Church planting can be tough. Designing a prospectus, recruiting a core team, courting church partners, and planning a budget compound the already difficult task of the missionary-pastor. However, despite all of these tasks, it is important to remember that church planting is free. Sure, following Jesus’ great commission will cost you everything. But not all church planting has to involve massive fundraising, salaried pastors, and slick industry standard marketing. I know this from personal experience, because I accidentally started a house church when I was 21-years old… For free!
I became a Christian my freshman year of college in North Buffalo, New York. I formerly had no interest in Jesus or church, but God was merciful to me in my ignorance. Before my conversion, I used my apartment to throw party’s. But soon, by God’s grace, it would become a Christian party house and hang-out home. Things had changed, a lot!
A few years later, I was a junior, working part time, and increasingly zealous to share and teach about my new faith. That year I decided I wanted to be intentional about using the apartment for God’s glory. So, I started inviting people over to the house on Sunday evenings for a small gathering. At first, it was a small meeting with a group of newly converted followers of Jesus. We would all come together, sit on the floor, sing, pray, and I would preach a message from the Bible. We met for a few weeks, and decided we wanted to invite others into our new little gathering. Soon enough, people started inviting their friends, co-workers, and classmates. Our little gathering grew to fifty or sixty weekly attendees. We could not fit everyone in one room, so people sat in different rooms, on multiple levels, and on staircases to hear, sing, and meditate on God’s Word together. It was a rich and special time that cannot be explained in a mere blog post. However, looking back on all of it, these are some things I have learned:
1) Preach about, Sing about, and Welcome like Christ
I assume the people who came to our gathering were, at the very least, people who desired to know about Christianity. While not everyone who came was a Christian, everyone who came must have in some way mentally prepared themselves for a Christian experience. Legitimate Christianity is about Christ, and in vibrant Christianity you are encountered over and over again by Jesus. I think the Lord empowered our work because we put Jesus at the center of all that we did. I preached Christ crucified and raised to life. We sincerely sang about him and his power. We were all intentional about welcoming one another as Christ welcomed us. Looking back, we were a tight “missional” community because we truly worshiped Jesus in word and song, and displayed this in our love for one another.
2) Have an enormous level of flexibility
Simple gatherings like this are very decentralized. I assume a lot of the people who came must have liked the non-institutionalized model of church. Things were raw, without professional-ity, and totally transparent. There was no strict end time on the service. We had many evenings where the fellowship and spiritual conversation continued for hours into the night. Inconvenience, late nights, real ministry: these required flexibility in our schedules. You cannot always plan for the movement of the Holy Spirit. I am reminded that the ministry of Jesus was not one of detachment and isolation, but, rather one of involvement and genuine immersion into people’s lives.
3) Know what you believe
Having established a gracious environment for questions and doubts, we had many theological discussions late into the night. I am glad questions about creation, culture, predestination, women in ministry, and organized religion often occurred. However, our leadership team did not know what we individually believed on these issues. When we did, we were usually not theologically unified. The leadership team would be figuring out what we believed in real time during these conversations with attendees! At times, visitors would suggest heterodox and even heretical beliefs and we could not, in that moment, speak with a unified voice on the theological issue. Looking back on this, it is so important to be on the same page with your leaders on theological issues.
4) Pray a lot
We would meet every Sunday as a leadership team and pray for an hour together before people came. We were serious about prayer and we literally saw the effects of prayer in advancing the gospel in our city in the lives of real people. We would spend a lot of time praying for each person, the teaching, the music, and the evening. We would simply sit in the basement of the apartment and pray fervently together. These were the best times. I look back on this and believe Jesus: “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5b).
I am thankful to the Lord that he allowed me to participate in his mission and learn a lot during this year and a half of life. It was an exciting time – filled with ministry, evangelism, friendship, mission, spiritual warfare, discovery, and tremendous learning. And it was all free! No one earned any money and we never spent anything on advertising. Yet, the gospel went forth and people’s lives were changed forever. We simply lived our lives, worked hard, and followed Jesus with humility and zeal. Please pray for the new work that am I participating in, that we would be a passionate group of Christians for the gospel in Washington D.C!