Category Archives: Missional

Big News for Austin New Church

A message to the ANC Family:

Words cannot describe how amazing the last few years have been. I know I echo the thoughts of all the ANC staff when I say that it has been a joy to serve shoulder-to-shoulder with those of you who call ANC home as we seek to follow God wherever, whenever, and however He leads. It’s also incredibly refreshing to help lead a church that values transparency, authenticity, and humility as we seek to be good news to a city and region in need of good news.

Recently I’ve asked you to join together in prayer as we continue to seek next steps as a faith community. As we grow, we need to continue and be good stewards of the vision God has given us. We hope to continue and see people come to faith, find their identity in Christ, and find their purpose in His mission. We believe the greatest way to do that is to continue to equip and empower people to serve not only where they have been sent, but also where they are being sent. This recognizes a call to learn to be Jesus’ hands and feet to both our neighbors as well as to those in need… whether across the street, the tracks, or the ocean.

In answering this call, we believe that where we do “community”, where we “serve”, and where we “gather” for worship matters.

As I mentioned on two recent Sunday’s at ANC, we have been given the opportunity to join forces with a ministry in southeast Austin named The Well. Together we will serve a community called Dove Springs, which is one of Austin’s areas of greatest need. While The Well is a much smaller ministry than ANC, they have a very similar vision, and are excited about joining us and coming under our leadership to reach the Dove Springs area by becoming “ANC Dove Springs”. They have amazing partnerships already in the community with the River City Youth Foundation and the Dove Springs Recreation Center. They have a fantastic facility where they meet in the heart of the community. And in the middle of us searching for a place where we can (1) begin a new service identical to the one we have now, as well as (2) begin to invest ourselves deeply in the middle of need, and (3) serve in partnership with others already impacting a community… this is an amazing opportunity that certainly fits the bill.

As a friend of mine recently said, “So many churches are willing to go, but so few are willing to stay.” This is our opportunity to not only go, but to stay.

After a several months of consideration and prayer with both our board of directors and pastoral staff, we are in complete agreement that this is an opportunity God has placed in front of us to continue to be the church He has called us to be. I assure you that no rock has remained unturned. Not only does this answer the questions, “As we grow, how do we stay small? (for the sake of community)” and “As we go, how do we stay ONE? (for the sake of unity and mission)”, it helps us answer the call to serve our city in new and more sustainable ways. We’re literally moving into another neighborhood and adopting a model for church that is committed to being “sent”.

So how does this affect you and what does all this mean? Here are some important thoughts:

1) What will it look like? Our goal is to make the southeast (Dove Springs) gathering identical to our current Sunday experience. We will have live music and live teaching at both locations. You’ll see the same faces on stage, whether teaching, leading worship, leading communion, and doing the announcements as you do now. It might best be described as adding another service… but instead of a different time we’re choosing a different location. There will be one ANC staff, one ANC board of directors, one mission.

2) Where is this place? The location of our new gathering will be at the Dove Springs Recreation Center. The center is located 1.7 miles east of I-35 between William Cannon and Stassney. This is only a few miles away from our current location. For nearly half of you the new location is either CLOSER to where you currently live or EQUAL driving time from where you live.

3) What about the current ANC gathering? Our current location will stay the same. Same location. Same experience. It will now be called ANC South Austin. While we hope to go to one service at each location in May (at least through the summer), this is important for you to know. Each location will be equally valued, staffed, and led.

4) If I attend the gathering at this location, am I leaving ANC? No. In fact, this is what we believe to be the answer to staying (while going). While we need many of you to prayerfully consider attending ANC Dove Springs, attendance on Sunday will take very little sacrifice or change (it’s serving there that will take sacrifice). Some of you are already excited. For many, it simply makes sense. For others, you may desire to attend there for a season to help us make the transition. Some of you will serve there with your Restore Groups. Some will move there (believe it or not). But don’t panic, you’ll have plenty of time to both experience what’s happening there and come to a decision as to how God is leading you.

