Category Archives: Planting

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


Incarnational Community: Four Phases

Tangible Kingdom Primer Roll Out Strategy

Guest Post: Hugh Halter

Over the last several years we’ve trained thousands of leaders in how to begin a movement of incarnational communities in every niche and neighborhood in North America. So far, around 25,000 people have taken this seriously and we’re constantly hearing stories of conversion, cultural engagement, personal spiritual renewal, and even a few churches that began simply because they started some Tangible Kingdom Primer groups.

All movements need some ramp up time to inspire, process, and recruit people for the mission.  As we mentioned in AND, each church must determine how fast to push and how many to call to this more intentional way of community. Incarnational communities are not small groups, but small groups can become incarnational communities.  Small groups are typically first decision communities; by that we mean that anyone can be involved if they make the first decision to believe in God and show up.  Incarnational Communities are second decision communities where the participants make a second decision to live a more intentional rhythm of Inclusive Community, Communion, and Mission together.

Thus, we don’t advocate that a church try to get everyone going at the same time.  For churches where there’s been very little buy-in to missional/incarnational ministry… (Read More).


Church Planting: New Paradigms, New Metrics.

Earlier I mentioned a great blog posted by Jonathan Dodson on Four Ways Church Planting Training Must Change. I’d like to offer three “tweaks” to our thinking that must accompany his points. First, here’s a quick review:

1. We need to offer both information and experience-based training.

2. We need to train planters on both traditional “core teams” and non-traditional missional teams.

3. We need to equip planters to preach and to cultivate gospel-renewing environments

4. We need to cast vision for planters who plant not isolated churches but networked churches that partner for regional and urban renewal.

Based on what we’ve learned and experienced over the last few years of church planting, I think most of us would agree that each point would be beneficial. However, of all the benefits placing these four strategies into our training will gain, success according to many of our current metric is not one of them. Bottom line, success of these things are hard to measure.

A new way of training must come with a new way of thinking. In order to create sustainable models that embrace these changes there are at least three more tweaks we need to embrace:

1.  A New System/Standard for Funding: While many of our historic church planting strategies have come with a ton of up front money, the issue often comes in year three where the church has a breakthrough opportunity yet lack the resources to actually break through. The pressure to “arrive” before the money runs out can ruin a ministry and compromise a vision. Many of today’s training leaders are considering an “infusion” model of funding where the resources given up front are less but come with the understanding that more resources will be infused as growth deems necessary. Often we make early decisions based on resources we have, not on what we might have. Infusing funding along the way keeps in lean when it needs to be lean. This model of funding creates a second change we need to consider:

2. A New Time-line: Launching big happens. But it’s become more difficult to do, and is happening less and less in certain contexts. If our desire is to begin a faith community out of culture that transforms culture from the inside out, it will take time. While reaching Christians  can come quickly, cultivating new relationships from those far from Christ is a slow process. If these relationships are to be authentic, it cannot be rushed.

3. A New Scorecard for Success: We often talk about this, yet it’s difficult to embrace. We tie so much credibility to a leader (and ourselves) by how church is growing. We must realize that church grows in ways beyond Sunday morning. While measuring transformation and life change is difficult, it is possible to track community groups, those serving outside the church, what and how much we commit to mission, and how often we engage in Kingdom partnerships. All are significant qualities, yet are all ignored by the attendance report from Sunday.

These are just a few things that seem to be a frequent part of the conversation, what things have YOU seen that have changed or need to change in order to embrace a new paradigm for church planting?


Four Ways Church Planting Training Must Change

My friend Jonathan Dodson, pastor of Austin City Life, wrote a recent blog on Four Ways Church Planting Training must change. I think it’s good so I thought I’d share…

“With missional ecclesiology in full swing, many of the current missional training structures are becoming outdated. If church planting networks and organizations are going to continue to stimulate deep, sustained mission to all kinds of peoples, then some our training structures will have to change…. click HERE to continue reading.


Encouragement from “AND” for Austin New Church

Last week in Orlando at the Exponential Church Planters Conference a new book was released in the Exponential Series by Zondervan called “AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church“. In it, authors Hugh Halter and Matt Smay (Tangible Kingdom) wrote some incredibly encouraging words about Austin New Church that I feel really captures our heart and hope for mission. I just thought I’d share with those of you of the ANC community:

“ANC, like Adullam, found that if you try to start a church or grow a church, you often attract people who just want to do “church things”; but if you start with a mission, God will draw people together and a church will happen naturally. ANC isn’t a church that does mission; it’s a mission that has become a church, and the people who now do church together clearly acknowledge that this new way of living is a better ecclesial rhythm than simply adding a church gathering at the end of every week. Again, what brings meaning to your gathering is how well you scatter. Jesus gave us the key to helping people find meaning when he said, “Whoever want to save their life will lose it” (Mark 8:35 TNIV). Corporately, it’s the same. If we want people to find meaning in our church gatherings, we must help them to gather for the purposes and people outside the gatherings.”

