The Really Short Story.As of yesterday the church I planted with some friends seven years ago no longer exists. The 50+ year old church that gave birth to us no longer exists. A new church has been started with both congregations: Redeemer Fellowship. This was not a merger, but could be considered a restart/church plant combo.
The Short Story. This is a much more complicated story than I can tell here, but I wanted to let everyone know what's been happening. Consider this the short story.
Seven years ago I began the work of planting Grace Baptist Church. I did not do it alone, but was blessed to start this work with a couple families - people who had a heart for the community and a new work that would be biblically faithfully and culturally relevant. We started strong with a clear vision as a church plant and developed community through small groups. We were seeing conversions happen in the context of personal relationships. Our small groups grew from one to two to three and we began worshiping together at the community center with just over twenty people. After a couple years we had grown to about 60 people and four small groups. Growth was slow but regular, and lives were being transformed. God was at work and we were growing together, but as the years passed we plateaued in our growth, stopped seeing conversions, and never had the impact we dreamed of in our immediate community. In a future post I will unpack why I think we struggled after 2004.
We had planted Grace in a nice little bedroom community (Elburn), detached from the larger Fox Valley/Tri-cities area. The nature of Elburn made it difficult to reach the people within the town, and Elburn's distance from the Fox Valley made it difficult to create lasting connections with the people there. While a few of our families lived in Elburn, most of our members and regulars lived elsewhere - the larger portion farther east back in the Fox Valley. We were worshipping in a community where we had little impact. A couple years ago I began to conclude that planting ourselves in this bedroom community was now hindering us from fulfilling our objectives, and I started thinking about the need to relocate the church into the Fox Valley with a public relaunch.
I shared my thoughts on relocating with the elders, but this was not immediately embraced. So we waited, thought about it, prayed and several months later we believed this is something we should really look into. In short, it agreed that relocating and relaunching was necessary.
While we were thinking through all this our parent church, First Baptist Church of Saint Charles, was struggling as well. They had been without a pastor for some time and was having a rough time finding the right man to lead them. Their numbers had dwindled, but they had settled with a small core group of committed Christians. They had a strong leadership team that led them through some difficult times. FBC had, for some time, been in need of re-starting. And now, this was needed more than ever. As I considered and prayed about both of our situations I began playing with the idea of a completely new work made up of the families of both churches: new name and identity, vision and mission, constitution, covenant, confession, leadership structure, etc. Our leadership discussed this, prayed about it and encouraged me to talk with the leadership of FBC.
We began discussing what came to be called the "big idea." For both churches this was a radical concept. A risky suggestion. Along the way the leadership talked and prayed through a number of issues, eventually believing we should take this idea to our congregations for further, open discussion. Some people did not like the idea, others had concerns, everyone had a lot of questions. Does this mean we failed? Are we quitting? Are we abandoning Elburn altogether? We are very different from FBC, how will that work? So we took our time and worked out as much as we could. Eventually both churches agreed to take the next step in exploring this idea.
We decided to have joint services at FBC's building for several weeks. During this time each church selected 3 men to form an Interim Leadership Team, of which I was the seventh member, which began looking into the most immediate concerns and questions. We spent a lot of time praying together and fleshing out what this new work would look like. The ILT developed a constitution, confession, covenant, name, and sought to address the concerns brought up from each congregation. As we worked together we became more convinced that this new work was the best course of action for both congregations; that this new work is the best way for us all to be God's worshipping, missionary community.
We finally voted this past Sunday and both churches have decided to let their churches die while giving birth to something new. We have named the new church Redeemer Fellowship and meet at the old FBC building. The hard work we have done so far has been the easy part, the next few months will be more complicated as we develop systems, a plan for redemptive outreach/service to our community, organize elder and deacon ministries, flesh out a number of other issues, continue to cast vision, and will have a very public launch in the fall.
Some of our people are still nervous about this new venture. We loved our old churches and are sad that they came to an end. God accomplished some great things through Grace and FBC, but we are also excited about what God is doing among us now and where we believe he is leading us. I have over-simplified much of this for the sake of a blog post, but I wanted to let everyone know what we are doing and where I am at.
In the coming weeks/months I will be sharing what we have learned through our successes and failures at Grace: worship, evangelism, relationships, approach to culture, systems, location, leadership, vision and communication. I will also be sharing what our new church is developing and doing along the way. Please pray for us as we seek to be God's missionaries to the Fox Valley.