Ask me what the biggest challenge is in my church planting experience and I’ll probably give you an answer something like this:
Resistant Community + High Transience = Difficulty in Becoming Self-Sustaining
I knew I was moving into a resistant community. I underestimated the transience. 70% of the people in our community will be gone within two years. It’s very difficult to build a church with such a high level of transience.
We’re not alone. Urban centers tend to be more transient. A pastor-friend compares churches in transient communities to water stations in a marathon. Jamie Dunlop compares ministry in a transient city to “hugging the parade.” Bill Riedel captures the challenge: “Planting a church is hard work in any context. Planting in transient places, though, can make it feel like permanence and sustainability are nothing more than the stuff of myths and legends.”
Planting a church in a transient area feels like building a sandcastle in the waves with the tide coming in.
Strategically Staying Put
I’m convinced that part of the solution is strategically staying put.
Our church has chosen to do this: we’ve committed to staying in Liberty Village, as God gives us strength, knowing that we’ll face pressures to move out. It’s one of our values: we’re committed to the Liberty Village community.
But we also need people to strategically stay put. We need ordinary Christians who see themselves as missionaries and move into communities like Liberty Village and stay for the long haul, despite the high rent, high maintenance fees, small condos, and pressures to move elsewhere.
I’m not saying everyone has to do this, but we need at least a few. And so do other churches in transient areas.
Even if this doesn’t apply to you, I appeal to you: Don’t just factor in your career, housing preferences, school districts, and costs as you decide where to live. Factor in ministry. Choose a place where your life will make a difference for the sake of the gospel. Be strategic. Live strategically as a missionary.
What I’d Change
A few years ago I ran a series of posts on the need for Christians to move into cities like Toronto. If I ran this series again, I would add an emphasis on staying. Many Christians move into cities like Toronto, but not nearly enough stay for the long haul.
If I started out in church planting again, I’d start with an appeal: please plant down roots and stay. Commit to 5-10 years. Others will come and go, but you can be part of the core that makes a church plant in a transient area a possibility.
No guilt if you can’t do this, but please pray about committing for the sake of the gospel for as long as possible.
I love David Fitch’s advice:
I believe that you put three or more quality leaders together in one place for ten years you will have a new expression of the gospel i.e. a church in each context. Gospel as a way of life will take root. Many will brought into the Kingdom.
A few people. Ten years. One place. Who’s in?