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Steeple to Street
Across the United States and beyond, the God who “makes all things new” is up to something. Amid a Christian landscape that looks and feels like a desert of decline, new oases of the Spirit are springing forth. Inherited congregations, with long histories, deeply rooted in their traditions, are experimenting with new ways of being church. When these congregations commit to introducing new people to Jesus, new leaders (both lay and ordained) are discovering that they can start fresh expressions of church to reach those outside of the church AND that our existing congregational systems can be retro-fitted for a new future through a process of “remissioning.”
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Matt Lake and Michael Beck employ very different approaches, but their congregations are finding new life. They will explore the theological underpinnings for becoming a new kind of local church, as well as share practical tools, practices, and processes to help local congregations cultivate a new future.
Previewing Steeple to Street
Session 1: A New Missional Frontier–Why It Matters
Wednesday, March 3
Once again, we are in a situation similar to Judges 2:10, “Moreover, that whole generation was gathered to their ancestors, and another generation grew up after them, who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.” The massive growth of “nones and dones,” and the decline of all Christian groups, and the disaffiliation of emerging generations with the church is a well-documented phenomenon. On a massive scale, another generation has grown up who does not know the Lord. We now find ourselves on a new missional frontier. The first session will examine the shifts contributing to this decline and suggest fresh expressions as a contextually intelligent missional approach.
Session 2: How the Blended Ecology: Awakening and Future-fitting
Wednesday, March 10
This session will invite us to reimagine our contexts as communal ecosystems. The blended ecology is a form of revitalization that occurs when local churches live in the mixed economy, cultivating both attractional and emerging forms of church over a significant period. Attractional congregations alone cannot fully capitalize on the missional opportunity before us. Inherited congregations that cultivate fresh expressions can experience forms of revitalization. Inherited refers to a form of church passed on as a precious gift by the saints of generations past, also called a “traditional, attractional, or gathered” church sometimes compared to the emerging church. As in our parents leaving us an incredibly valuable inheritance that we must now learn how to steward well. Emerging refers to a contextual form of church that reaches and serves people currently outside the inherited church, also called “modern, missional, scattered” and fresh expressions of church. They can live together in a synergistic way.
Session 3: How the Blended Ecology: Cultivating/Grafting and Releasing
Wednesday, March 17
This session would explore practical ways for inherited congregations to go “from the steeple to the streets.” Every local church can be a “multi-site” in a sense of multiple congregations gathering throughout the community. Pioneer ministry teams are the key to this activity. For centuries the church has understood itself as a community of believers in the midst of the greater society and culture. For many churches, we understand the larger community as a parish, a geographical boundary surrounding a village/town. The local church was responsible for the spiritual care and Christian formation of everyone living in the parish whether they came on Sunday or not. Now in this Post-Christendom world we must regain, with an urgency, this sense of mission. The local church can be awakened from apostolic amnesia, and future-fitted by the Spirit.
Session 4: Moving Forward In The Blended Ecology
Wednesday, March 24
This session would be a deep dive into the fresh expressions journey and how to do it from an inherited base. 21st Century discipleship will be explored. Practitioner experience will be integrated with emerging research to offer practical processes and practices. When the whole people of God, the apostle-hood of all believers, are released to join what the Spirit is up to in our neighborhoods and networks, a new future is born. The task at hand then is to discover how we cultivate congregations capable of pioneering new territory and how we develop leaders that can guide these congregations.
Matt Lake serves as the Lead Pastor of the First UM Church in Williamsport, PA—an urban congregation that consists of a mix of traditional, and contemporary worship experiences. He uses his role as a lead pastor to encourage pioneers AND empower the “priesthood of all believers.” A blended ecology is now emerging at First Church which includes a network of 12 fresh expressions led by various pioneers called the Acts Network. First Church is a pioneering congregation that is integrating both the strengths of the “gathered and sent” dimensions of church together.
Michael Beck serves Wildwood UMC, FL—a 140-year-old congregation that was preparing for closure eight years ago. He balances caring for the inherited congregation, with leading from the edge as a practitioner of fresh expressions. Wildwood is now a fully team-based, blended ecology congregation, with a network of 13 fresh expressions sustained by lay pioneers.
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