Monday, December 3, 2012

Learning from a Church Planter

We can learn a lot from Church Planters especially in this era of declining congregations.  The Rev. Mike Michie is a long- time friend and a church planter who was just installed as the Rector of St. Andrew’s, McKinney, Texas.  For this edition of my blog, I asked him a few important questions.          

KEM: You were just installed as the first Rector of St. Andrew’s in McKinney in your beautiful new building after starting this congregation just 7 years ago.  How did you get interested in Church planting?

MM:  Church planting is all I’ve really ever known.  I can think of no better way to serve my Diocese and the Episcopal Church than to start new churches.  As hard as starting a church from scratch might be, I find it to be much more energizing than trying to change the culture of a church that is maintaining or in decline.   In so many areas, cities have grown around and, in many instances, away from our established churches.  The need for new ministries in these areas of growth is urgent.  That I could do something about this in McKinney is a great blessing.

KEM:  Your congregation grew fairly quickly, what size is it now in membership and attendance?

MM:   We started back in 2005 with about twenty people.  Now, our membership is just over 500 and our attendance since we moved in our building in January has averaged 297.
KEM: Was there a vision or core values that directed your work as a planter?

MM:  Yes!  I spent some quality time before getting started figuring that out.  My wife and I took a big, blank sheet of newsprint paper and put down what we wanted our church to be like.  When the time came to ask Bishop Stanton for a name for the church, we saw these values in the life of St. Andrew.  We are a place that invites, involves, instructs and inspires.  Our motto:  “a faith for all ages” has also been important.  We are a ministry that is “child-friendly” and intergenerational.  (If you don’t like to worship in a place with kids, we aren’t for you!)  Before we had a building or even a congregation, our ability to speak to this vision was a crucial. 

KEM:  In a time when so many Episcopal congregations have been in decline, what would you say has been the primary reasons for your growth?

MM:  A few come to mind.  First, and most important, be nice to people when they show up!  I’m always interested in the reasons why people decide to join.  Almost always, folks say, “everyone was so nice!  We visited other churches and no one even spoke to us.”  If your church wants to grow, then act like it.  Have nice greeters at the door, don’t ignore people at the Peace, and clergy, please, please, please, don’t hide from visitors.  Introverted as you may be, your church needs you to put a friendly, inviting and compassionate face to your congregation.  It does no good to have nice greeters if you are hiding in the sacristy!  Take the lead.  Second, make the worship accessible.  Remove all the obstacles you can for folks who don’t have experience with our worship, the BCP, Service Music, etc.  Third, preach practical, Biblical sermons.  I preach at least twenty minutes and always ground my sermons in one of the texts for the day.  It works!  Fourth, do a children’s sermon.  I make sure each child gets to connect and hear from me every week.  The grown-ups love it, too.  It also creates that child-friendly environment that is so important.  Fifth, have good music.  Even if you do hymnody, there are too many good hymns to ever sing a bad one.  Break out, if you can, sing a worship song, an old faithful from a Cursillo songbook, or even “I am the Bread of Life”.  Try to create moments of exalted worship:  give people the time and space to be in God’s presence. 

KEM:  What advice would you give to other clergy who would really like to see their congregations grow?

Be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:9)!  I firmly believe that every church can grow.  You can do it!  You have to be willing to work hard, though.  Follow-up is the name of the game in church planting, and I wish that Rectors of established churches value it as much as church plants do.  Also, be creative.  Do a sermon series and start a new class like Alpha or Financial Peace University.  Adopt a local elementary school or get your church involved in a great outreach project.  Be willing to break out of the program-year rut.  Finally, don’t give up!  Even when it is hard, be content in reaching the people that God sends you each Sunday.  One of the most difficult lessons I had to learn was to preach to the people that were there on Sunday, not to the ones that weren’t.  Ministering out of frustration, anger or panic isn’t good for anybody, especially you.  Love and teach the one’s you’ve got and trust the Lord with the rest!

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