While heading into the public launch of Northland Village Church we focused on two areas: One went well and one did not. We began preparation for the public launch by arranging three preview services to share the vision of the church with a growing number of people connected to the relationship networks of the launch team. Such preview services are a recommended strategy for building momentum, testing worship elements, growing a larger group prior to the public launch and perhaps finding some new key people. Preview services, while effective in many contexts, was not effective for our post-Christian, urban context. Many people could sniff through the “manipulation” that was happening in trying to grow our launch team prior to the public launch.
While there is an advantage to having more density for the public launch, our church’s vision was never to gather people for the sake of density. Any sort of top-down emphasis from the church will probably not work well in a post-Christian context. Our push to grow the launch team prior to the public launch did not feel natural to those we felt God calling us to become, nor did it feel natural to the neighborhood. A more appropriate way for us to move into the public launch would have been to continue to do what we were already doing. We were naturally good at inviting people into our vision one at a time through the work that was already beginning in the church and larger community. Keeping this pattern would have been more fitting for us than preview services.
On the other hand, the way we advertised the launch went very well. Against the advice of many church planters, our church chose to do a reverse tithe during worship on a Sunday before the public launch. We found that the money it took to send thousands of postcards was 10 times as expensive and much less effective than equipping the people of NVC to speak about our movement within their networks. If we had spent $10,000 dollars to send postcards to all of Northeast Los Angeles, we forecasted that 3 percent of the snail mail would have been read, and only 1 percent of the recipients would have given the mail serious consideration. (Many more would have been frustrated with our church for being another religious group wasting paper in the name of God!)
We equipped the voices of NVC to share our story by giving people the reverse tithe in envelopes with five, 10 or 20 dollar bills. The purpose of using the money was to go and tell somebody about the emerging story of Northland Village Church. Some connected with local nonprofits, some took friends out for coffee and some grilled chicken in a park and gave it to all who wanted food. This move took people by surprise, both inside and outside of the church, but it gave us some unique momentum heading into the public launch. One example of the momentum that came from this venture was in the partnership that was formed with Integrated Refugee and Immigration Services (irisct.org). One of our families donated their 20 dollars to them, and this has formed a reciprocal relationship that we still enjoy today.
These prelaunch months were very important for our church and for the relationships that were deepening both inside and outside of the church. From our first dinner with one another on June 12, 2008, to our public launch on April 4, 2009, we had set the relational foundation for NVC. We intentionally worked through conflicts, we celebrated together, we mourned together and we continued to dream about what it might mean to become a church that masters the art of becoming agents of reconciliation. The most important result of these relationships is that we had built trust with one another and with the community of Northeast Los Angeles.
This article is an excerpt from Starting Missional Churches: Life With God in the Neighborhood, by Nick Warnes and Mark Lau Branson, and is published with permission.