Reaching the Next Generation by Starting New Congregations

Reaching the Next Generation by Starting New Congregations

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In 2012, Portland First Church of the Nazarene (PFCN) started a new congregation called Eden Community. Pastors Mark Goodwin (MG), and Jason Veach (JV), talk about the development of this ministry and how they are seeking to reach the city of Portland, Oregon.

How did the concept of this new ministry come about?
MG: We came to the painful realization that we were not reaching an entire segment of our population and began grappling with questions like:

  • How can we reach the young adults of Portland who have never attended a church service?
  • How can we engage a generation whose world never intersects the church?
  • How do we connect with a whole segment of our city who doesn?t even know we exist?

Our church board spent hours talking, exploring, and praying about these evocative questions.We concluded that it is not a matter of 'style' or 'relevancy.' The chasm between our church culture and that of those we long to reach is so large that it requires a paradigm shift in our thinking. We concluded that we had to view this challenge the same way a missionary approaches a different culture.

In 2010, our church board voted unanimously to challenge the congregation to both prayer and sacrificial giving so that we could hire a full time missionary/pastor to oversee this ministry.

How did PFCN respond?
MG: I was terrified when I went before the congregation to present the challenge. It was all we could do to financially support our existing ministries using lay leaders. The thought of releasing key leaders and asking our people to fund an additional ministry beyond their tithes was frightening.

We explained to the congregation that we would not call a missionary/pastor until we had pledges for two years of ministry. We were stunned at their response. They pledged the entire amount within three months, and gave over and above what was asked. They were both nervous and excited to see this new adventure begin.

What were the first steps in starting Eden Community?
JV: Before we even made the move to Oregon, I received an email one day from a young couple in the Midwest who told me they felt called to move to Portland. They are now key leaders in our church and one of them has sensed a call to vocational ministry and recently received her local minister?s license. That was our first clue that the Holy Spirit had already been preparing hearts.

Once we arrived, I spent my initial time connecting with the PFCN congregation, meeting with classes and groups, and casting vision. The church was called to fast and pray for the new ministry. As a core group came together, we first launched parish groups, smaller communities that covenant to live on mission together. The Sunday before our official launch, we held a service of sending at PFCN and one week later we held our first public worship gathering.

What restrictions or limitations were placed on the new work?
MG: As I interviewed candidates, I looked for two primary qualities: a deep passion for the lost and a genuine love for the church. I knew that our congregation wanted to be involved in the process without getting in the way. They wanted to be valued and engaged, not simply tolerated.

I explained that the ministry would be driven solely by the mission of reaching unchurched young adults. We would give the new ministry total freedom regarding where they met, when they met, and how they would organize themselves. Our preference would be a continuing relationship between the two congregations but even that would be determined by mission. We had never seen a model of what we were trying to create so we committed to 'build the wagon' as we traveled.

How is Eden Community distinct? Connected?
JV: Shortly after its launch, Eden Community became a Parent-Affiliated Congregation. This designation allows Eden to become a distinct congregation with its own mission, vision, and approach while remaining connected to PFCN.

We currently meet in PFCN?s café space on Sunday evenings for worship. Our gatherings are shaped by the ancient four-fold pattern of entrance, word, thanksgiving, and sending. The style is relaxed yet reverent. We often incorporate art, media, and other interactive elements. Communion is celebrated weekly and we frequently share meals together. Whether it?s serving on a ministry team or volunteering with a local non-profit, there is a focus on mobilizing each person for ministry out in the city.

On a practical level, we have remained connected through occasional combined worship services, fellowship, and mission-oriented projects. For instance, the two congregations recently co-hosted a church history class and a parenting course for the community. Both regularly partner to serve our local middle school.

I report monthly to PFCN?s leadership team to share stories and updates so they can see and hear the fruits of their faithful investment. Having a parent church to support and encourage the new work in its infancy has made all the difference in giving Eden a healthy start.

What are some key lessons you?ve learned in using this model to reach new people?
MG and JV: We are very much in process but have learned several things along the way. The parent church pastor and the planting pastor must have at least a similar philosophy of ministry and be open to learning from each other. Trust and transparency are essential for a healthy relationship.

The missionary or planter must be willing to lead people into a new expression of church in order to reach a segment of people the parent congregation may not be reaching. At the same time, it is important to honor the contribution and unique mission of the parent church.

Time spent leading people into an understanding of God?s mission, biblical concepts of church, and cultural context is critical. This helps the core team to truly approach the new work from the perspective of missionaries and the parent church to celebrate the sending of workers for the harvest (Luke 10:2).

Our goal has continued to be the flourishing of the new ministry alongside the existing one. Ultimately, we want the structures we adopt to be shaped by the mission and our focus to be on the kingdom of God.

Mark Goodwin serves as pastor of Portland First Church of the Nazarene in Portland, Oregon.
Jason Veach serves as missionary/pastor of Eden Community Church of the Nazarene in Portland, Oregon.

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