How to Meet Your Neighbors (even when there’s a pandemic going on)

The plan: Move 300 miles away to help plant a neighborhood church.

The method: Practice radical hospitality, reaching out to our new neighbors and inviting them to be part of our lives and our house church, which will meet in the pastor’s home a few blocks away. (“Come over any time…Share a meal with us…Let us help you any way we can…”)

And…the wrinkle: A global pandemic has sheltered everyone in place—under orders not to get within 6 feet of each other.

Seriously?

Now what?

At the closing of our new home

Well, we continued to move forward with the plan, trusting that it was what God had called us to do. He worked out the details of completing our home sale, purchasing a home in our new neighborhood, and getting through all the logistics of moving during a growing epidemic.

Moving in

But I was left wondering how we could possibly practice hospitality in these conditions. Were we going to miss out on the opportunities that moving in might have provided? If we couldn’t meet anyone for months, would we ever meet them?

“Kerry, you’re a writer”

Thank God for putting great friends into our lives. My awesome friend, Peg, who loves Jesus and loves people, was excited about our church plant and what God would be doing through it. While I was in the midst of confusion about how we were going to pull off meeting neighbors, she shared an idea with me. “Kerry, since you’re a writer, you should write a letter to your new neighbors introducing yourselves as the new kids on the block. Let them know you’d like to meet them, but since you can’t right now, you’re sending this letter, and you look forward to meeting them in the future.”

Brilliant.

And that’s just what I did.

New Kids on the Block Letter

Meet the Nenns!

I wrote the letter just before we moved (so I could print copies before we packed the printer and wouldn’t be delayed if we didn’t unpack that box right away). I included the explanation Peg had suggested, plus a brief introduction about where we were moving from, where we grew up, and other general info, then a short paragraph about me and another one about my husband. I concluded the one-page letter by letting our neighbors know we would be praying for them and encouraged them to reach out if there was any way we could serve them. The letter also included a picture of us and one of our two cats.

Our adorable tabby cats –
Rusty and Copper

Then, I used Zillow.com to look up the addresses of all the homes on our future street. I’m sure there are at least a dozen ways to get that information, but this method was pretty easy. I simply pulled up the map and clicked on each property to get the house number. I addressed each of the 63 envelopes to “Our New Neighbors.”

I then mailed out the letters a couple days after we moved in. I figured, at least people would know who we were and know that we’re interested in getting to know them. And if we got even one phone call or email (I included our contact info), then I would consider it a win.

The response has been amazing. A dozen people reciprocated. Texts, emails, and cards started coming in right away. “We got your nice letter…Welcome to the neighborhood…Here’s a little info about me too…And my contact info…Let me know if you need anything…”

I’ve been blown away. Within two weeks of moving in, we had more contact with our neighbors here than any of our previous 4 homes combined. Praise the Lord!

One couple even responded by writing up a letter similar to ours and emailing it to us. And, get this. We even received two invites to church! Our new neighbors out-evangelized us! 😊

And that’s not all!

Spring weather arrived.

In fact, it was a beautiful day when we moved in. So, our next-door neighbor (the other half of our duplex) was sitting outside, and we got to meet him right away. Of course, we didn’t shake hands, but it turns out, you can have a lot of conversation from the next driveway.

And over the next few days and weeks, as people got out to enjoy the sunshine or walk their dogs, they made a point to stop and introduce themselves if we were working on the pile of boxes in our garage or if we were out taking a stroll ourselves. They would mention the letter, and easily shared about themselves and welcomed us to the neighborhood. One woman from a few doors down even walked over just to meet us. (We stayed 6 feet apart in the driveway.)

It’s now been seven weeks since we moved in. The pandemic is still raging, so we have yet to invite any neighbors into our home, but the stay-at-home/shelter-in-place orders are starting to lift, and we’re hoping that can change in the not-too-distant future.

Meanwhile, we’ve had time to unpack and settle in and get ready to host game nights, dinners, Bible studies, and more. And now we have a great foundation to build on with many of our neighbors, since the ice has been broken and we’ve at least had some initial contacts.

