Why Start New Churches?
Love Your City To Life
Mission. Evangelize. Preach. Convert. Many people bristle at these words. The irony, however, is that everyone is on a mission to evangelize and preach in an effort to convert everyone else to their way of life. Popular bumper stickers in Berkeley underscore this point: “Subvert the dominant paradigm” or “Don’t believe everything you think.” We are constantly trying to persuade others to see things differently and to perhaps exchange their current set of beliefs and practices for a set of new ones. This is what newspapers, books, movies, and blogs are all about — fair trade v. free trade, organic v. non-organic, Giants v. A’s, universal health care v. privatized medicine, modern foundationalism v. postmodern desconstructionism, Republican v. Democrat. Whether we are coercively pushy or subtly suggestive, whether we do it consciously or sub-consciously, we are perpetually seeking to convince and convert our friends, family, and colleagues to a different way of life. Why? We love people. And we care about justice. And if we think someone’s life can be better or that the world as we know it can change for the good, then we try to convince those around us of another way.
Christianity is no different. In the light of Jesus, the first Christians had a new, unprecedented worldview that, as far as they were concerned, had changed the world. That new framework for reality fell outside of the prevailing plausibility structures of the day. Greco-Romans were waiting for their souls to be released from the corruption of the body and into the spiritual world of the afterlife. Hebrews were looking for the kingdom of God when Yahweh would act decisively to overthrow their foreign oppressors, make Israel the dominant nation, and renew his good creation. Christianity, however, said that Jesus was the fulfillment of Israel’s hopes, that Jesus himself was Yahweh, that he brought the kingdom of God in a way that was unexpected, and that the creation was being renewed in and through is death and resurrection. It was full of fresh hope for a new beginning, a new life, a new relationship with God, and a new world. That is why the Christians were zealous in their mission to evangelize and preach. That is why they developed new churches. That is why the New Testament was written. That is why they died for their faith. That is why the Roman Empire was radically transformed. Not unlike what happens everyday in our coffee shops, lecture halls, bookstores, marketplaces, and living rooms, they were thinking, speaking, writing, living, and loving at the crossroads of culture in ways that sought to persuade people to embrace their new paradigm. Why? They cared about people and believed that what they had to offer them would improve the families, cities, and cultures that they inhabited.
In the same spirit, we love the East Bay and Christ Church exists to make it an even better place to live. When we look at Jesus, the early church, and the Scriptures, we are convinced that one of the best ways to improve our city is to develop new churches. Jesus’ essential call to his followers was to develop new churches, not merely to evangelize in general or to persuade and convert individuals. In his most famous commissioning statement, Jesus says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them.” (Matthew 28; see also Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20, Acts 1). It is clear in the book of Acts, which records the history of the early church, that “baptism” means incorporation into a worshipping community with 1) theological boundaries, 2) the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and 3) life accountability and discipline. Although many wonderful and beneficial ministries and institutions have been formed in the name of Christ, the foundational structure Jesus told us to spread is the church. Moreover, the apostle Paul had a simple, twofold strategy for missions: 1) The way to most permanently influence a region of the empire was through its chief cities (i.e. In Acts 16, Paul strategically locates Philippi which was the leading city of the region of Macedonia); 2) The way to most permanently influence a city was to develop new churches in it (i.e. In Titus 1, Paul tells Titus to appoint elders in every town).
Thus, at Christ Church we are involved in developing new churches because we are seeking to be true to Jesus, to the model of the early church, and to the Scriptures. But some people are skeptical of organized or institutional religion, wondering to themselves, “Why are churches, new or old, necessary in the first place?” Others are benignly at a loss when they think about the church, possessing no category for where a church might fit into our current cultural landscape. Even urban planning departments, business development communities, and city governments are not sure what to do with the church, often reducing their public role to that of a “limited social service provider.” However, studies show that the church is critical to the health of a city as it deals in the currency of belief, lifestyle, community, service, and financial charity. Think about it. The strength and economic vibrancy of any given city is contingent upon balancing the needs and demands of citizens’ industrial, residential, and commercial interests, as well as providing good access to basic civil services. And churches are unrivaled in their ability to meet the spiritual, physical, mental, and relational needs of city-dwellers. Churches, more than any other social institution, transcend social boundaries, encourage community engagement and service, draw membership to live in the city center, mobilize resources and private investment, and create sacred spaces. Thus, the health of the city is directly proportional to the presence of the church. The church is, indeed, present in East Bay, and there are some great churches here.
However, census data confirms that only a few of the East Bay's citizens are active in church. Thus, while some in our community may be opposed to church, others simply have not yet felt invited and included. It is our hope that our fresh expression of faith will present people with the opportunity to find community here if they have struggled to find it elsewhere. It is also our desire to remain in close partnership with other churches in the area. We are eager to be a church that joins hands with many in a concerted effort to extend hope to the hurting, help to the under served, and divine purpose to the empty and restless. Still, others may be unconvinced, “Yeah, in the beginning there were no churches; but why is it critical now, with all of our churches, to develop new ones? Aren’t there enough churches in Berkeley and the Bay Area? What’s wrong with the churches that are here? What we need are better churches, not more churches.” Sociologically speaking, however, this is a rather limited understanding of the nature and influence of new churches. The synergy that is created by new churches attracts and/or develops entrepreneurial and creative leaders, while at the same time helping to renew older, more established churches. Moreover, studies show that new churches best reach the un-churched, new residents, new generations, and new people groups. What enables a new church to have such an impact? New churches are by necessity and design oriented toward those outside of their congregation. They look and listen carefully to the concerns and questions of people who are “checking things out” and are careful to speak to them directly. Thus, on average, one-third of the regular attendees in a new church were not previously involved in the life and community of a church. The vast majority of all people that become Christians through the ministry of a church do so in the first ten years of the life of that church.
In summary, Christ Church exists to make the East Bay a better place to live. We love this place, and we believe that its strength and wellness is directly proportional to the presence of the church. Thus, like the first Christians, we desire to develop many new churches, while continuing to partner with existing churches, in order to hold out Jesus’ new paradigm — the possibility and promise of a new beginning, holistic healing, and cosmic peace on a global scale. And because of Berkeley’s innovation, sophisticated global culture, and international influence, we know that the health of our city will amount to the health of the East Bay, the Bay Area and, indeed, the world.
Why a church in the East Bay?
Why a Church in the East Bay? from Christ Church on Vimeo.
Why the East Bay?
Why would the Christ Church pastors choose the East Bay for their church home? Why start a church in Berkeley and Oakland?
We are planting a church in San Francisco
Christ Church, with the blessing of our Parent Church, City Church of San Francisco, is planting a church in San Francisco. Troy and Caroline Wilson are moving from Sacramento to San Francisco in June 2013 to lead this initiative. Learn more