House for all Sinners and Saints, the congregation I serve in Denver, Colorado, started with 8 people in my living room in the Fall of 2007. (I hereby proclaim the living room of a church planter to be the iconic equivalent to the garage of a tech start-up’s founder)
Someone asked me early on what’s your 5 year plan? Um, yeah…never had a plan. Well I kind of have a plan: I plan on being a responsive and adaptive leader and who and what I am responding and adapting to changes with everyone who comes and everyone who leaves. How in the world can you know what that will look like in 5 years?
Our first public Eucharist was in April of 2008 and we began worshipping weekly in Advent of the same year. Until last Summer we never really averaged more than 50 people in liturgy. Last night there were 120.
I know that there are some who have been part of this church for awhile who are feeling a sense of loss around the growth. There was a greater sense of intimacy and community before we grew. Also…there was never a line at the prayer station 🙂 But there was also far less diversity. I want to honor the real feeling of loss they are experiencing, but at the same time I want to be clear about something: this is not our church. This is a gift God has given us. This church is here as a gift from God for us and for us to share so that others can also receive what we have been enriched by. Two years ago someone asked me what was the biggest issue facing my congregation. The fact that everyone involved likes it just the way it is was my answer.
I reject the idea I hear out there that the church is the only institution that exists solely for the people who aren’t inside of it. (is that what “missional means? i’ve never quite figured that one out) When churches are turned in on themselves they can develop an unhealthy fixation on their own needs. In this situation the church exists so that I can be around the people I already know and have everything just the way I like it so that my needs are met and most importantly so that everything remain unchanged until the church meets my final need: my own funeral. (See my previous post about dying congregations holding onto their buildings in what I am now calling The Babylonian Captivity of the Church Buildings). However, when churches are only turned outward so that reaching out to new people and being of service to others is the only focus there can be an unhealthy fixation on how much of a “blessing” we are. The danger here is that nothing may be feeding the people who are doing the serving and they become spiritually and emotionally malnourished.
This is where House for All Sinners and Saint is trying to figure some things out. We have never wanted to get really, really big. The reason for that is not because we’re like a child with a bag of sweets and the more people we have to share with the less we will have for ourselves. The reason is that there is a purpose to the way we do liturgy (see my post on the Problem with Pews) and we could not be as participatory if there were several hundred people at HFASS. (Also, I like being the pastor of a small church. I want to know about the lives of the people that I am preaching to.)
Now that I’ve written all of this I’m not sure what the point is.
I do know this: It makes me unbelievably happy to see all those people in church and I hope we have the grace to know this is God’s church and to celebrate it all as a feast and keep adding chairs to the table. …and figure out how to make a larger prayer station 🙂