5) What are our next steps? We want to make sure that the community of Dove Springs understands that we are here in full support of them and their community. We also want everyone at ANC to know, see and experience the community first hand. With this in mind, we are planning a handful of things we hope will accomplish these objectives:

  • We will serve with them: As a church we are partnering with both the Dove Springs Recreation Center and the River City Youth Foundation for their Community gatherings during the Easter season (For those of you not already committed elsewhere). These are being held the two Saturdays prior to Easter. Last year, with a simple egg hunt, they served over 1300 children from the community (More details to come on this).
  • They will serve with us: On Easter Sunday, those from The Well will be joining us for our Annual Downtown Grillout and communion service with the homeless. It’s a perfect time for them to see who we are on such an important day (our 4th Anniversary by the way).
  • We will worship together: The TWO Sundays following Easter we are closing the doors (Temporarily) at our South Austin location and will all worship together as one body in the Gym at Dove Springs Rec Center. This will be an amazing time together and the first chance we’ve had to worship together since we moved to multiple services. We are praying God moves as we come together in unity IN and FOR the community. We pray He opens our hearts and minds for how we are to respond personally.
  • We will serve together: The following Sunday will be our regularly scheduled Serve Austin Sunday. As a part of our previous plans to expand SAS to Restore Weekend (Including both Saturday and Sunday projects) we will have additional projects serving the Dove Springs area. Some of you will serve there. Many will not. But it will be an intentional place of engagement from now on.
  • We will start our new “normal: The first Sunday in May, following Restore Weekend, will be our first regular worship gatherings at both locations. Time and details TBA.

6) Are we going to do this again? Yes. In fact, Our hope, is that as our church continues to grow, that we continue to move closer to where our people are as we continue to move closer to and into areas of great need. We hope ANC always has a culture that celebrates the opportunity to expand our ministry and bring hope to new areas. Imagine if there was a mid-sized ANC gathering of people committed to gospel community and mission not only in south and east Austin, but also in central and north Austin, in the Buda and Kyle areas, and maybe even San Marcos. Not only would we be able to maintain what we value about how we gather at ANC, but we’d be able to do so as a people committed to making disciples, “learning to do right”, loving mercy, seeking justice, and who value authentic faith community that understands and seeks to “speak the language” of their neighbors (understanding culture and context).

While we know that’s a lot to absorb, we ask you to simply pray for God’s will to be done as we put one foot in front of the other. Pray for His Kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven. And pray that God would lead each of us on how we should personally respond.

If you are involved in children, youth, or other ministries at ANC… expect your leader to contact you shortly with details on how we are proceeding. If you are currently serving regularly outside of ANC, keep going! We are thankful for what you are doing and are certainly not asking you to abandon your post for something new. But what we are asking is that we all worship together there for a couple weeks and a portion of us begin to foster these new relationships through serving the existing partnerships in the area.

There are so many more details. But for now, thank you. You’ve always been the church we dreamed of. And we know God is about to do something even more amazing in and through all of us.

See you Sunday,

Brandon


Verge 2012: 7 Steps to Moving beyond the Event of Serving

There is certainly is an uptick in the social activity of the church today. This is a good thing. But when serving remains simply an event that we do once a quarter or year, it often falls short of having gospel implications. So how do we move beyond serving as just an event? How do we create structures to ensure that we engage need on a personal level and as a part of missional community?

Before I offer some thoughts on those questions, here are two things I want to clarify about serving the least:

  1. Serving the Least does not make you Missional: Missional recognizes that you are, where you have been sent.  Serving the least is a critical part of a missional posture, but serving alone for the sake of serving is not enough. You can go serve the least and still be a jerk to your neighbor. Not very missional.
  2. Serving the Least is critical for the church to regain her voice: Serving the poor transcends culture and context because being good news always transcend culture and context. In a post-modern and post-Christian world, it’s both biblical and contextual. Our skeptics demand that our deed match our creed.

Okay… now that I got that off my chest… here’s a few thoughts I shared at today’s Verge Conference on the topic.

Serving Through Missional Community: 7 steps to moving beyond the event.

