I’m coming to realize one of the most exciting things about church planting is how it offers us the opportunity to become curious again. In church planting, there’s a renewed focus on listening and learning the stories of the people, neighborhoods, and industries of our cities where we are starting new churches. We get to ask questions like:
We get to walk the streets, go to council meetings, meet other leaders, and see where God is already at work. We get to slow down, become curious again, listen and take on the posture of a student.
At a church like First Presbyterian Church of North Palm Beach, FL where we place a high value on relationships and connection, you might think we know each others stories, but in a church our size this can be a huge challenge. It’s a challenge especially at the committee level when you have business to accomplish.
After a few months of meetings with our church planting sub-committee, it became apparent to us that business matters were consuming all of our time together. If we were the ones overseeing the establishment of a new church plant who valued listening and learning the stories of those outside the church, then we might want to begin taking the time to become curious about each other, to listen to the stories of the lives surrounding us.
In talking this over with Greg Smith (a ruling elder and chair of the church planting sub-committee), we had the idea to get our committee outside of the church building and together for a meal. The only thing on our agenda for this get-together was to cultivate curiosity about each other, the neighborhoods, and industries of our city. We were going to ask thoughtful questions and listen to one another. We came up with an idea to have a monthly meal with our sub-committee at Bar Louie, a restaurant on the north side of downtown, in a neighborhood that could be a potential site for our church plant. We figured meeting at this restaurant would begin to stir our questions for the neighborhood and, in turn, stir our curiosity for each other.
In January we had our first meeting. Within the first few minutes, half the people at the table realized they worked downtown, mere blocks from one another. Natural networking opportunities and ideas began to flow back and forth as many more folks realized they worked in overlapping industries. As lunch went on, we learned the stories of what brought everyone to West Palm, since so few of us are actually from there. In learning about each other, we were learning a lot about West Palm.
By the end of the meal, there was so much new energy and enthusiasm from our time together that people wanted to invite others to attend our next meeting. And so, at the next meeting, more people from our church came and the invitation was extended to leaders from other churches, large and small. The group has only continued to grow, now with leaders from outside our denomination attending and everyone having a voice.
For those of us sitting at that table, we have a big vision of seeing the cities and industries of south Florida renewed and strengthened through gospel-centered, neighborhood church plants. With such a big vision, you can begin to feel the pressure to get busy and we can fall into the mistake of assuming we know what’s needed. But through this process, we’re enjoying getting to know the stories of each other, our neighborhoods, and the industries with their complexities of beauty and brokenness. Our growing depth in our relationships with each other combined with our mission to learn more about our city is naturally propelling us to plant new churches for those outside of the church.
I love the prayer of Jesus recorded in the book of John 17:20-21:
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
In our time together over these last months we have experienced this unity and with it has come a growing desire for our city to know the oneness offered to us through the gospel of Jesus Christ. As we seek to plant churches we continue to taste the fruits of Christ's prayer for us.
Keith Case is a Church Planting Resident at First Presbyterian Church of North Palm Beach, FL. He plants neighborhood churches that seek to understand the unique story of a particular community and work to contextualize the Gospel to all areas of life. With the gospel as our foundation and motivation, we seek to rebuild the social fabric of our neighborhood and her industries. We seek to partner with our neighbors to work for the peace and prosperity of our city. Keith lives with his wife and four kids in West Palm Beach.