Forgive the oversimplification, but people are different. We have varied backgrounds, circumstances, personalities and experiences with faith. With our differing needs, we need differing churches to meet them. Just as all people are different, ministries must be different as well.
It is the responsibility of a church to find its role in its community and allow other churches to find their roles as well.
To illustrate this, we’ll look at how multiple ministries within one city serve the various needs of their city. We have to look no further than RELEVANT’s hometown of Orlando, Fla., for a variety of churches are connecting with young adults in unique ways.
While several other churches are doing just that, we want to shine the spotlight on three specific ministries—Status, Summit and The Living Room.
To many in the area, Status is “the hipster church.” It’s cool. Many of its attendees are cool. Its service is cool. But that’s not the point.
Every Sunday night, 700 young people—nearly all of whom are in their 20s—flock to Status’ progressive twentysomething service at Discovery Church.
Status aims to be a place where you can bring your non-Christian friends without the embarrassment of an off-key worship band or a sermon about who God wants you to vote for. But it’s not about the performance or politics. With their own coffee and concession bar and an artistic, modern, technologically up-to-date service and atmosphere, Status is known as a place for hipsters to hang out. But being cool is by no means a requirement, and much emphasis is placed on creating a community in which all are welcome.
For Status, it’s all about a living, dynamic interplay of culture, community and Christ. Nothing more, nothing less.
“I feel a lot of times we build really complex systems,” says A.J. Sherrill, Status’ 24-year-old pastor. The result is a group of “professional Christians” who minister to the rest, which makes it harder for the church members to see themselves as church planters.
“We got to a place where we started building our team around talent instead of spirituality,” Sherrill admits. That is all changing, however. The team behind Status is not particularly experienced or qualified. They’re young, unpolished and passionate. But qualifications don’t matter when you’re called.
“I’m trying to learn that if this is going to continue in our generation, this needs to be more organic than organizational,” Sherrill says. “It’s more important to have people who are devoted to prayer and the things that Jesus was devoted to. It’s been a hard lesson to learn.”
There have been other lessons along the way, like the truth that just going to a church service doesn’t make one part of a church community.
“We don’t communicate that the service is comprehensive,” Sherrill says. “Too many of us put all of our stock into a service.” The result is that people feel disconnected from their church and from the greater community of Christ. “We use Status pretty much as a funnel to get people into ‘nano-Status,’ called ‘Spheres.’” That’s where community happens.
The Church of New Beginnings
While Status tends to draw in many people who might otherwise think they’re “too cool” for church, Summit Church connects with another group of unchurched people.
Isaac Hunter, Summit’s pastor, had an uncomfortable encounter at a recent pastors conference that went something like this:
Unknown Pastor: My church has been around for 10 years, and we finally have 300 attendees. How long has your church been around?
Hunter: A little less than three years.
Unknown Pastor: And how many attendees do you have?
Hunter: Just over 300.
Unknown pastor (condescendingly): Oh, you probably have one of those churches for non-Christians.
Hunter: What kind of church is there?!
Summit was born out of a late-night conversation in a Denny’s. A decade ago, three 18-year-olds—Hunter was one of them—sat in the restaurant talking about what to do to build God’s Kingdom. They talked about starting the kind of church that they would want to attend—one that would change their whole community. They decided that some day they’d make it happen.
Six years later they got the call. After meeting for a few months in homes and apartments, Summit Church had its first full service in a rented space at a movie theater. Exactly three years (and two buildings) later, they moved into another movie theater. This time, though, it was a multiplex, and they owned it.
The three guys from the meeting at Denny’s are all on staff at Summit.
While Hunter believes that most people at Summit are Christians, he has no qualms about the church’s role in changing the lives of nonbelievers. The staff works to make the environment comfortable, the music appealing and the “Christianese” minimal.
Unlike Status, many in the Summit family are not twentysomethings. There are families, children and adults of all ages. However, its easygoing attitude and proximity to the University of Central Florida make it a natural fit for many college students.
As Iron Sharpens Iron
While Summit is bringing the lost into the church, another area church is taking them to the next level.
Believing that it’s also the mission of Christ, Church in the Son has made its mission to “win souls and make disciples.” A large emphasis of the church is discipleship, and the church’s goal is to make “every believer a leader.”
One way that Church in the Son wins souls is through its twentysomething service, The Living Room. The service—nearly four years old—began when the church realized that an increasingly high number of its attendees were in their 20s and many of them were single. Realizing that the church had few opportunities for those people to connect, music minister Rob Sperti took on the role of young adult pastor and launched The Living Room. It began in a spare room in the church on Tuesday nights. When they hit approximately 80 regular attendees, they moved to the sanctuary. The structure is nothing new, but it’s vibrant. Unlike Summit and Status, The Living Room is apart of a charismatic, “spirit-filled” church, and its worship services are decidedly different stylistically. The service now hosts close to 200 people each week.
The music is different. The visions are different. The attendees are different. But the purpose is the same. As each church is seeing growth and lives changed, it’s obvious that there is room for each in the same community. There is no formula for their ministries—nor is there one for yours
HOW THEY DO IT
Status Spheres, divided into three types, are essentially small groups that allow everyone to get to know each other. Crash Spheres revolve around a hobby or a common interest, ranging from cooking to Texas Holdem. In Word Spheres, on the other hand, twentysomethings can study the Bible or a book, such as Donald Miller’s Searching for God Knows What . Discipleship Spheres, however, take the small group community to a whole other level. Based on commitment, attendance is mandatory for members of a Discipleship Sphere. These close-knit groups offer members the chance to share their lives, confess their sins and hold each other accountable.
Sherrill says that, as the ministry has achieved more success, Status leadership has been asking a new question: “How can we transport this to other places?”
The secret to Summit is being true to the original idea from the Denny’s conversation. Instead of building a church that was fashionable or sure-fire for success, Summit strives to be the kind of church that the community wants—and needs. The music, which has a Wilco-meets-Derek Webb vibe, is the kind of music that its members listen to. Hunter aims for his sermons to be non-threatening but convicting. (For example, each week he reminds the congregation that the offering is our gift to God, but he tells visitors that perhaps their best offering is an open mind and heart.)
Summit is building the church as God wants it and the community needs. And keeping true to that vision is what keeps it going.
THE LIVING ROOM
On the discipleship front, The Living Room’s host church, Church in the Son, emphasizes cell groups. With the exception of their young married couple group, the cell groups are split between male and female. Each has anywhere from four to 20 members. They meet weekly, and most consist of prayer, confession and counsel. Once a member is ready to become a leader, he or she will start a new cell group. Thus, accomplishing the goal of making every believer a leader.
Several times a year, the church hosts Encounters, weekend retreats to seek a deeper and renewed relationship with God. The Encounters are divided by gender. Church members invite everyone they can—friends, family, coworkers, neighbors—to the retreats, and they’ve seen countless lives changed.
By empowering people to embrace God’s love, turn from sin and lead others to do the same, Church in the Son is making their mission a reality.