Can I get a drum roll please? In 2016 the upstate of South Carolina will welcome the arrival of a new church called New City Church! Ok, I know exactly what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Another church? You must be kidding me. Are there not enough churches in the upstate of South Carolina?” Fair enough. In fact, if I were reading this for the first time I would be thinking the exact same thing. That’s why I am writing this explanation. We want to be very clear about what motivates us and why the conception, birth and health of New City Church is important to Anderson, SC and the surrounding counties.
So let’s begin by talking about what New City Church IS NOT.
1. The birthing of New City is not a reaction or a protest against other local churches. Many a new congregation has been started because of discord, dissension or just plain dissatisfaction with existing churches. This is not that.
2. The birthing of New City is not an effort to provide a “better option” for people who desire a type of church experience somewhere between cutting edge mega church and small town traditionalism.
3. The birthing of New City is not being driven by an arrogant belief that we somehow know how to “do church” better than those around us.
4. As much as this may sound like a contradiction in terms, the birthing of New City Church is not motivated at all by a desire to establish another local congregation. I’ll explain this in a moment if you’ll hang in there.
So what is New City Church and how have we determined that this is God’s purpose?
In recent years there has been a great revival of church planting across the nation as all of us are aware. Many of those plants have grown into healthy, self-supporting congregations which are effectively and fruitfully proclaiming the gospel and making disciples. I am encouraged by these congregations, however, not all are born out of a desire to serve the same purpose.
As you read the scriptures there are two major perspectives which come into focus regarding the planting of churches. I won’t take the time to give a detailed defense of either at this point, only introduce the philosophies for the sake of explanation. A) Some people strongly believe that new church plants are the key to reaching and discipling people who likely will never be reached by existing churches. Therefore, the argument sounds like this. Let’s plant a church in “area A” in order that we might be able to reach the people in “area A.” The planting becomes the cause and the disciple-making is the effect. B) The other philosophy sounds like this. Let’s faithfully and intentionally seek to “make disciples” and as we do this (the one thing Christ calls us all to do – Mt. 28:19), Jesus, himself, will build his church and grow it in his time and by his own way.
When we speak of planting a church, I am afraid that most of us have developed a preconceived notion of what that means. Commonly, it means buying or renting a building, hanging a sign, forming a band and striving to create a marketable experience for worshippers on the Lord’s Day. And if, in time, we are
able to gather a crowd and provide a quality worship experience that causes people to return and bring their friends, then we have achieved a level of success that many church planters would be happy with, even if the growth of the plant is entirely transfer growth of people moving from other congregations. This is a much different approach than what we see in the Acts and epistles of the New Testament.
In Acts 13 the Bible says the church in Antioch set apart and sent out Paul, Barnabas and their other partners to do the work of the ministry. What follows in the subsequent chapters is a window into the earliest church planting movement in the world and it should serve as the blueprint as the 21st century church navigates the path to gospel advancement worldwide.
A Few Observations from Acts 13…
1. The church led the way (1). Churches plant churches. People don’t plant churches.
2. The Holy Spirit initiated the work of Paul and Barnabas and affirmed this work through the local church (2)
3. Prayer and fasting played a major role in the church knowing God’s will (3).
4. Paul and Barnabas were sent by The Holy Spirit through the church (4).
5. The ministry to which these men were called and sent was the ministry of the word (5).
It doesn’t appear that planting congregations across Asia Minor was ever the intent of the Holy Spirit, the church, or Paul and his associates. However, we do know that wherever Paul ministered churches sprang up like daffodils on a warm spring day. Throughout Acts 13-16 the teaching of the word is the central focus and purpose of Paul’s missionary effort. As he and Barnabas were faithful to proclaim the truth of God’s word into the lives of common, everyday people in the marketplace, synagogues and every place in between, the Spirit opened the hearts of the people to “respond to the things spoken by Paul” (16:14). Consequently, churches came to life where disciples were being made.
Much more could and probably should be said, but for now let me humbly suggest that the church needs to focus more of our effort and resources on biblical discipleship which germinates best in the context of Christian community (another post will be necessary to talk about the importance of community in discipleship) and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish what our man-centered efforts never will.
With this background let me offer a few distinctives to describe what New City is intended to be.
1. New City is more of a discipleship movement than an effort to populate the area with more congregations.
2. New City will be focused on developing AND multiplying missional communities (not small groups) through which discipleship and Christian community will become the dominant characteristics of the church.
3. New City will be focused on church health and multiplication while depending on the Holy Spirit for growth.
4. The preaching and teaching of the Word of God will be the very heartbeat and breath of this body, permeating every facet of church life. The teaching ministry of New City will be committed to framing scripture against the backdrop of biblical theology which helps us make sense of the Bible with a view on the storyline of redemptive history. Simply put, the Bible is God’s story of Himself and His mission. The only way to make sense of our lives is to see our story as part of God’s story and allow it to inform every opinion and belief.
5. New City will be committed to impacting our cities through service and community involvement (Jer. 29:7). This is what makes “missional communities” missional.
6. If you are thinking that maybe New City Church might “meet the needs” of your family we are probably not the place for you.
We are presently developing a core group of individuals and families who understand that God didn’t give the church a mission to fulfill, but rather he created the church to fulfill His mission. The mission existed first and the church has been called and empowered to be the instrument which God uses to redeem and restore His world to the glorious splendor which He originally intended before the fall.
We are not consumers shopping for the best product and service for our families. We are kings and priests who desire to see the “word of the Lord continue to grow and multiply” across the world for the glory of Christ. Without a doubt, we desire to be a blessing to those who make up this body, but by God’s grace we will always be more committed to pleasing our God than we are in pleasing ourselves.
7. New City Church will be deeply relational and never program oriented.
8. New City Church is being planted in partnership with The Evangelical Free Church in America (www.efca.org).
In the days to follow, I will attempt to give a more detailed explanation to each of these characteristics and likely will add a few more than I will speak to now. Please pray for God’s direction and provisions to accomplish his work well here in the days to come.