In thinking about growing, reproducing and creating kingdom influence in our cities, I want to turn our attention to the edges of the conversation. I help lead a national, bivocational network for pastors who don’t take a full salary from a local church.
While this used to be widely considered a painful way to make a living while being in ministry, I’m now seeing all over the world a new movement in which leaders choose this option because they have an expansive view of what influence may look like.
My wife and I just moved to Alton, Illinois, a struggling town outside St. Louis that is known as a “Catholic” city. There is a church on every corner, so we weren’t sure coming in to start another church would be considered good news for anyone.
Instead, by meeting with locals and surveying the boarded-up buildings, we discovered that Alton had a clear need for third spaces where people could connect and relate to one another. This town of 30,000 people doesn’t have a breakfast joint, coffee shop or morning-through-daytime place of connection. We also noticed that very few businesses were being started due to a higher than normal percentage of our multiethnic town living on government assistance.
So we prayed that God would show us a pathway of influence, as well as a vision for what to start or what to plant. A local businessman donated a building to us in the heart of downtown, and we are now setting our sights on creating a social space that will also incubate people’s business dreams.
When I look back at this busy first year, a couple things are clear. First, a missionary-God planted us here. Second, the missionary-Son, Jesus, gives us clear stories about how to share the good news with people. Third, the missionary-Father and missionary-Son sent us the missionary-Holy Spirit to help us beyond our normal paradigms. Now we are planting things we would have never dreamt of.
Based on what God has planted, we have to look for new shoots coming from the ground and use new metrics to measure success.
How many people are employed? How many folks go through our “calling lab”? How many new businesses have we successfully incubated? How many people did we get to move to Alton? How many microchurch communities were started in specific neighborhoods? How many individual disciples were made? What is the percentage of business revenues reinvested into benevolence funds and business redevelopment?
Proverbs 11:10 says, “When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices.” This is a wonderful angle on new things the church can grow, measure and build metrics around, which is critical—because we always manage what we measure and vice versa.
We’ve learned that if we begin to think outside of the box, the city may truly rejoice that we showed up to live and serve alongside them. And God will grow his church.
Hugh Halter is the U.S. director of Forge America, an apprenticing community committed to training men and women to live as missionaries where they already are. He is the author of a number of books, most recently Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth and Brimstone: The Art and Act of Holy Nonjudgment. For more information: HughHalter.com