I’m curious to see how God works in all this and what relationships He helps us develop. We shall see what happens!

So, to recap—what’s the secret to meeting new neighbors during a global pandemic?

Three things.

  1. Pray.
  2. Write a letter.
  3. Get outside.

And if you move during a cold, harsh winter, I’m not sure what to tell you for #3. But I’m curious to hear your ideas!

– Kerry Nenn

Where should we plant our neighborhood church?

We are moving to Southern Illinois five weeks from today. Only five weeks! I can’t tell you how excited we are.

We’ve already shared that the Lord has led us to plant a network of house churches. Our focus is on the proclamation of the gospel, discipleship, hospitality and reconciliation in the neighborhoods. At some point, I also want to share more about the vision God’s given us for the multiplication of the model. But as the date approaches, I’ve been reflecting on how God led us specifically to the neighborhood we’re moving to. Did I mention it’s only five weeks away!?!

The “Neighborhood” Part of a Neighborhood Church

Think about where you live. Mentally draw a circle (or a square, a rhombicosidodecahedron, or whatever shape you need to) around all the people that live and work and play within say 1.5 miles of your living room. That’s how far you can walk in a half hour.

Your family is your primary mission field. But this group of people … the ones within 30 minute’s walk … they are your second mission field. Jesus would consider everyone to be your neighbor, even your enemies (Luke 10:25-37), and obviously I agree. But the folks inside the rhombicosidodecahedronhave (last time, I promise) are your actual, physical, living-on-the-same-street, invite-them-to-the-BBQ-because-you-walked-your-dog-past-their-driveway-while-they-were-washing-the-car neighbors. How many folks do you figure are in your half hour radius? In a subdivision like the one we’re moving to, maybe hundreds? In an apartment complex or a crowded city block, maybe even thousands? In a small rural community, maybe it’s only 20 or 30? The point is that someday we will stand before the Lord, and He’s going to ask us how well we loved them.

The Project SOIL team has spent a lot of time talking about intentionally loving our neighbors. We want to love them like Jesus does. In fact, we want to be like Him! I once heard a story about a missionary who had died. But when another missionary showed up years later and described Jesus, everyone insisted they’d already met Him … because they thought the new guy was describing the long-deceased missionary who had come before him.

We want to be like that in our new neighborhood!

So we are taking Jesus at His word when He commands us to love your neighbor as ourselves (Matt 22:39), to proclaim to them the availability of true freedom and radical restoration (Isa 61), to tell them the good news that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near (Matt 4:17), to teach them what Jesus has taught us about life in all its fullness (Matt 28:18-20; c.f. John 10:10), to share our lives with them (1 Thes 2:8) and to be agents of reconciliation among them (2 Cor 5:20). To us, this means taking His call to the mission field of the neighborhood very seriously.

How did this become a church planting strategy?

From the very beginning, I felt God would be sending four families (including ours) to partner together to plant this church. Since I’ve long dreamed about moving into a neighborhood with other Christians to be intentional missionaries there, a church planting model that married these two ideas clicked into place pretty effortlessly. God would uproot four families from wherever they were, and send them to intentionally move in to a single neighborhood. We’d spread out across the neighborhood, so that the 1.5 mile circles overlap, and simply be the church in the midst of all those people. We’d live “holy, righteous and blameless lives” among them (1 Thes 2:10), love them well, invite them into our lives, break bread together, and walk toward Jesus … inviting every willing soul to come with us! That’s the plan! That’s our particular “living out” of Jesus’ mission to all His followers.

It could be yours as well.

How did you actually end up in a specific neighborhood?

Great question. Short answer is: a lot of prayer and intentionality. But here are some details…

Locating a Region in which to Plant

First, I’m from the St. Louis Metro East area. My parents, who still live in the area, are getting older, and my wife and I always thought that in the absence of a specific call from the Lord to pastor somewhere else, we’d return to the area to be near and support them.

