We wanted to share an update with those who have asked about our church plans for the future. There will be other updates, so please let us know if you’d rather not receive them.
You may not realize that our interest in church planting began five or six years ago. We read the book Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis and started imagining a local church full of people that lived like overseas missionaries. We were drawn to the idea that church wasn’t a place you went but a people you were. That kind of vision has serious implications on the way we structured our lives, our schedules, career choices and places we would live, shop and hobby. We also saw one of the implications of thinking like a missionary was that we would structure our local church around missionary teams seeking to reach specific people groups in our area. This emphasis seems especially important given the increasingly “post-Christian” nature of America.
In May 2013 our family visited England to spend time with The Crowded House network of churches led by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis to see this kind of model in action and learn everything we could. We went thinking that if there was a benefit to us spending extended time in England that we would relocate there as God opened the door. It turned out that God didn’t have that for us, but seeing this model working in real life helped us visualize what it could look like back home. At The Crowded House, people do not join small groups based on a convenient time, format, demographic or topic but based on the people group that their small group (which they call a “gospel community”) is focused on reaching. The missionary target might be an ethnic group, a geography or a special interest.
When we came home from England we spent a year at a four year old church plant in downtown Newnan. That experience benefitted us in many ways and it was helpful to see and hear about many of the growing pains new church families face. Many of the people at that church were very different than what we were used to, which helped us refine what was and was not required in a church. As we look for our new church family to be much more economically and racially diverse, we think this this time will have been a helpful stepping stone for us.
As we thought about where we might start a church, we had several things in mind. We wanted to find an area where we could share life with people who were poorer and more ethnically diverse than we were used to. If we stayed in the south, we wanted to be able to use our biblical counseling skills both to serve Christians and as an evangelistic tool. Since Mike will continue to work at RGA, we also needed a place where he could get to the airport and work from home without significant problems.
Carrollton, GA was a good match. Carrollton is an area of 110,000 people about 25 miles northwest of where we live now. For an area this size, it has few churches that proclaim man’s greatest problem as the sin that separates them from God and the exclusive remedy of Jesus’ full and final sacrifice through his death and resurrection. The two churches we know best have very traditional models and are not located near the poorer and racially diverse area of Carrollton. One in four families in the county live in poverty.
We will close on a house in Carrollton, GA on September 24. The house needs a lot of work and will hope to move in by the end of the year. One longtime Carrollton social worker told us the area where we are headed is “in transition” which is sort of code for fewer middle class white people which are the people we hope to reach and serve.
We have been meeting as Living Stones Church with the Helton family for three months. Our plan is to meet in our current homes until we are able to live in Carrollton full time and then to meet in our home there. We are not opposed to finding a building at some point and since we have no paid staff we have the resources to do that but for now it is not necessary. We are intentionally staying low key for now but will post from time to time at www.facebook.com/livingstonescarrollton .
We will be starting with two initiatives. One is to establish a gospel community in one neighborhood in Carrollton based out of our home. Rather than type a lot, you can see more of our approach from the Total Church book (or its sequel, Everyday Church) or the www.wearesoma.com website. There’s nothing original in our approach – we want to be good servants to our community and live out the Gospel well in front of them. We’ll build as many contact points with unbelievers there as possible and continue to gather corporately on Sunday mornings in a pretty informal style. Additionally, we will offer free biblical counseling to the community which we plan to use as an evangelistic tool as much as a service for those already in Christ.
Bryan Helton and I will continue to work in our jobs and we are not looking for financial support. We have been told that new churches should try to find as many people as possible who will commit to pray weekly for them (if you would commit to praying for us weekly please let us know). We know that apart from Jesus we can do nothing and would welcome your prayers in these areas:
- That we would abide in Christ and look to Him to be our strength, vitality and purpose rather than “success” in church planting.
- Establishing connections to community leaders early and learning ways we can serve the community well and meet people.
- That God in His mercy would let us see ministry fruit in our families and those we meet early in our work to help fight against the potential for discouragement that many new churches face.
- For Mike to pursue sacrificial leadership in our home, true companionship with Bryan Helton in leading the church and integrity in his dealings with the community.
- For Kristen and the kids to trust God with all the changes happening now and in the near future.
- To grow in our love for people who are different from us quickly, and for patience with those differences that are particularly difficult for us.
We believe this is how God would have us live, but we also want to say that we don’t disparage more traditional church models. In fact, there are some things traditional models can do that would be very difficult to accomplish in the model we are pursuing, but the model we are using does seem to us to be the best way to reach the kind of people Jesus looked for in our particular time and place. We commend books like Total Church and Good News to the Poor by Tim Chester to you as a primer on this kind of model, and we can recommend other resources as well if you are interested.
With you in Him,