Ask any of the church planters in the Minnesota Annual Conference: launching a weekly worship service is like throwing a birthday party and not being sure if anyone will come.
The leadership team had prepped, the-set up people unfolded chairs, the food people had brought a tremendous amount of brunch, the musicians practiced, and everyone had flyered, texted, social media blasted, and got the word out every way we knew how.
Then it was 9:45 a.m., fifteen minutes before the service started, and basically nobody was there. There could have been tumbleweed blowing across the room.
Earlier that morning, I had texted my team, “Whatever happens today and whoever shows up, I see God in the work we have done and I am proud of us!” And that was the honest truth. Still, there are few sights more unsettling than a room full of chairs with only a couple of guests awkwardly huddled in the corner looking at their phones. I did some centering prayer.
Then, the room started filling, and it kept filling.
In came teachers, college kids, actual kids, social workers, reporters, immigrants, executives, people who couldn’t pay rent this month, landlords, musicians, veterans, yoga addicts, actual addicts, burned out evangelicals, people who had never once been to church before, and at least five different nationalities of people, all streaming in to make nametags and grab some quiche.
It was standing room only. We counted 127 adults (plus their kids), but honestly, we might have missed the folks sitting on the ground and such.
After sharing a meal together, we invited everyone to come worship. The musicians swept everyone up, the way they always do, and the energy in the room became palpable.
Then Dana Neuhauser, who is a deacon appointed to New City, stood in the front and read the Pentecost story, and I thought: oh my gosh. After looking around this room, I can actually believe that this happened. I can actually believe that the Holy Spirit makes relationships possible that would otherwise be impossible; that God speaks to people in their own language. Even before I stood up to start preaching, the room was the sermon. The people gathered were the testimony. Hallelujah!
Even the people who had been part of New City since the beginning could not believe their eyes. “OH MY GOSH” they silently mouthed to me as they took down tables to fit more chairs. It was a moment that permanently broke open the imagination of the community of what God can do.
Of course, I don’t want to be too romantic about this; it was a lot of work. No one at New City is employed full-time (I, at half-time, am compensated for the most hours), so we operate pretty lean. A lot of people, especially all of the leaders in the community, sacrificed tremendously for New City to get to this point. We generated hundreds, if not thousands, of contacts in the community; sat down for hundreds of one-on-one meetings; and went through miles of post-it notes and dozens of white board markers as we planned.
And, furthermore, this launch was a clear manifestation of our United Methodist connection at work. The launch was held, after all, in the second floor of Walker UMC, who graciously invited us into their building. Good Samaritan UMC does our payroll, and numerous churches in the Twin Cities have taken up special offerings for New City in addition to paying Reach, Renew, Rejoice funds that helped us launch in the first place. The strategy for all of this came as a collaborative discussion between Ben Ingebretson (Area Director of New Church Development), Dan Johnson (District Superintendent), and my church planting coach. Clergy Leadership Academy and the cohort of church planters surrounded New City in prayer. The bishop ran with this wild dream in the first place. An incredible number of United Methodists across Minnesota sent me messages of support leading up to this.
The point is that New City is not the story of one team, one plant, or one moment. This launch is the story of God’s wild Spirit pouring in from all sides, across the connection, in a way that honors our history while charging into the future. If you are reading this, you probably helped make New City possible. Thank you!
The week after our kickoff, New City had a “Solidarity Day” where we worshipped off-site in another location to honor a community leader. We wanted to show that, even from the start, we are seriously dedicated to the healing and transformation of our neighborhood. And lo and behold, it was another standing room-only event! I am starting to think I should just buy a storage unit filled with folding chairs for moments like these.
Of course, this is only the start for our young community. Statistically, a church plant needs to be about five years old until it can be considered stable, so we at New City are pressing forward with a new vigor. We invite your prayers, just as much as we are praying that the Holy Spirit shows up in your context in blusteringly powerful ways. Amen!
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church