Secondly, Southern Illinois has almost no EFCA churches (our denomination). That’s not going to work for us at all. 😀

Third, there are many churches in the area, but very few that…

  1. Are filled with people who know Jesus and walk with Him by the power of His Spirit
  2. Live as if the Scriptures are in fact the immutable, authoritative word of God
  3. Intentionally live on mission, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven
  4. Serve and love people well, focusing on Christian hospitality
  5. Function under the authority of denominational leadership and a plurality of elders

We consider all these to be vital aspects of a healthy church, and because there seem to be few places that excel in these five areas, the Metro East area seemed to be an excellent place to plant.

Fourth, there is a lot of need in the area. Gangs, drugs and racial tension have been on the rise and spreading for decades. The economy is weaker than anyone would like. And many (for these and other reasons) live daily in a lack of hope. If this doesn’t describe a desperate need for healing and resurrection power, I don’t know what does!

Lastly, we prayed … a lot! We talked to people we trust … a lot! I started seminary thinking I’d be a professor someday. I finished seminary last Friday, 6 years later, and over that time we spent hundreds of hours praying, reading and talking with trusted advisors about where and how to serve the Lord. The reality is that there are no microwave solutions to life. If you want to hear from the Lord, you have to spent time with Him in prayer, studying His word, and ruminating with His people (including dead ones who walked with Him long ago and wrote about the journey). I just don’t think there’s any other way to navigate tough decisions. Certainly, this process is no exception.

Locating a City in which to Plant

Okay, you got a general idea about where in the world to land. Then what? How did you narrow it down to O’Fallon, IL?

Well, again, a lot of prayer.

And then we literally got out a map, pulled up Google, did research, and started drawing circles around towns toward which we felt God could possibly lead us. We looked at a bunch of different towns. We had to develop the willingness to live anywhere – not just where we’d settle if we were looking for a great place to indulge the flesh – which means we had to wrestle with that in prayer. And we had to focus on the ministry possibilities of each place, not what we liked or what would make us comfortable.

We ended up with 6-7 different possibilities, and then we literally started visiting them. We drove down Main Streets. We prayed our way through neighborhoods. We looked up information on schools and social services. We researched the churches already in those towns.

And we just kept asking God to give us a sense of where we were supposed to be.

We ruled out a few towns as too far away from the city (St. Louis), because we intend that all our pastors will be bi-vocational … which means that they will work in the marketplace as well as be ministers of the gospel.

But primarily, we just kept praying and exploring until one “felt right.”

Locating a Neighborhood in which to Plant

Okay, then, how’d you narrow it down to a specific neighborhood?

No, wait. Let me guess… Prayer?

Yup! You got it. And I’m seriously not trying to be trite. I’m amazed at how many years I spent thinking I should be able to hear from the Lord without actually taking the time to ask Him what He thought and then really listen for the answer. And it took even longer to figure out that God almost always uses other people to do His best work in my life … like helping me to discern the answers to these kinds of hard questions.

(Parenthetically, you catch the implication of that, right? This means He’s doing His best work in someone else’s life right now through YOU. Or, at least, that’s the plan. Are you participating in it? But I digress…)

In part to assist in our “choose a town” exercise above, but mostly focused on picking the right neighborhood, we made a list of the qualities we though a neighborhood should have in order to be an optimal mission field. I’m not at all saying that you have to use this list, but this is the we felt led to do…

List 1: What makes the best neighborhood mission field?

The ideal neighborhood mission field would be:

  1. Fairly dense. We wanted a subdivision with a lot of people in it, so we ruled out small isolated neighborhoods or places where there was too much space between houses.
  2. Fairly diverse, both economically and racially. Ideally, we would live in a place where lots of different kinds of people live, because a) Jesus loves all different kinds of people and they all need Him, b) we need to learn to love people who are different from us, and c) different people make theology and the gathering of God’s people deeper and richer for everyone. This also makes it possible for all four of the initial planting families to be able to afford to live in the same neighborhood.
  3. Near a commercial zone. We wanted to be somewhat close to schools, stores and restaurants where members of the church will do life work. We want to build an ecosystem of overlapping areas of life (e.g. school, work, social, etc).
  4. Near the city/work. Again, we wanted reasonable commutes, so that church members will spend the majority of their time on mission, not driving between places. (Note: One important factor in commute type is distance from your house to the nearest expressway onramp; don’t underestimate how significant that is.)

