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NOT BETTER … DIFFERENT by Kevin Cox

My wife, Kathy, and I have had the privilege of starting two churches. The first was in the Seattle area. With no assessment, no training, no coaching, and a little funding, we did the only thing we knew to do: knock on doors and send out mailers.  Unbelievably, it worked! We launched with a solid attendance, especially for the Pacific Northwest. We grew in spite of me and my lack of leadership skills. After 9 ½ years we had developed a reputation for loving on the children of our community. However, as I look back so many of our leadership conversations centered around how we could make the Sunday morning experience “better.” The prevailing thought for us, and for most churches in the early 2000’s was, “If we can just make Sunday morning better, people will want to attend.” And truthfully, for many churches, this mode of thinking bore fruit. We sought better performances on stage from the band. Better facilities. Better sermons. Better lighting. Better projectors and screens. Better children’s ministry. We were so worried about making Sunday morning better, mainly to keep up with the church down the street that was making their Sunday morning experience better, that we had forgotten the mission of Jesus to go make disciples capable of changing the world. The Father in his grace blessed our effort, but something seemed amiss.

After our tenure was over in Seattle, I vividly remember driving over the Cascade Mountains with our four kids in tow and turning to Kathy and saying, “We are going to do it differently this time.” I had no idea then the depth of that statement. We started Vista Church with a less than stellar grand opening. In fact, in the eyes of the church planting world it was horrendous. But in our eyes, that was irrelevant. “Butts in the seats” was not our primary goal…the kingdom of God was. We were not starting a better church in our new community. We were starting a different kind of church and the last 10 years have been the ride of our lives! What does this ‘different’ kind of church look like?

There are six characteristics that stand out:

1. Disproportionate influence

We do not ask the question, “How is my church?” Instead, we ask the question, “How is my city?” Since we desire to see our cities blessed, we often collaborate with city leaders and organizations leading to influence in our cities that far exceeds the size of our churches.

2. Start churches for the world

When you start with the world in mind, your church plant will be shaped by the world. And, when you start your church for the world, you will view your church plant as a sending base that affects the world rather than an isolated congregation in a single community.

3. New DNA 

Kingdom, Disciple, Society, Church (KDSC). Cut us and this is what we bleed. This is FAMILY DNA. Like a magnet, this DNA draws church planters and the Family is growing!

4. Public Square

As Paul engaged the city of Athens, we teach church planters how to engage kings, world leaders, city leaders, philosophers, business people and influencers by speaking ‘one message’ both publicly and privately.

5. Multiethnic

Jesus said, “…on earth as it is in heaven.” If we believe that all ethnicities inhabit heaven, then why should the church not look like that now? If we want to have a voice in the racial division of our country, the multiethnic church is the key.

6. Multifaith

Rather than denigrating other religions, we intentionally seek to befriend them for the purpose of building bridges of peace. Unlike the interfaith efforts of the past where “all roads lead to heaven” was the underlying premise, we have honest conversation based on the fact that we disagree theologically but the best of our religions compels us to work together for the betterment of our cities.

As I write this, I am about to participate in day 2 of a pastor/imam retreat in Ft. Worth, TX where we will make plans for our congregations to work together on a project that serves ‘the least’ in our respective cities. Last week I attended Family Gathering where we challenged our Family with a vision for planting 32 GlocalNet church planting centers around the United States and Canada in the next 10 years. I also received a text from the head football coach at our local high school if I would be willing to lead his team in a devotion before their first playoff game this week. This the different church we envisioned. Do we want to offer our best on Sunday mornings? You bet! But we want to offer our best on Sunday mornings to inspire and equip people for ministry. That’s different. If you are looking to plant a different kind of church, then check us out at www.releaseinitiative.com. We would love for you to be a part of the family! It will be the ride of your life!

START FOR THE WORLD

Recently, one of the churches in our family of churches, took center stage in the natural disaster of Hurricane Harvey. Houston Northwest Church and its pastor, Steve Bezner, found themselves facing a legacy-defining moment: do they focus their energies on their building that had been flooded and the people within their church or do they turn their attention to the neighborhoods surrounding their building and the thousands of people hopelessly watching the floodwaters inundate their homes, destroying all of their earthly belongings? For five years Steve had been exhorting his 40-year old congregation to engage and serve and love the people of northwest Houston regardless of their race or religion. So, when the God-moment arrived in Harvey, there was no decision to be made. Houston Northwest would don their #WELOVEHOU t-shirts and head to the neighborhoods. As a result of their response, they have raised over $400,000 to help in relief, mudded out hundreds of homes, provided essentials to thousands, Steve has been on local television and Headline News, established a partnership with WorldVision, and last but certainly not least, received several shout outs through Twitter from none other than Beth Moore herself!

Why would Steve lead his church to begin with serving its community? Because he has taught his church the four values of our family of churches: Kingdom, Disciple, Society, Church. It is these four values that we instill in our church planters through our Release training for church planters with the hope that they will start right—that they will start a church for the world.

Without divulging too much from our Release training, what do we mean when we desire to start a church for the world and not just for a community? Here are a few thoughts:

Starting a church for the world means serving the poor around us.

This was Jesus’ calling. It is a Kingdom calling. It is our calling.

17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:17-19 (ESV)

Starting a church for the world means planting churches locally and globally at the same time.

However, to accomplish this, planting methodologies and approaches need to be driven from the field—not from the West! Frankly, we have more to learn from the church in the East than they do from us in the West. The popular statistic is that only 4% of churches in the US ever help start another church. We challenge our church planters through our Release training to help another church start within their first 12 months of existence.

Starting a church for the world means working in a “hard place” in the world.

We challenge our church planters to go where no one else dares to go. We train them to go to a “hard place” in the world and make a long-term transformational commitment to that place in the world until that specific place also becomes a sending place. It will take courage and wisdom to engage in hard places, but we will never fulfill the Great Commission if we don’t.

We fully recognize that this type of church planter training is not for everyone. But, if it is speaking your language, then you have two options. One, join us November 8-9, 2017 for our first-ever GlocalNet Family Gathering. At this gathering, you will learn in greater detail why starting churches for the world is such an integral part of who we are as a family of churches. You can register here:  GlocalNet Family Gathering Registration. We would love to have you join us. Or, join us at our next Release training near you. You can find out the one nearest you here:  Release Initiative.

You may never have to lead a relief effort after a hurricane, but if you start a church that serves the poor, multiplies churches and engages in a hard place in the world, you will find yourself on the adventure of a lifetime. Oh, by the way, you will not be doing this alone. You will have a family beside you, so go start a church for the world!