A Kingdom Snapshot
To begin to flesh out his vision for weaving the gospel into the fabric of a community, D.A. Horton went to Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, from August 2015–April 2017, where he participated in pastor J.D. Greear’s church planting residency. Though he had planted and pastored before, he wanted to learn how to fundraise and build a launch team from scratch.
When Horton considered how he could allow the gospel to speak to the six spheres of influence in FABRIC, he was drawn to Long Beach, California, a city steeped in multigenerational gang culture.
“You have people here who are third-, fourth- and fifth-generation gang members. It’s all they know,” explains Horton.
To reach such a population, he knew he would need to model the gospel by reflecting the message of Revelation 7:9. “Our mission is to be a snapshot of the forthcoming kingdom,” he says.
When he launched Reach Fellowship at a public high school in September 2017, he was intentional about incorporating various languages and ethnicities into the services, reciting prayers in English, Samoan, Spanish, Portuguese, Liberian and French. At Reach Fellowship, 40 percent of the congregation is Latino, 13 percent is African-American, 13 percent is Asian, 13 percent is Polynesian and 24 percent is Anglo-American. Ethnic diversity is also reflected in the leadership of the church. Horton is Latino while his co-pastor, Pastor Nu’u, is Samoan, and their staff consists of Filipinos, Caucasians and African-Americans.
“That holistic diversity sends a message of, ‘Wow, Jesus is still in the business of saving from every nation, tribe and tongue,” says Horton.
‘Small Groups on Acid’
After much dreaming and prayer, the Lindermans gathered nine others to join them, and in 2013 launched multiple “missional communities” that would become Axiom Church. Linderman describes these communities as “small groups on acid,” explaining they were built on three key themes: service, spiritual formation and parties to which members could invite their friends. Over time, the church would become trustworthy to those who can be “outspoken about their dislike of the church.”
“They weren’t just studying the Bible. They were living it.” Linderman says. “We wanted action as much as intellect.” The groups were encouraged to embody the character of Christ in tangible forms with their neighbors and community. After reading about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, they took footbaths and fresh socks to working people and the homeless.
“If we were studying taking care of those in need, that’s what we were going to do,” Linderman says. “If we studied minimalism, we went through our stuff and made donations.”
According to Linderman, the communities created the DNA and traction that led to Sunday services as the groups multiplied, but they didn’t want to do portable church.
“We wanted a place where we could be creative with art, music and outreach,” he says. “And you can’t do that just wherever you want.”
When they reached three groups, they began meeting every Sunday in Linderman’s office and a small space for kids. When they grew out of that space, they rented a Crossfit gym, followed by a fixed-location theater. In early 2018 they moved into a new building on purchased land. The facility was designed to be rentable as a music venue and leasable to a coffee shop, or, as Linderman describes, “common-ground spaces” for their culture and community.
But even with the new facility and expanding Sunday services, Axiom is careful to keep their priorities where they belong.
“If all we’re doing is church, we’re not very effective at reaching folks, but if we’re doing more than just church—that’s where we have first-time visitors show up—people that we’ve never met before,” Linderman says.
Outside activities include not only block parties or get-togethers hosted by groups, but events like “Nerd Nights” where they secure a location, deck it out with TVs and gaming consoles and invite all their “nerd” friends; or partnering with local musicians, artists and fans, giving them a place to stay while on tour, providing food and laundry services and helping them set up or tear down.
“When a church pastor and his congregation show up at a concert for a local band 10 times in one year, they notice. That’s sort of our bread and butter,” Linderman says. “Some of those are now key people who serve on our worship team and have come to know Jesus.”
Come to The Table
The mirror image of Axiom, The Table has grown not through going out and hosting events, but by inviting people in. It was built around the practice of “doing life together,” often while sharing a meal.
“We’re a church that’s gathered around practices more than we are around programs, ideas or even a great activity,” Matt Tebbe says. “Practices such as reconciliation, declaring the good news, repentance and forgiveness.”
Of course the church name is symbolic for the type of community they are building. It stems from the belief that the best parts of life happen around the table. It’s also connected to the act of communion, which is a big part of the church’s theology.
In 2015 The Table wanted to add a new practice, public worship. Because property is expensive and the groups have been intentionally kept small, they couldn’t purchase or even rent a facility. Sternke and Tebbe explained their situation to a pastor friend who had taken their training. This friend spoke to his church leadership and the church opened its doors.
“The church even decided to move their worship time 45 minutes earlier on Sunday morning, so that we can meet after them,” Tebbe says. They were completely blown away. “You don’t give up your prime meeting time for another church. It’s not in the church growth playbook.”
Much of what The Table is about is not in the playbook. These pastors have realized that God does not call every church to be a large church. The Table is more concerned with discipleship and community, a unique style, Tebbe says, that attracts different people. “Because of our discipleship, our vision that’s centered around the love of God in Jesus, and our practices that are oriented around the table, there’ are a lot of de-churched people.”
Sternke agrees. “People have said it’s a place where they can ask questions or have doubts without being thought less of,” he says. “That’s a big part of the culture we’re trying to create.”
An Ecosystem of Mutual Support
The seeds for a neighborhood church began to germinate for Drew Hyun in September 2012 when he launched the first Hope Church in Midtown Manhattan. Drawing on inspiration gleaned from Psalm 33, he began to envision a network of church communities united in friendship and their hope in God.
At the time, the multisite church model was becoming a normal part of the Christian vernacular. Hope Church stood apart from that model in that instead of starting satellite churches, each of the nine (soon to be 10) churches in the Hope Church network is legally and financially independent. But they are all united by a shared theological and cultural vision. The leaders of each of the churches meet at least eight to 10 hours a month to pray, dream and share best practices with each other. “It’s a higher relationships, lower control model,” Hyun says.
The key to the continued vitality of each Hope Church has been maintaining an ecosystem of mutual support.
“Every new church planter goes through a residency where they form covenant friendships,” Hyun says. “The residency is culture-shaping and relationship building and creates an ongoing ecosystem of friendship and relationship and sharing best practices. Out of relationship have come all kinds of collaborations.”
Hubs for Missional Life
Grassroots Church also has a decentralized model that draws on Ephesians 4 to put the focus on equipping believers for mission and creating kingdom hubs for the gospel around the city of Colorado Springs.
The church is made up of 30 adults who are split into three separate highly relational, mission-oriented communities striving to love the city. They have a collaborative teaching team of six, but the emphasis is on the weekly mission-based community gatherings more so than Sunday morning worship.
“The hardest part is Christians who have an expectation that Sunday is supposed to provide something for [them],” Olson says. “We have to disciple them to see more than just consumerism. Many of our churches [in America] grow through transfer growth [rather than conversions].”
For the first three years, Grassroots met in the Westside Community Center. Recently they started 719 Commons, a co-working and events venue, as a collaborative effort with Frontline, World Poverty Solutions and World Challenge. “We wanted to collaborate to see the city blessed,” Olson says. During the week it’s a place for co-working and events. Grassroots gathers there on Sundays.
Grassroots is part of several other collaborative efforts, including a Forge Network Training hub and partnerships with at least five area coffee shops owned by Christians who provide everything from meeting space to job training for people at the Springs Rescue Mission.