Locating a House in which to Live and Minister

Lastly, we wanted to buy a house (vs renting) for a lot of reasons that are beyond the scope of this blog post. In any event, our philosophy in buying a house is that it’s a lot like dating. We made another list of “deal makers” and “deal breakers,” decided with the Lord that everything else was up to Him, and then started comparing neighborhoods full of houses to our list. In fact, we made (or tried to make) monthly trips down to the target area, with the other planting families where possible, to “do recon” (what we called it). For us, our make-break list focused on how well our new home would serve Jesus’ mission of neighborhood discipleship and hospitality.

List 2: What makes the best place to live?

Here are some things we considered…

  1. Big common spaces. We are planning to have up to 30 members of the church assemble in our home, so we needed space.
  2. Big kitchen and space for multiple tables. Fellowship feasts are gonna be huge!
  3. Finished basement. Again, people gather in these places. That’s where ministry happens.
  4. Five bedrooms. One for my wife and I. One for our son. One for guests. One for Jeff’s office. And one for the student that will be staying with us each year as a post-seminary resident to train under us about missional community and neighborhood church.
  5. Three car garage. Cars, Jeff’s shop, extra storage, and tables during parties go in the garage. So we need space.
  6. Parking. Have to be able to have a bunch of cars in the driveway or on the street.
  7. Lots of sunshine coming in throughout the day. My wife is solar powered.
  8. Fenced in back yard. We have a beloved pooch. In fact, we’re getting another one because puppies are great conversation starters. In general, walking your dog is an excellent way to meet and strike up conversations with neighbors.
  9. Manageable mortgage. Going into overwhelming debt for just the right house was not an option, nor do we believe that honors the Lord. We have very strict rules about how much we give and how much income we allow our lifestyle to require. Otherwise, you can end up working for your lifestyle, not for the Lord, and that doesn’t work.

There were other things we considered, but I think those are the big ones.

What about churches already in the target area?

Are you kidding?! We love the church!

Here’s the deal… This isn’t a competition. If a church is really a church – as in, Jesus by His Spirit is present in and among His people as they gather together – then we see them as ministry partners. And let’s face it, there could be a bible-believing, Christ-proclaiming group of Christians meeting on every single street corner in Illinois, and there would still be millions of lost people needing someone to walk with them toward the Lord.

And if a group of people meets somewhere they call “church” but don’t really take Jesus seriously or believe the Scriptures or think that the mission matters, then we love them too. Maybe we can help them grow.

Conclusion

We thank God for the way He has led us in this process. All the way, our Savior leads [us]! And we are so anxious to be moved in and meeting our new neighbors. Five weeks. We can’t wait.

The Church in a Covid-19 World

A week ago, we held our first virtual house church. Did I ever think those words would go together? No. Virtual and house church may seem like oxymorons, but maybe that’s because we’ve been using technology wrong all along. So often technology is used in a way that draws people out of community. We move from being in person, to calling, to texting. We go from face to face, to having a screen between us. We use social media to consume each other rather than to serve each other. But that’s not the way things were supposed to be. Community was never meant to be disembodied.

We as humans were created for community. Just as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have complete unity within the godhead, we were created in His image to delight in relationship with Him and others. That is what the Church is meant to be. We are the bride of Christ, unified with each other and longing for our wedding feast together with our bridegroom. From the garden to the grave, the gospel is a story of embodied community.

When Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden, the tragedy was not that they no longer lived in paradise…it was that they no longer could walk with God in the garden. Now there was a separation. Within the curse given to them, there was now also a wedge driven between Adam and Eve’s unity. There was now relational discord. Their son, Cain, killed their other son, Abel. Throughout the Old Testament books, from the history books through the minor prophets, we see war and division and disunity between people with each other and disunity between people and God. The fulfillment of God’s plan to restore these relationships was not to zap people with his power from the heavens. Instead, Jesus was embodied in human form. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. That is the truth of the incarnation. And that is why we value embodied community. Jesus entered into our spaces and lived a life in community with the very people he later died and resurrected to save.