  1. Teach Serving as a part of gospel-centered discipleship effort: Too often we fail to connect the dots between serving, becoming good news, and the Gospel.
  2. Plan Events & Projects that serve a redemptive purpose and present opportunities to do more: When we do so, the “Event” can serve as a spring board or “gateway” to more engagement and relationships.
  3. Create structures that clearly communicate  a plan for next steps to engaging need: Serving cannot be just an “add on” event. It must be a clear part of the discipleship process. Communicating this reality is a critical step of the equipping process.
  4. Create a Place to Engage Culture:  Missional Communities must be postured to engage real needs. We cannot engage culture without engaging the needs of culture. We can often utilize existing structures for this function (Re-purposed small groups, etc…). Often these must be decentralized in order to be both contextual as well as reproducible.
  5. Create the Space for Mission: Service will be the first thing that goes when people get busy. Most of our churches are already incredibly busy even without serving outside the church. So we must “add by subtraction” to create space to add service as a priority without simply adding another thing to do.
  6. Staff the Legwork of Serving: Instead of planning the entire event, recruiting leaders, and begging people to come… if our efforts are truly decentralized… we can do the front end legwork of working with non-profits, building the relationships, and providing a handful of service options (often the hard part), taking a “help me help you” posture with your group leaders. This helps enable and empower leaders to own a project without being bogged down with the red tape of initiation.
  7. Change the Way you Measure Success: This is the hardest thing to do but the most necessary. Serving the least is often messy, slow, seemingly ineffective, costly, and doesn’t necessarily result in church growth. We must begin to measure success in different ways:
  • Kingdom impact over attendance impact.
  • Percent of people from your church serving outside of your church.
  • Number of non-Christians, seekers, & de-churched joining you to serve.
  • Personal Transformation in your people.
  • Number of those going on to the “next level” of engaging need as an intuitive part of life.

Why I’m attending Verge 2012

Recently I was asked by the Editor of the ABBA Connect and the Austin Bridge Builders Alliance to answer a few questions about Verge Conference. While at first it seemed like just another task to get done during a busy week, in answering them I was reminded how significant an event I really believe Verge to be. That said, I thought I’d share my thoughts here as well:

ABBA: What is Verge and how will it impact Austin?

Brandon: Verge is a Missional Community Conference. What does that mean? It means that as Church leaders we believe the greatest way to impact a city or community is through empowering, equipping, and releasing, missionary people with a heart for the Gospel back into their context. It means that we believe in making disciples marked by lives who are radically changed by the gospel, who literally become Good News wherever they’ve been sent (home, work & play) and where they are being sent (across the tracks, rivers, and highways).

I think the impact of Verge can be vast if we are willing to respond. There’s a huge amount of momentum behind the heart of Verge… but it comes with a radical shift in thinking… too often we settle with the heart of the idea instead of strategically considering how it could really play out in a city of over a million people. The questions remain: Are we willing to listen? Are we willing to use our influence, relationships, and resources for the greater good? Are we wiling to lay down our plan for His plan?

ABBA: Why should we attend?

Brandon: Leaders at Verge are going to put words to the thoughts people are having.  They are going to bring experiences, stories, connect it with Gospel, and challenge us to make it real in our context. As church leaders a better question is, “Why wouldn’t we attend?”

ABBA: How will Verge help churches connect with each other and our community?

Brandon: The greatest way to connect churches and community is through a unified mission. Jesus taught that when we focus on Kingdom, that HE would build His church. That doesn’t mean our individual churches… that means THE Church in Austin will be built up. What each of us pray for in Austin cannot happen through one expression of the local church, so the bottom line is not just connecting, but praying for a movement in our city. I think Verge will lay a foundation that each of us can build upon.

ABBA: Why are YOU passionate about this event?

Brandon: Two reasons: (1) I’m always excited about an opportunity to gather with like-minded thinkers and leaders with an opportunity to learn. This conference is filled with practitioners, not just theorists, so we’ll also come away with some strategy. And, (2) at the last Verge Conference… the Spirit simply showed up. Some would argue the Spirit literally fell on the room at one point. I don’t know about you… but I think if we need more of anything, it’s the Holy Spirit. I want to be a part of something where God’s movement is obvious, His leading is convincing, and his presence is undeniable.


The Church: Are we “Good News”?

I love that the word Gospel means Good News. While it’s too easy – even dangerous – to oversimplify the Gospel, it’s just as easy to over-complicate how we live it out in our daily lives. Especially as the Church. I’m convinced we need to spend more time asking, “is what we’re doing really good news” and if so, to whom is it good news? If we’d let the answer drive our agenda, we’d probably be a lot more effective in reaching and impacting our community.

We’ve noticed a pattern at ANC; whenever we serve those in need, people seem to take note. We first noticed it on Easter when we canceled our regular scheduled Easter services to organize a community wide food drive. We had hundreds of unchurched take part (on a Sunday morning) and two out of the three local network news stations featured our efforts as a part of their Easter evening newscast. The same thing happened the next year when we moved our Easter service downtown and outdoors, sharing worship and communion with the homeless of Austin. Two more news segments and a front-page newspaper article entitled “A New Kind of Easter for a New Kind of Church.”