Thanks again, Hugh and Matt, for the encouragement.


The Forgotten Ways (A Review)

Alan Hirsch recently posted on facebook this insightful review by David Mays of his book “The Forgotten Ways“. Not only is this a great book. This is a great review. For those of you who have not read the book, this gives you a great framework of it’s content. Enjoy (then go buy the book):


Alan Hirsch grew up in South Africa, from a Jewish background, was apparently part of the party scene, had a radical conversion, went to seminary, pastored a bunch of radical fringe Christians in the red light and drug district of South Melbourne, led this alternative style church into a consumerist model, reconfigured it for mission, worked for renewal in his denomination, started Forge Mission Training Network, and wrote The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church. Hirsch sees himself as a missionary to the West.

The church is on a massive, long-trended decline in the West. It is facing a major adaptive challenge but it is stuck in an institutional paradigm that does not work for most of the post-Christian world. It must adopt a missionary stance in relation to its cultural contexts or face increasing decline.

Section One. The Making of a Missionary (Background of His Experience)

The early church expanded from an estimated 24,000 Christians in 100 AD to perhaps 20 million Christians in 310 AD, even though they were illegal, had no buildings, no N.T. Scriptures, or professional leaders, and they made it hard to join the church. (18-19) Similar movements happened with the Methodists in the 1800s and the Pentecostal movement and the Chinese church in the 1900s. How did they do it?

Hirsch posits that God’s people carry within themselves the same potencies that energized the early Christian movement but we have simply forgotten how to access and trigger it. The book attempts to formulate a missional paradigm for the church, incorporating elements that could reignite a transformative Jesus movement in the West. (22, 26)

“All great missionary movements begin at the fringes of the church, among the poor and the marginalized, and seldom, if ever, at the center. It is vital that in pursuing missional modes of church, we get out of the stifling equilibrium of the center of our movements and denominations, move to the fringes, and engage in real mission there. … when the church engages at the fringes, it almost always brings life to the center.” (30)

“The church with the best programs and the ‘sexiest’ appeal tends to get more customers.” However, “We plainly cannot consume our way into discipleship. All of us must become much more active in the equation of becoming lifelong followers of Jesus.” (45)

“The movement that Jesus initiated was an organic people movement, not a religious institution. This must seep into our imaginations and reinform all our practices. (54)

Ralph Winter introduced the concept of cultural distance, the number of cultural barriers to a meaningful engagement with the gospel. Barriers could be race, history, religion/worldview, culture, language, etc. An increasingly small percentage of people are in the 0-1 range, that is, “our culture.” Almost all our attempts to communicate the gospel are now cross-cultural! (58) People now identify themselves less by … much less grand stories: interest groups, new religious movements, sexual identity, sports activities, class, conspicuous consumption, work types, etc. “Each of them takes their subcultural identity with utmost seriousness, and hence any missional response to them must as well.” However, the average church tends to be reasonably effective only within its own cultural reference. (61) The vast majority of people are more than one barrier removed and we must adopt a sending approach rather than an attractional one. “People will come to faith in small, intimate communities of friends but generally don’t want the organized-religion part of the deal.” (63)

The church needs a fundamental change, a major realignment, to become genuinely missional. “It is time to (re)discover a new story of the church and its mission.” (66)

Hirsch introduces mDNA (missional DNA), the central complex of guiding ideas, phenomena, structures, and experiences that made the phenomenal Jesus movements effective. The real future of Western Christianity resides in fledgling unorganized groups and movements that carry mDNA.

Section Two: A Journey to the Heart of Apostolic Genius

The remainder of the book describes the various aspects of Apostolic Genius, the primal energy, the spiritual current that thrusts its way through the tiny faith communities that transformed the world in the early church. Like the biological cell, every local church has latent Apostolic Genius, the aggregate of all the elements of mDNA. Organic missional movements organize through healthy mDNA coding vs. by external hierarchy.

Definition of missional church: “…a community of God’s people that defines itself, and organizes its life around, its real purpose of being an agent of God’s mission to the world. In other words, the church’s true and authentic organizing principle is mission.” (82)

According to Hirsch there are six foundational elements of mDNA: Jesus is Lord, Disciple Making, Missional-Incarnational Impulse, Apostolic Environment, Organic Systems, and Communitas (not community). He devotes one chapter to each.

