Ohio Trip 11: Ft. Wayne, Indiana

Welcome to Ft. Wayne, Indiana, where the corn is as high as an elephant’s eye…

My final church to visit was Grace Gathering, a traditional community church still early in the process of transitioning to the home church model. Unlike the last three churches, who seemed to be “winging it” for the most part, Grace Gathering is following a model borrowed form a famously innovative church called St. Thom’s in Sheffield, England. These guys have really done their homework. I spent part of an evening chatting with Scott Jester, the House Church (HC) coordinator for the church, and he caught me up on the story:

While Grace Gathering (GG) has long been into tweaking their organizational structure (previously they divided up into several mini-congregations), their foray into the house church model followed on the heels of a visit to England in order to learn from St. Thom’s. Both Scott and Chris Norman, GG’s teaching pastor, spent a good bit of time researching models and ideologies in order to find the right fit for their church. Once again, I am reminded that this kind of transition requires that the “up front” people buy into this vision or else it won’t fly at all.

And like Apex in Dayton, these folks found that the transitional period unavoidably leads to a thinning out of the congregation. Some folks like just sitting in a pew, thank you, very much! They don’t want to be thrown into a living room where they’re suddenly expected to function in some way other than taking up space. Perhaps the stories of Apex and GG warn us that churches need lots of “transitional ministry,” where the newer, decentralized model gets an extensive introduction, and where fundamental mindsets about church get challenged “from the pulpit” as it were. But again, that throws a good bit of responsibility back on the leaders, who will likely be improvising so much that they wish they had a script or an outline to follow once in a while.

I think both churches (Apex and Grace Gathering) illustrate the importance of getting help from other people (or groups) who have already implemented some of this decentralization themselves. Apex has gleaned some from Xenos and from the previous HC experience of a couple of their elders. Grace Gathering very studiously sought out examples, models, and even consultants who specialize in helping churches do this kind of thing. This transition is NOT EASY. It’s messy, and you’ll quite certainly lose folks in the process. But counting nickels and noses can’t be too important to you if you’re going this route, so maybe folks know to expect that already.

When numerical growth necessitated that GG build a new meeting facility, they kept it minimalistic. Their building consists primarily of a single meeting hall (which is actually a gym with indoor/outdoor carpet and a stage) attached to an inviting coffee house-style foyer, plus a few smaller meeting rooms for smaller groups and kids programs. One medium-sized room houses the kids worship meeting, and there’s a cool little den with some video games hooked up to an LCD projector.

Grace Gathering borrows heavily form St. Thom’s conceptual world, tossing around phrases like “low control, high accountability,” plotting their course according to four stages of growth (which I found pretty instructive as well), and perhaps most helpful of all, borrowing Mike Breen’s triangular UP, IN, and OUT visual in order to balance out the priorities of the church. As long as nobody sues me for it, I’ll be stealing these things myself, thank you!

Each home church that forms within their network is expected to develop a “missional focus”–a ministry to a specific target like troubled teens, or low-income immigrants, or a food bank. And in time most of them do. Following the advice of Kent Hunter (aka The Church Doctor) a while back they decided to group their HC’s together according to missional focus. So now there is a cluster of churches ministering to the needs of a sizable local Burmese population, another cluster serving with Angel Food ministry, and another working with a local youth center, etc. This way, the separate groups don’t feel quite so isolated in their ministries and they can draw strength from each other’s numbers. Pretty cool idea, I think.

As fabulous as all this looks on paper, I still have some reservations about how they’re going about it all. I’ll need to save that for another post. But for now, I have to compliment my hosts, Todd and Sue Heckley, for their entertaining conversation and their warm hospitality.

And for letting me come stay a couple of nights in their home, which was just a few hundred yards from the church campus (very convenient!).



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