I’m not writing this to brag about our news coverage. And although I’m proud of the path our church has taken, I’m not writing this to draw attention to ANC. I’m writing this because I hope we’ll take note of what others are taking note of.

About a year ago I was tweeting a few thoughts on the church being more socially concerned when I got a surprise tweet from a follower who lived in NYC: “I just wanted you to know that if I wasn’t a backslidden Jewish atheist, I’d want you as my pastor”. You couldn’t offer me a better compliment.

If you know me or my family at all, you know that last week I brought my 7 year-old adoptive son home from Ethiopia. With over a dozen families at ANC in the middle of the adoption process, it’s been a journey our entire church has been a part of. During a layover in the Detroit airport I got a call from Fox News asking if they could capture the story when we arrived. They wanted to do a live segment at 5 o’clock and a longer version at 9pm. They committed nearly four minutes to the segment that aired on both the newscasts, and within hours the web link to the video had been re-posted to over 700 Facebook pages. The reporter claimed on twitter that it was one of her favorite stories ever.

In a moment of curiosity I checked my Blog stats today. 8 out of the 10 most read posts over the last year where related to serving the poor. Not my leadership. Not my theological insight. It wasn’t even close. People are interested in mercy and justice. They are drawn to these things. Christians are seeking to learn how to be good news and our onlookers are hoping to see it played out.

A socially active church gaining media attention is no coincidence. It’s an indicator. In a world screaming out for the church to be the church, it makes sense. People are looking for some Good News, yet too often we’re no news at all.

Jesus told us to serve the least. Here’s what I know, when we do, “it works”. I’m not going to try and explain what “it works” means, because it works in so many ways. Give it a shot and see for yourself.


The AND of Church: Genius v.s. Reality.

Something interesting has happened at Austin New Church. Although we are a church that values equally gathering (exaltation) and the sending (incarnation), our onlookers often assume as a service-based-missional-church, that we value mission, service, and community OVER worship, teaching, and discipleship. This is not true.

In fact, our intention is to be a church where our reality is a balance between the two. I believe not only in the “Genius of the AND”, but also in it’s biblical value. I truly believe that one validates the other. But I also understand completely why people make this assumption about ANC. And it’s our fault.

We do it on purpose.

Let me explain: I’m right-handed. And I play basketball. My natural bent is to dribble with my right hand and to shoot with my right hand. I don’t have to work very hard to do that well. My left, however, is another story. I have to force myself to go left. I have to work extra hard, do left-handed drills, and honestly… I’m not nearly as good at it.

So I have a choice. Always go right, which eventually becomes predictable and even ineffective in certain situations. Or LEARN to go left… be willing to work hard, willing to do something that makes me feel uncomfortable or even make me look a little awkward at times, willing to even fail trying, but do something I know is not only necessary but something that can be a difference maker.

But go and LEARN what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Mt 9:13

LEARN to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” – Is 1:17

The gathering of the church has become our “right hand”. We intuitively (and culturally) do it well. Honestly, we do it so well… it easily becomes rote… so we spend extra time trying to keep it creative, always seeking to push the envelope to the next level. This – in itself – is not a bad thing.

The sending of the church is often our “left hand”. We know it’s there for a reason. But we tend to use it only when we have to. And it’s certainly a difficult task to improve. It’s hard work. And often takes sacrifice.

So we have a choice. Do we settle for doing one well and neglect the other? Or do we work hard on our weakness, shooting for a balance between the two? I’m not trying to oversimplify the conversation, but I believe this is part of our problem. We get whatever we put into it. In fact, I believe we must work harder – possibly twice as hard – at the missional elements of church to come even close to the middle. This is our strategy at ANC. We lead with mission and our hope is that worship is the overflow. So far, so good.

We can’t minimize this to being just a functional move. It’s more complicated than that and there’s a reason it works. There is certainly a biblical purpose. But as church leaders and practitioners we must recognize that the GENIUS of the “AND” is a reality that very few of us actual find. And that the REALITY of the “AND” is found in identifying, working on, and playing to our “weakness”. It’s not only about what we do well, it’s what we neglect. It’s certainly more of an art form than a science and often requires an over-compensating of sorts in the direction of mission. A move not everyone is willing to make.