3. The Heart of it All: Jesus is Lord

At the heart of all great movements is an essential conception of who Jesus is and what he does. They are literally Jesus movements. Jesus plays an absolutely central role. Our connection to God is through Jesus. This is what makes us distinctly Christ-ian. “At its very heart, Christianity is therefore a messianic movement, one that seeks to consistently embody the life, spirituality, and mission of its Founder.” (94) There can be no non-God areas in our lives. By committing all of our lives under Jesus, we live out true holiness. (97) “‘Jesus is Lord’ is a radical claim, one that is ultimately rooted in questions of allegiance, of ultimate authority, of the ultimate norm and standard for human life. Instead, Christianity has often sought to ally itself comfortably with allegiance to other authorities, be they political, economic, cultural, or ethnic.” (99) A very primitive, unencumbered Christology lies at the heart of the renewal of the church.

4. Disciple Making

The essential task of discipleship is to embody the message of Jesus because the purpose of the church is to draw people to Christ and make them like Christ. If we fail in this point we fail in all others. This is where Jesus invested his time and energy–the foundation of the whole Christian movement–in selecting and discipling his band of followers.

Neil Cole says of the early period of Church Multiplication Associates, “‘We want to lower the bar of how church is done and raise the bar of what it means to be a disciple.’ Their rationale was that if the experience of church was simple enough that just about anyone can do it, and is made up of people who have taken up their cross and follow Jesus at any cost, the result will be a movement that empowers the common Christian to do the uncommon works of God. ‘Churches will become healthy, fertile and reproductive.’ If this is right, then many of our current practices seem to be the wrong way around…we seem to make church complex and discipleship too easy.” (104)

The major threat to the viability of our faith is that of consumerism because in so many ways it infects each and every one of us. Consumerism is a very significant religious phenomenon because advertising offers a sense of identity, purpose, meaning, and community–which is what religion offers. “Marketers have now co-opted the language and symbolism of all the major religions…because they know that religion offers the ultimate object of desire and that people will do just about anything to get it.” (107) “In dealing with consumerism we are dealing with an exceedingly powerful enemy propagated by a very sophisticated media machine.” (109)

Until the Enlightenment, church played the dominant role in western culture. However, it was pushed out by the following forces:

  • • Capitalism and the free market emerged as the mediator of value.
  • • The nation-state emerged as the mediator of protection and provision.
  • • Science emerged as the mediator of truth and understanding. (108)

“…the church is forced into the role of being little more than a vendor of religious goods and services. … Church growth exponents have explicitly taught us how to market and tailor the product to suit target audiences. … In the end the medium has so easily overwhelmed the message. … Most people are profoundly susceptible to the idolatrous allure of money and things.” “…if we don’t disciple people, the culture sure will.” (110-11)

“The quality of the church’s leadership is directly proportional to the quality of discipleship.” “Discipleship is primary; leadership is always secondary. And leadership, to be genuinely Christian, must always reflect Christlikeness and therefore…discipleship.” (119) Jesus does discipleship in the context of mission. All great people movements engage the newest convert in mission from the start. (120)

5. Missional-Incarnational Impulse

“Mission means ‘sending,’ and it is the central biblical theme describing the purpose of God’s action in human history.” (129, quoting Darrell Guder). God is a missionary God and the church is a sent (missionary) people. The genuine missional impulse is sending rather than attracting. (129)

Incarnational, as in Jesus, includes presence, proximity, powerlessness, and proclamation. (132) Our way of reaching the world should likewise be incarnational, including a genuine identification and affinity with those we are attempting to reach. (133) This means fitting seamlessly into the ordinary rhythms of life, friendships, and community, thus becoming contextualized. (135) “What we then get are communities of faith that form an actual part of the culture they inhabit as well as are themselves missional.” (139)

“It is Christ who determines our purpose and mission in the world, and then it is our mission that must drive our search for modes of being-in-the-world.” (143) “Start with the Church and the mission will probably get lost. Start with mission and it is likely that the Church will be found.” (143, quoting Graham Cray). “The early Christians were not focused on the church but rather on following Jesus and doing His mission, and the church emerged from that.” (143, quoting Robinson and Smith, Invading Secular Space)

“Anywhere people gather for social reasons could be a good place for missional engagement.” (145)

6. Apostolic Environment

“Apostolic leadership…is always present in periods of significant missional extension.” (151) “Without apostolic ministry the church either forgets its high calling or fails to implement it successfully. … If we really want missional church, then we must have a missional leadership system to drive it–it’s that simple.” (152)

