New Worshipping Communities

We are learning of some denominations’ move to the concept of new worshipping communities (NWCs) in place of new church developments (NCDs) as a means to reach the unchurched, NCDs being distinctive expressions of trusted means of planting churches among populations that resemble the mother church. Interviews with those who know about this swing recently elicited four overarching themes that NWCs implement: diversity, children, food, and social justice.

Unity in diversity is a theme which offers safe spaces for people to practice being neighbors irrespective of surface differences. But many are learning that safe spaces can be hard to create. For example, a 300-year-old congregation in Delaware was recently closed at the request of its members. Before closing they had a lengthy conversation on merging with an existing immigrant congregation, a conversation that ended with the withdrawal of the immigrants at the insistence by the traditional group that the dominant worship style and governance structure be maintained. Ironically, or perhaps fittingly, after the closing the judicatory established the immigrant community as a NWC on the historic site resulting in a new, vibrant expression of the church that quickly elicited interest from a diverse grouping.

Located in an urban warehouse, Serious JuJu provides a free indoor skating park for kids in Kalispell, Montana. Every Friday night hungry children, youth, and adults are fed, while experiencing shelter, sanctuary, and community. Many of JuJu’s 50 to 75 skaters suffer from childhood trauma due to chronic hunger, poverty, neglect, physical and emotional abuse, housing insecurity, family addictions, and incarcerations — all compounded by community isolation.

Not only are the youth served but Serious JuJu’s mother congregation is experiencing renewal because of its relationship with JuJu. An elder in the church who is a Kalispell attorney says, “I used to prosecute skateboarders, now I serve them. JuJu has made me and my church come alive.”

Then there’s the NWC leader in Manhattan who initially journeyed into a staff position that caused him great spiritual anguish because of a controlling head of staff. He eventually found peace and new direction by taking on the call to reach out to New Yorkers who had similar experiences. “They’re post-evangelicals, suspicious of established churches and tired of faith communities trying to be attractional,” he said. “They want to talk about poverty, race, politics. They’re community activists. If they have interest it is in seeing churches doing like-minded work.”

These are a few of the growing examples of thoughtful folk adopting missional practices, ministry that addresses the needs of those in surrounding communities who are separated from traditional congregational life, meeting them in their space and letting God work the divine plan.

There is an art to being missional, an art that calls us to find places, languages, and expressions of the faith that present the promises of the gospel in ways that are heard, felt, and understood. Our Pinnacle colleague, David Brown, calls these art works “holy experiments” that are open to God’s directing them toward innovative collaborations with communities outside the walls of our churches. Coming out of a deep commitment to God’s mission, a new reality will move us closer to God’s promised Realm.

May we make art together in Christ’s name and with God’s blessing.

Alan Arnold
Pinnacle Associate