So what does this mean for our Covid-19 quarantine? Disembodied community is not new for the church. Throughout history, whether from persecution, physical distance, or plague, there have been periods of time when the church has been dissipated. But even in those moments, communication was used to connect the church. Paul often said in his letters to the churches that he wished he could be physically present with them. And as of right now, our church plant team is separated not only by this quarantine, but by physical distance as well. We don’t live in the same town yet, but this quarantine has provided us the opportunity to meet together as a church when we normally wouldn’t be able to.

I am encouraged because when the quarantine pushed people to be removed from embodied community, they started using technology in embodied ways to see each other’s faces and hear each other’s voices and sit in each other’s presence even from afar. And so we’ve created a kind of embodied disembodied community.

And as our team has been planning for our new venture, it has caused us to think more deeply about what church was meant to be. Church is not just a place you show up to and leave. You don’t get attendance points. It is an embodied community celebrating the truths of an incarnational gospel in our lives together. Church is something we were always meant to participate in.

So how do we do that technologically? While many churches are forced to resort to sending out a live video to a congregation of hundreds of people, we were able to meet together in a much smaller group over zoom. Each person present was able to participate and contribute as we checked in on each other, prayed together, read and discussed the Word together, broke bread together, and worshipped together. Questions were able to be asked, like “How are you doing?” or “what do you think Jesus was saying in this passage?”

We studied John 4 together, which tells the story of the Woman at the Well. She, herself, has been dispersed from community because her community looked down on her and treated her like an outcast. She was a Samaritan and a woman, which means Jesus had no cultural reason to even speak to her. But instead he was thirsty and asked for a drink, a sentiment that was repeated on the cross, and a sign of his humanity. He invites her into conversation and offers her living water. After trying to quench her own thirst with other men and fill her voids with other things, Jesus offers her the only thing that will truly fill her: himself. This passage is a beautiful example of the embodied, incarnational community that Jesus brings to weary and disenfranchised people. Her response was to share her joyous news with the whole town, who then also came to Jesus.

As our little budding house church continues to meet virtually, I see the Lord doing a beautiful thing through a very unbeautiful circumstance. As we are each pushed away from seeing people face to face, we lean into the embodied disembodied community of our virtual church. We participate in the community this offers. And we long for the day when we will be together.

When we get to our new mission field, the fields will be ripe for harvest, just as Jesus said they were in John 4. We will face people like the woman at the well who have been stripped or excluded from embodied community and people who have tried to quench their thirst with everything but Jesus. And in those spaces, we will enter into incarnational hospitality. We will finally be able to meet face to face, and we will invite people to drink deeply from the Living Water. And as we meet together face to face, we will long for the moment when we can see Jesus face to face. With the Lord’s help and for his glory, we will build a community that invites others to participate and be known. And in the meantime, our little church will continue to do this virtually, inviting those in our lives who are already separated from a church body to be with us and come to Jesus. No plague or persecution has ever stopped the church before, and Covid-19 has no power to separate us from the love of Christ now either!

COVID-19, our house church, and the table of the Lord

Everything is shutting down. Here in Illinois, public restaurants are closing seating areas tomorrow. All manner of other public places have been closed for several days. And school’s out for both my son (high school) and me (grad school) … I suspect for the rest of the semester. And Saturday morning early the announcement came: our wonderful, traditional, 250-member EFCA church would not be meeting this morning. To be honest, I wanted to cry.

As you know, we believe God is calling us to plant a network of house churches. We were planning to move south in June, and officially launch in our new neighborhood in September. So, yesterday morning when I learned there’d be no gathering of the church today, I — very much the planner — was totally not ready to start our house church. But apparently God was.

Let me back up a minute…

We moved into this neighborhood a couple years into my seminary tour, seeking to get closer to school, invest in and love our neighbors, and find a new, smaller church where we could really engage in ministry. Four years later, as graduation approaches, God has done immeasurably more than we could ask or think. We love our church, and God has really given us a ministry there, including teaching me a ton about being a pastor. We have so many great friends, are part of a thriving life group ministry, and are investing in people left and right. We also love our sunny next-to-nature townhome, which we believe was pretty much God showing off (ask me sometime!). And we love our neighbors. We’ve built some real relationships, and have so enjoyed having them over time and again — BBQ’s, Sundae Sundays, chili nights, and the like.