Even as Christ followers, many of us fail at finding the balance of the “AND” in our personal faith journey. We barely give equal treatment or value to mission. Even when we do, since our natural bent is towards the gathering… we don’t land anywhere near to the middle.

This is a good conversation to have. And I’m glad so many are having it. With this in mind there are two things I’d recommend to anyone seeking some answers. The first is the book “AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church” written by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay. And the second is the “AND Conference” held at Granger Community Church this fall.


Missional Momentum

Over the last couple years I’ve had the opportunity to sit with a number of pastors seeking to increase the missional posture of their church. As expected, this has proven to be easier for some than others, and more of an art form than a science.

But among the many variables, we’re beginning to see a few common threads emerge among those seeming to gain “missional momentum”. Here are the top three practices we’ve observed:

1. Those pursuing the “and” of EXALTATION and INCARNATION.

As church leaders we often make the mistake of thinking what we do on Sunday and what we do throughout the week operate independent of one another. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the majority of our weekday ministries pick up where Sunday leaves off. Missional momentum seems to be directly impacted by how effectively we utilize our gatherings to give bible precedence, priority of vision, and permission for our people to live on mission throughout the week.

2. Those discovering new ways to ENGAGE the NEEDS of their community.

Missional flow draws attention to the natural process necessary to engage an “unreached” people group. It starts with (1) engaging culture, then (2) forming community (on mission), followed by (3) creating structure or congregation. At the very core of a biblically missional effort lies a demand to engage culture. We simply cannot engage culture without engaging the needs of culture. Churches gaining the most momentum seem to be those utilizing existing structures to meet the needs of their community – as much as – or even prior to their own.

3. Those recognizing what they CAN’T do and HELPING others who CAN.

Many church leaders today are starting from a good place: Reality. For some, the ship they are trying to turn makes the titanic look like a two man raft. In their wisdom and experience they are piloting groups rather than blowing up ministries and starting over. They are pioneering new strategies through existing structures. But they know it will take time… and they can’t do it all at once.

This is where church planting and partnering with existing ministries or non-profits comes to play. A surprising amount of missional momentum is being found by churches committed to help others plant churches or who are willing to partner with those already engaging the needs of culture in ways they’d find difficult to do themselves.


Serving and the American Church

“Serving the Least” is on the rise in the American Church. This is a good thing. But it’s also (unfortunately) a new thing for most, and is requiring many churches to make some serious changes.

Leading people through change is an art, not a science. Especially when leading others towards engaging need for the first time. There are variables, many obstacles, and several paths that can lead to similar outcomes. Each of our stories will be unique, and half of the journey is discovery; don’t limit yourself before you get out of the box.

Here’s FOUR things to keep in mind when initiating movement toward social action:

Be Creative: Things will not go as planned. Serving the least is not neat and tidy. Church leaders will constantly have to be thinking about how we can accomplish specific things through unconventional means. This minimizes structural change and is necessary in (a) discovering existing forms that can best be adapted to accomplish our new objectives, (b) utilizing individual gifts to succeed in unlikely ways, and (c) thinking out of the box in an area where we’ve been conditioned to follow the norm.

Be Intentional: This is not something that will happen spending six hours a day at Starbucks sipping on a frapaccino. You won’t find out what you need to know at your laptop. Prayerfully drive through your community, meet with non-profit directors, city demographers, read books on culture and community, and meet with your mayor. Nothing we do should be without a purpose. If you plan an event to serve single moms, use the moment to capture information about their greatest needs. If you’re talking to a homeless man, ask them what are the misconceptions most people have about homelessness. If you’re mentoring a kid at school, find out if you can serve the mom as well. Being intentional means being a learner again. Know what you’re trying to accomplish and steward your efforts accordingly.

Be Responsive: There’s a huge difference between reacting and responding. When things do not go as expected, don’t throw up your hands in frustration. Don’t give up. Remember that God is leading this. And don’t allow the enemy to question all the things you’ve already settled. Be prayerful and find out what the next best decision is, then go do it. I know this seems a little happy-go-lucky, but don’t always look at failure as the end of the road, look at them as opportunities. Find alternatives and be open to changes along the way.

Be Persistent: Try and try again. I’ve seen groups go through a dozen different projects before they found one that “fits” their passion and experiences. Serving is certainly not a one-size-fits-all deal. If it was, we’d all want to do the same thing, and everything else would be neglected.