A total of three million people live in downtown Chicago. Ten percent of those people attend religious services, 85 percent of the children in the city live in homes of poverty, and 10 of the 16 poorest neighborhoods in the U.S. are located in downtown Chicago.
Reggie McNeal often talks about the need to reverse statistics in certain communities, and I believe these Chicago statistics desperately need to be reversed. Chicago is a beautiful city: elaborate architecture, incredible restaurants, and mostly awesome baseball (yes, I'm a Cubs fan). Even with all this beauty, however, there are massive amounts of poverty: financial, emotional, and spiritual.
So I'm part of a team that's starting a new church in Chicago located near two neighborhoods: Lincoln Park and Old Town. This new church is a location of Community Christian Church, a movement church co-founded and led by Dave and Jon Ferguson with 12 locations across Chicagoland. As a church, we have a long-term dream of 200 locations.
Our new location near Lincoln Park and Old Town will launch in October of 2013, but we started building the church a year ago. And we are doing that by living out what we call the Jesus Mission: Reach, Restore, and Reproduce. We seek to reach out to those far from God (think Alan Hirsch's "missional imagination"), restore God's dream for the world (think justice and community development), and reproduce the mission in others (think apprenticing and coaching).
Our first step was to start small groups that live out those values. At CCC, we believe that small groups are the key to living out the Jesus Mission. So my wife and I, alongside a handful of others, started a few small groups that are committed to reaching, restoring, and reproducing. We've done that by establishing small-group rhythms, which are similar to the missional rhythms in Brandon Hatmaker's Barefoot Church and Hugh Halter and Matt Smay's AND. This rhythm gets us doing different things each week we meet:
- Week 1: Gather for a study
- Week 2: Scatter to do restoration work in the community
- Week 3: Gather for a study
- Week 4: Scatter to work on reaching those far from God
This rhythm reminds us to intentionally engage all three areas of the Jesus Mission—gathering to study and reproduce the values and mission, and scattering to reach and restore people in our community. Along with this rhythm, we've engaged in three activities the keep the Jesus Mission front and center. Whether or not you're planting a new church, these three activities will assist your group in helping people find their way back to God:
Come Alongside a Community Group. The first thing we did when we moved to the city was meet with local nonprofits to see who was effectively serving the people of the city and creating long-term, systemic change. Lincoln Park Community Shelter, a comprehensive social service agency, really stood out. We are so proud of the work they do, and we wanted to partner with them. One way we've done that is by providing them with the things they distribute most: underwear, socks, and toiletries. Look around your community and determine which groups or nonprofit organizations are effectively serving the community. Then talk with the leader of that group to learn how you can partner with them. You'll benefit the community, helping to restore it, and you'll also keep the focus of your group from becoming too inward.
Meet in a Public Place. One of our men's small groups meets in a pub. We chose this location not because we think everyone in the bar is far from God, but because we believe there's a good chance that some people who frequent the bar are far from God. And this past week, God introduced us to several people far from him.
We've been reading the Bible in our group, and Gavin, the bartender, would regularly mess with us because we were reading our Bible. Although he was mostly teasing, there was no question that he noticed us. Recently we began reading Jesus Is by Judah Smith. Well, Gavin walked up and grabbed our book and walked around the bar asking his friends to finish the sentence: Jesus is ___. The responses were varied: Jesus is totally 80s. Jesus is dead. Jesus is gay. I had multiple emotions while this was happening, but I heard God whisper, "I'm going to use your group to help Gavin find his way to me. And believe it or not, Gavin is starting to like and trust you guys."
You wouldn't believe what happened next. Gavin came back to our table and invited us all up to the bar to sit with his friends. For the rest of the night we sat around talking about life, jobs, and spirituality. Our success doesn't mean that you have to meet in a bar, but consider meeting in a public place so that you can reach out to those far from God. Determine where people in your community meet on a regular basis.
Apprentice Someone. Don't miss this one. A lot of people start a new church or group, but they never see second, third, or fourth generation reproduction, which is what 2 Timothy 2:2 calls us to. At CCC, all of our group leaders, coaches, and staff have apprentices. When I meet with my small-group apprentice, we discuss how and when we're going to multiply the small group, having him start a new small group of his own. This multiplication will allow our church to grow here in Lincoln Park and Old Town. When I meet with my church planting apprentice, we discuss what he's doing to reproduce a new church in October 2014. By investing in apprentices, we ensure that the mission continues and doesn't end with us. That's key for small groups. Find people in your group you can invest in and empower them to lead their own group when the time is right.
—Eric Metcalf is a church planter in Chicago and provides leadership to the Leadership Residency Program of NewThing Network, a program that apprentices church planters; copyright 2013 by Christianity Today.