But we have never really sat down with our neighbors and overtly shared the gospel. And we’ve been increasingly feeling the weight of that as the time of our departure draws near. As much as we love Jesus and as excited as we are to serve Him, we haven’t talked enough about Him with our neighbors. Until today.

When our church announced they were closing up shop yesterday, my wife and I decided there needed to be an assembly of God’s people, even if only in our immediate sphere. We invited our cul-de-sac and our life group to join us for church today in our home. We went door to door checking in on our neighbors re: coronavirus, particularly the elderly, and asked if they needed anything from the store (we were making a run). And we invited them to church. Many were politely disinterested, but one agreed to come, as did several from our life group.

I prepared a discussion on John 3:1-21 and an order of service based on the model in Acts 2: Fellowship, the Apostles’ Teaching, the breaking of bread, and prayer. We brewed coffee, chopped up a loaf of bread, bought a bottle of red wine, setup a bunch of chairs, placed a stack of bibles in the middle of the room, and prayed. This morning, seven people joined us for Sunday gathering — we don’t like calling that “church”; we are the church, we don’t go to church. Five were from our life group, and two from the neighborhood. Woohoo!

We invited people to check in and share concerns and prayer requests. Many, of course, were related to the coronavirus, but others weren’t. And then we prayed for each other. We threw phones on the ottoman to play songs, discussed the passage in John at length, and participated in the Lord’s supper together. It was wonderful.

Then tonight, we had more neighbors over for our annual St Patrick’s Day corned beef feast, and talked to them about Jesus. Amazingly, they want to come to church as well, as do some others in our life group. Praise the Lord!

So, as I’m preparing for bed after a great weekend with and before the Lord, I can’t get this song out of my head by Sidewalk Prophets… Come to the Table. We played it during communion this morning, and I think it perfectly captures my wife’s and my heart about this weekend.

The coronavirus is evoking fear and anxiety and even panic like we haven’t seen before in our lifetime. The craziness just keeps mounting, and as it does, the total inability of the world system to save us or even explain what’s happening is laid bare. It’s our hope that it will become more and more obvious to more and more people that we all need a Savior. Like Jesus said to Nicodemus, “we must be born again!” (John 3:7). Unless we are, the world will never make sense and the coronavirus will be terrifying … and we’ll never enter the kingdom of God.

So, really, COVID-19 pushed us into starting our house church early. Not only that, but I suspect it will lend greater legitimacy to a movement toward house churches that I really believe is inevitable. And that’s not all bad … especially if it ends up being the backdrop against which many are invited to come to the table.

Why a house church?

I think this is really asking the question, “What is the church?”

The concept of “church” has changed a lot over the centuries. The Project SoIL team didn’t set out to plant a house church, so to speak. Instead, we want to honor the Lord by doing church really really well. Inspired by Francis Chan’s Letters to the Church, we spent a long time praying and asking God the question, “What do you want your church to be?” We think the answer is profound and should not be determined simply by “the way it’s been done as long as I can remember.”

Here are five motivations (I could list more) for why we feel God is calling us to plant a particular kind of church.

1) We are the church

The Bible has much to say about the church. It’s the bride and body of Christ. It’s the assembly of God’s people. It’s the manifestation of the Kingdom of God on earth. Etc. There may be a lot of room to interpret what each of these metaphors actually means, but one thing is clear to us: There is no sense in which followers of Jesus “go to church.” Instead, we ARE the church. Wherever we are, whatever we do, we are God’s ambassadors and the hands and feet of Jesus in this world. That was the first tectonic philosophical shift that changed our thinking and directed our steps.