The apostle is the custodian of Apostolic Genius: that is, the person who imparts and embeds mDNA. (153) This person has three functions: 1) to embed mDNA through pioneering, 2) to guard the mDNA by application and integration, ensuring the churches remain true to the gospel, and 3) to create the environment, or provide the reference point, for other ministries. (155-57) “Apostolic ministry calls forth and develops the gifts and callings of all of God’s people. It does not create reliance but develops the capacities of the whole people of God based on the dynamics of the gospel.” (164)

7. Organic Systems

“All of life bears God’s creative fingerprints, and he has filled every aspect of it with intrinsic vitality and intelligence. The cosmos itself seems to operate in a profoundly intelligent way…. From atoms to stars, every aspect of creation points to an unbelievably intelligent and utterly powerful Being and looks to him for its ongoing reality and existence….” (180-81)

“A living systems approach seeks to structure the common life of an organization around the rhythms and structures that mirror life itself.” (182) “…church must structure itself around the natural ebb and flow of the believer’s life. Existing relationships with believers and nonbelievers alike become the very fabric of the church.” (185) “Structures are needed but they must be simple, reproducible and internal rather than external.” (Neil Cole) “The function of leadership is to grow structure, not impose it.” (186)

Established institutions resist a movement ethos. It’s just too chaotic and uncontrollable. Institutionalism keeps us from fully becoming ourselves as the people of God. (194-5) “We need to let go of a static model of church that is based primarily on congregation, programs, and buildings. In its place we need to develop a notion of Christian community…which…is more flexible, adaptive, and responsive to change.” (199)

“Organic multiplication begins a whole lot slower than addition, but in the end it is infinitely more effective.” (209) “In a sense the gospel, too, travels like a virus. It is ‘sneezed’ and then passed on through further sneezing from one person to the other. All that is needed are the right conditions and the appropriate relationships into which we can ‘sneeze.'” (211)

8. Communitas, not community

“Middle-class” generally involves a preoccupation with safety and security, especially for our children. Throw in consumerism and we get an obsession with comfort and convenience. This is not a good mix for spreading the gospel and missional church. (219) In Hirsch’s experience in South Melbourne the church moved from “me for the community and the community for the world,” (communitas) to the more consumer oriented “the community for me.” (220)

Christian community as we know it has become little more than a quiet and reflective soul-space for people. Communitas happens when we are pushed out of our normal safe zones and put in situations of disorientation, marginalization, and challenge, such as happens on a short-term mission trip. Hirsch claims this is to be the normative situation for God’s people.

Mission is the organizing principle. Only groups that start out to do mission actually do it. “If evangelizing and discipling the nations lie at the heart of the church’s purpose in the world, then it is mission [to outsiders], and not ministry [to insiders], that is the true organizing principle of the church.” (135)

“Experience tells us that a church that aims at ministry seldom gets to mission even if it sincerely intends to do so. But the church that aims at mission will have to do ministry, because ministry is the means to do mission. Our services, our ministries, need a greater cause to keep them alive and give them their broader meaning.” (236)

“One of the most missional things that a church community could do is simply to get out of their buildings and go to where the people are–and be God’s redeemed people in that place in a way that invites people into the equation!” (240) The journey itself is important; the risk and adventure is good for the soul. “We need to hit the road again. We are the people of the Way….” (241)


Something Happened Last Night

I sat in a living room last night in East Austin dreaming, praying, discussing, and planning with a group of men I never would have known just a handful of years ago. Through networking initiatives like the Austin PlantR Network (www.plantr.org), a handful of lunches, meetings, emails, and phone calls, we each found ourselves looking at each other and asking the question, “What if”?

So there we were: Two white dudes, three latinos, an african-american, a native-american, and an asian-american… all pastors, all feeling called to be a part of a collective spiritual and social renewal effort in the amazing city of Austin. Some are reformed, some wesleyan, some from the holiness tradition, and honestly some have spiritual journeys I’m still trying to figure out. One of us (who will remain unnamed) preaches in flip-flops, another wears a robe. There is much we do differently, but have at least one thing in common: the belief that it’s time to look past our secondary theological disagreements and not just “say” it won’t divide… but actually take major steps towards partnering together to reach a city that needs hope more than we need to be right.

It was very encouraging. The Spirit was overwhelming. And while it ended up being a four-hour meeting, I left refreshed. Something just seemed right. While part of me wishes I could fast forward five years and see what happens, I have a feeling that the joy will be in the journey of simply “what’s next”.

To be continued.