible, and self-righteous to be of much help. We can put it more simply.

We want to be a church that makes tangible contributions in our city, leveraging our time, energy, and resources to bring out the best in Richfield for everyone who lives here.

Over the past year, we’ve taken off our sandals and directed our gaze to the ground, trusting that — though we were not aware of it — the seeds of something holy have already been planted in the soil beneath our feet. Our patience and diligence have been met with the first signs of something strange yet wonderful beginning to grow upward: a vision for a community gathering space in East Richfield.

You very well might be thinking, “A ‘community gathering space?’ That’s awfully… ambiguous.”

Though the verbiage may have been varied, we have continued to hear among people in our neighborhood of the need for a dedicated space for people to gather. Richfield is a young and diverse inner-ring suburb that offers the accomodations of the urban core without the glitz and price tags of its more gentrified and trendy counterparts. The east side in particular is densely packed with single family homes and apartment buildings, the remainder of the land occupied by for-profit businesses whose primary concerns are understandably their own goods and services, not community development. This leaves nary a place for residents to come together for any number of purposes, whether for meetings, parties, information sessions, or other special events.

The dearth of gathering spaces does not result in a dearth of the desire for the fostering of relationships. Sometimes gatherings are organized in people’s homes, though the small, 1950s-era homes existing in preponderance in East Richfield place limits on the size and comfort of these assemblies. Others try to make use of the public spaces that are currently available, but each of these is liable to the noise and overcrowding of normal business activities. Still others have tried to use social media to foster community among residents and those who share common interests, but technology-based relationships can only go so deep. Resultantly, our diverse population that lives in close physical proximity to one another is often left to feelings of relational isolation.

If only there were a space and a group of people in East Richfield dedicated to bringing people together for the development of our shared physical, relational, and spiritual wellness.

We — the members of CCR and a growing number of other people in Richfield — envision a place in East Richfield whose primary purpose is the fostering of community among our fellow residents. We envision a large, comfortable, and technologically-equipped space open to individuals and groups from across our city who want to bring people together for a variety of purposes. We also envision a place where families can feel comfortable bringing their young children and where old friends can connect over a cup of coffee. Long-term, we foresee a stalwart physical location representative of the strong Richfield community which it serves — a place that celebrates the shared humanity among the residents who call this shared piece of land “home.”

For not being churchy, that vision sure sounds like an outgrowth of the kingdom of God to us at CCR.

One Step Back

Back to that whole “terrible church planter” compliment. The vision I just articulated is a gargantuan one that would require large sums of our time, energy, and resources as a young and small church. In a Sunday-centric expression of church that continues to be the modus operandi in church planting circles, this venture would seem like a major distraction. Shouldn’t we instead focus on what really matters: pumping all we have into fantastic worship music, relevant and entertaining preaching from a charismatic preacher, and a compelling marketing …. errrrr evangelistic strategy to get people in the doors?

True, if that is the type of church plant we are going for, we are doing a terrible job. But that’s not the type of church we’re going for, thus being “terrible” is actually a sign of integrity. Rather than a a new vision, we are convinced that we are changing our strategy in order to move into alignment with the same vision we’ve had all along: to be a compelling and public local expression of the church in Richfield, Minnesota.

And so we are faced with making some major changes.

  • On April 30, CCR vacated its worship gathering space at Transform Minnesota which we called home for nearly two years. While we enjoyed our time there, the building quickly went from an asset to a liability in pursuing our vision of a space we could leverage for the use of the larger community. Why continue to inhabit and pay for a space that neither meets our short-term goals nor fulfills our long-term vision?
  • Without a leased space to host traditionally-defined worship gatherings, we will also be changing up our Sundays for the summer or until we land in our new facility. Two Sundays per month, we’ll meet in a home in Richfield to study the Bible and pray for one another. One Sunday a month, we’ll be out in our community serving. And one Sunday a month, we will host a worship gathering at a location that is yet to be determined. As we work towards what’s next, we believe this plan for Sundays will help us to be most publically present in our community — not to mention help us live out our long-held conviction that worship gatherings are just one of the things we do.
  • Having created more bandwidth with these changes, we’ll be spending the next several months refocusing our time, energy, and resources towards chasing after our vision for a community gathering space for East Richfield. We are in the midst of putting together a business plan, scoping out buildings for sale, and meeting with members of the community to garner their input and support. We are also meeting with individuals and organizations in and around Richfield, asking them to consider partnering with us through generous gifts of financing and/or people. The more people we involve in the process, the more ownership and true cooperation with our community.

The Wrap

Will these changes in strategy work? Will a small church be able to garner the support necessary to achieve our big dreams?

I believe they will. And perhaps they won’t. Even if our vision falls flat and we ultimately fail in our attempts to create a space that promotes relational, physical, and spiritual health in East Richfield, we will go out knowing we have given our best shot pursuing our beautiful vision of what a local church can be.

Yes, I might very well be a terrible church planter. But I’d rather be a church innovator who settles for nothing less than the revealing of the kingdom of God in a community.

Some reading this might wonder how you can help CCR as we move into our next stage. Here’s three profound ways you can help:

  1. Give. Our vision for a community gathering space needs people who are willing to make generous kingdom investments. Do you have some expendable income that you could donate to a community development and church planting cause such as ours? If not you, do you know of individuals or organizations that might be?
  2. Join. This might be an even crazier option than giving. Actively participating in this new kind of church is not easy nor easily palatable for those looking primarily for a worship experience to consume. Being a part of CCR is rewarding nevertheless, connecting you to people who deeply care for one another and be a part of a church that is doing the difficult work of actively following Jesus in the city in which we find ourselves.
  3. Advocate. If not for CCR, then for the cause of being the church rather than merely attending one. We need more kingdom conspirators everywhere! How can you and/or the local church you attend join God in the kingdom work he’s already begun in your neighborhood, town, city, or world?

Feel free to address any questions or comments to