2) The mission is making disciples

Jesus was super, ultra, painfully clear: Our mission as Christ-followers is to make disciples (Matt 28:16-20). What does that mean? Well, “disciple” is a churchy word for “one who patterns everything in her life around becoming like her teacher.” Luke Skywalker was Yoda’s disciple. It wasn’t enough to just write down a few clever things he said at a Jedi Academy lecture; Luke wanted to become like his master. So is it with us and Jesus, only more so. In fact, the word “Christian” means “little Christ” (“Christ” being Jesus’ title – the Greek word for “Messiah”). To say I follow Jesus means I’m becoming so thoroughly imprinted by my Teacher that people have trouble telling us apart. When people look at Christians, they should see Jesus. That’s “discipleship.”

So, if we’re going to build any kind of gathering of followers of Jesus and call it “church,” then one of the most important things about it has to be that we dedicate our lives to the mission on which Jesus sent us. We must be disciples who make disciples. In other words, we want our church to be a bunch of people who love Jesus, who are becoming increasingly like Him, and who are trying to help others fall in love with Jesus and increasing become increasingly like Him as well.

3) Consumerism and professionalism are American values, not Kingdom values

I think we can all agree that consumerism has pervaded pretty much every aspect of modern Western culture, including the church. But what we don’t often talk about is how easily church can become a place where a big group of people shows up to watch a couple pastors be professional Christians. We want to create a church where everyone participates in the work of the Lord. No consumers grading the professionals. No professionals being paid to perform for the consumers. Just a bunch of people loving and serving and walking toward Jesus with the other people in their lives.

4) We want space enough for everyone to belong

We’re planting our first church in O’Fallon, IL. As of 2017, O’Fallon’s population is 29,272. The population of St. Clair County, in which O’Fallon resides, is 262,479. What if 10% of the population of O’Fallon came to know Jesus, and wanted to gather together as His church? We’d need a building that could hold about 3,000 people. Just for O’Fallon. That would cost millions of dollars and take a huge amount of work and energy (and money) to maintain.

OR, we could meet in homes. Pretty much everyone has a home. If we don’t insist on meeting in a single, central, special-purpose building, then every single person in St. Clair County could come to know Jesus, and we wouldn’t have to use a dollar to build a building to house them all. And there’d be space enough for all of them to bring friends. Meeting in homes means there’s space enough for everyone.

5) We want to focus our resources on ministry

Lastly, we don’t want to spend the money given by God’s people on maintaining buildings, paying clergy salaries, buying insurance plans, etc. We want to use that money to serve people … to obey Jesus’ command to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner, establish justice for the oppressed, and so on. If we have no building, then we don’t need to spend the time, energy or money to maintain that building. We plan to operate our church on less than 5% of tithes and offerings.

So, we plan to meet in homes

I’m sure we’ll talk much more about this over time, and I’m sure this brief post has raised as many questions as it’s resolved. But I hope you’re getting a flavor of why we’re doing what we’re doing.

We don’t want people to think of church as a place to go; rather, it’s their identity. We want the best possible model for making disciples. We want to encourage people to dedicate their lives to following Jesus, not consuming the services of “professionals.” We want space enough for everyone. And we want to steward the resources of God’s people wisely. All of this, to us, leads us to meeting in homes and forgoing a central building.

Escaping Authority?

One additional point I do want to make before we close, however. Sometimes people think of house churches as a way of escaping the authority or structure of the “traditional church,” because they feel that church is stuffy or overly oppressive. We agree church shouldn’t be “stuffy” or “oppressive,” but we also believe that the greatest freedom and joy is found inside God’s law, under His authority … not striking out on our own. This isn’t a bid to escape these things, but to separate them from traditions that need to be reconsidered in our day.

Therefore, we are planting an EFCA church, fully under the authority of our denomination. I am a soon-to-be-ordained pastor. The church is led by a plurality of elders. And we submit to the authority of Scripture as the inerrant word of God (in fact, here’s our Statement of Faith, if you’re interested; we affirm the denomination’s statement verbatim). We are not making a bid to get out from under authority; we are specifically and intentionally placing ourselves under authority — of Jesus as the head of the church, and of elders and denominational leaders as His representatives. But we are also specifically and intentionally building the kind of church we believe will best honor the Lord and accomplish the mission He has given us.

