Pictured above: A weekly community event in Vermillion we attended called “Thursday On the Platz.”
One of the most surprising things about church planting I’ve discovered is that the most basic human interactions become eternally more important than ever before.
When you’re planting a church, you can’t afford to just go to the grocery store without talking to at least one person.
Returning a lost dog wandering through your townhome development’s parking lot opens up the opportunity for the owner to share her whole life story with you (that literally happened to me a few weeks ago).
It becomes paramount that you learn the names of the baristas at your favorite coffee shop, or the waiters and waitresses at your local restaurants, or the workers at your kid’s daycare—and remember them the next time you see them.
When you attend community events and meet new people, you’re a lot more intentional to exchange contact information and find times to hang out and build relationship. And they might think it’s weird. Like, who does that anymore?
As we’ve been getting more acclimated to Vermillion, meeting new people, and learning about the community, I’ve found myself appalled that I never lived my life with such an evangelistic fervor before. Church planting has this way of putting eternity right in front of your face with every single person you meet. Every little interaction could breed new relationships that invite them into the Way of Jesus.
So much of church planting, especially in the early stages, requires building relationships and learning about the community. It’s slow. It’s messy. But it is so rewarding getting to make these new friends and hear about their stories and share about what Jesus is up to in your newly founded community. But while I’ve been having these conversations, an interesting phenomenon has occurred. The majority of my conversations about our efforts, especially with those who have been Christians for awhile and know church life, eventually ask me this question:
“Do you got a building?”
I mean, who could blame them? Most Christians attend already established churches. To be a Christian means to believe in Jesus, live a faithful life, do justice in the world, spread the Gospel, and attend a local church—which takes place in a building. Church is more often than not associated with the gathering space itself than the people who gather in it—which is a real bummer, considering that the original greek word for “church” refers to an assembly of Christ’s followers called out from the world. However, it’s a fair question for people who’ve never been a part of the church planting process to assume that if you’re starting a new church, you need to have a gathering space.
So then it becomes a chicken-or-the-egg question. Which comes first? The building or the people? The gathering space or those who gather in it? The body of believers or the building for believers?
,That’s a constant tension for church planters. Of course I want to find a gathering space. I’ve already identified some possibilities. I have a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, and Plan D, all depending on different budgeting scenarios and growth potentials. I’ve thought about where we can gather initially when we start small, and where we can go next once we begin to grow. It’s a major administrative task that I want to make sure gets taken care of. A church needs a place to gather.
But then I remember: What good is having a gathering place if we don’t have people to gather?
Finding a gathering place is important, yes. It’s a major task that eventually needs to be checked off the church planting to-do list, and one that’s very tangible. Having a building seems to resemble a major mark of progress. But the Lord is reminding me that the slow, messy, and intangible work of building relationships, listening to stories, sharing about Jesus, and learning about the community is vastly more important for the long term vitality of the church. Trust is built out of real relationships, which leads to a higher likelihood of responding to a personal invitation to the church, which could lead the life transformation that the Gospel brings.
A Sketch of Vermillion. So that’s what’s been taking up most of our work this past month: Meeting new people and learning about the community. Vermillion really is a gem of a town. It’s only 10,000 people, but it has so much energy. The most common answer I’ve been given about what people love most about Vermillion is… well, the people. People love this community. There’s a lot of pride in their culture, valuing music, the arts, and community development. My understanding is that the relationship between the town and the college has gotten a lot more cohesive over the years, so there’s a real connection between USD and Vermillion (which is huge for a college town, because the town doesn’t always take a lot of pride in the college, or vice versa). Vermillion doesn’t have a ton of food options, but the local restaurants they do have are incredible. It’s a clean town that’s great for raising families. We’ve really come to love this place.
So, with that, pray for Vermillion. Pray for this town and the people who inhabit it. Pray that we can make connections and build relationships with people who are hungry for the Gospel and looking for the answers to live a truly vibrant life. Pray that our hearts can continue to break for this community, and long to see the work of Jesus and his church come alive here.
The Poverty Rate. I’ve also learned that the town has a 28% poverty rate. That’s almost 1 in 3 people living at or below the poverty line. Though homelessness isn’t a major issue here, it appears that the impoverished are mostly considered “the working poor,” living paycheck to paycheck and just trying to get by. I’ve made some initial connections with the mayor and her work with some local nonprofits in town. So we’re deeply praying through what it could look like to partner with the city in providing for these particular needs from a holistic approach. Be praying for us as we discern the best way our church can partner with these organizations and the city to provide healthy, sustainable community development.
Our Launch Team. We’ve already had several members express an interest in joining our team, which is a huge praise! More information on that coming later. But continue to pray that the Lord will provide key leaders and team members who love Vermillion and are committed to the fresh wind the Spirit is bringing to this community.
Church Plant Proposals. We’re almost done solidifying our church name, vision, values, and overall structure for what this plant is going to look like—and I can’t wait to share it! I’ve never believed in nor been so convicted over a vision before. However, before we can announce it publicly, we need to work on an official church plant proposal for our denomination’s district. It’s really exciting, but will also be a lot of work. Pray for that process, that everything will come together well, and that we get approved!