So, slavish attachment to traditional structures… OUT!
Obedience to God’s word and submission to Jesus’ rule in our lives… very very IN!

Pray for us.

Please do pray! Signup to receive our newsletter. Comment below. We’d love to hear from you, especially if you want to partner with us in thinking through how to best be the church. And I look forward to sharing more about our journey in the months and years to come.

God bless you as you serve Him!

The Adventure Begins

Hello, friends!

We have exciting news—we believe God has revealed to us the ministry He has called us to after Jeff graduates from seminary this coming May with his Master of Divinity.

Simple answer…

We’ll be building a church in our living room full of neighbors who come to know Jesus through radical hospitality and love. Where? Somewhere near where Jeff grew up (and his parents still live) in Southern Illinois, near St. Louis. When? We plan to move this summer and launch the church in September. How? Well… keep reading.

Longer answer…

We have spent many hours and dollars learning about, praying about, and talking about planting a house church network. I know—crazy, right? We’ve read books, listened to audio messages, and attended training in San Francisco on the topic. We (mostly Jeff) have repeatedly met with close friends, our church’s elders, professors at TEDS (Jeff’s seminary), and our denomination’s church planting leaders to discuss what we feel God is calling us to. But, most significantly, we’ve been meeting with the Lord, a lot. And, both Jeff and I know that we know that we know that this is what God has for us next. And not just for us, but for several friends who we invited to join us in uprooting our families and moving to … the Illinois side of St. Louis (Gasp!)

The plan is for four families to move into the same neighborhood with a missional mindset of leading neighbors to Christ and discipling them. We will be tentmakers—working normal jobs but living simply so we can devote more time to ministry. We know it’s going to be the hardest thing we’ve ever done, but we are so excited! And praise be to God that we aren’t doing it alone!

So, Jeff, being the entrepreneur that he is, and being experienced in the business world, combined with his love for Jesus, God’s Word and the Church, has been busy planning how best to launch a house church network. We eagerly desire to be under the authority of our denomination (the Evangelical Free Church of America), to be led by a balanced board of elders, to partner with other area pastors, and to launch a network of house churches that will multiply from home to home, then city to city. You can see our vision and mission here, but we also have scripture passages that serve as “pillars”, a 100-year dream goal, and more. We don’t know what God will do, but we know it will be immeasurably more than we could ask or conceive (Eph 3:20). Our desire is to trust Him ruthlessly and to obey Him “riskfully.” J

Our Vision

We want to be multiplying disciples creating multiplying churches in the neighborhoods.

Our Mission

Both as individual Christ-followers and as a church we seek to…

  • To love God, which means:
    • Walk with God – we spend time with Him in Bible study, prayer,
      and spiritual discipline
    • Obey His word – we do what God commands, even when it’s hard
  • To love our neighbors, which means:
    • Serve our neighbors sacrificially – we give our time, talent and
      treasure to love and serve well
    • Invite them into our lives – we don’t just share the gospel,
      but our very lives (1 Thes 2:8)

So, we desire to cultivate a personal discipleship and a church culture of spiritual intimacy, obedience, service and radical hospitality. This is our ultimate goal in planting churches in our homes and neighborhoods. And we’re extremely excited about it, because we believe that God will powerfully impact our neighbors, coworkers, and others in our spheres of influence as we really seek to proclaim the gospel and live it out among them.

Partnering with Us

First, this is crazy talk! So, we need your prayers! God hasn’t yet revealed to us the neighborhood where we will settle. Our friends need jobs and to sell their homes and buy new ones. Our kids are struggling with the idea of moving away from friends; please pray that they catch the vision for what God’s doing. We need unity. And, most importantly, please pray for our future new neighbors, that God would prepare the way for the gospel in their hearts.

Second, if you’d like to receive these reports periodically, which will share what God is doing and communicate both prayer requests and ministry opportunities, please sign up at https://report.projectsoil.net/signup.

Lastly, we’d love to hear from you. If you have ideas you’d like to share, want to pray with us, or just want to chat at greater length about what God is doing among us, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

In Jesus’ name,

Jeff and Faith Block