DETROIT, MI – The prevailing model of church and church planting in America seems to have a lot in common with Kevin Costner’s 1989 film “Field of Dreams,” where a voice tells him “if you build it, they will come,” Is it true though? Perhaps the answer is yes and no. I want to use that “yes and no” to share a little with you about our church plant in Southwest Detroit.
Let’s start with “no.” If you build it, will they come? Much of church and church planting culture in America assumes the answer is “yes.“ What is “it?” IT depends. Perhaps it’s a literal church building, the best guest experience, the best assimilation process, the best worship band, the best preaching staff, or the best set of programs.
Does God use all these things? Surely. He also uses Pagan kings. By His grace He can build His church through whatever means He wants. The problem arises whenever we lean on our wisdom over God’s Word, whether that be by what we do or what we refuse to do. We cannot expect what we build or don’t build to rescue people from death.
Location. Location. Location. By God’s Sovereign Grace, there are places that build “it,” but emphasize the gospel and some DO come. On the other hand, there are places you won’t likely fill a building just because you build “it.” We live in one of those places, and the places that it DOES work, only some come.
Our location and our conviction demand that we GO where people will never come if we “build it.” Our neighborhood will not just show up because we have a good Sunday service and somebody invites them. Our neighbors are too diverse and in need of the gospel to be satisfied with only reaching those who would.
What’s the “yes?” If you build the church - the people of God, they will come. This is our only confidence. Ephesians 4:1-16 tells us how the body, the church grows: Jesus gave gifts to pastors, to build up EVERY member to maturity for ministry in Christ. The result? The body grows! That’s not a very attractive schtick, and it makes church growth a crockpot, not a microwave, but it’s God’s design.
After four years of digging roots, sharing our home, having people live in our home, sharing the gospel, discipling and developing people, being misunderstood by some outsiders who told other people we were planting a house church, celebrated as gritty by a few and ignored by others, we began Sunday gatherings in February with a very solid and growing core team of just 12 people. We average 20-30 people in attendance a few months in. It’s not “normal” and it’s a challenge. Support typically goes to places that have the three Bs - buildings, budgets, and butts in seats, and more importantly, it challenges my own heart.
Church planting is perhaps most influential on the heart of the planter/pastor. It is sanctifying and revealing of the idols of the heart. Even with deep convictions about this process, I still struggle with fear of man - the assumed expectations that others will look at us as a failure because they see how few we are, or how slow we grow, or they show up on the Sunday. Where our whole team doesn’t even make it and there’s an “awkward” crowd of 10-15, and the pastor plays guitar and preaches because there aren’t any other musicians.
But if you build it - the church - God’s people, they WILL come - the church WILL grow. This is a promise in Scripture to hang on to. Build mature disciples and mobilize them, and they will go to the people who would never come. That’s exactly where we find ourselves. God is raising a few Marines, ready for the trenches, who are going behind enemy lines and making disciples. We have individuals reaching people in the community and on two college campuses. Perhaps we should re-write it: “If you build them, it will come.” It’s simple multiplication, and the roots of something truly exponential.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Drew Ansley is a church planter in Southwest Detroit. He lives there and ministers with his wife, Alisha and daughter Makaela. They have been in the neighborhood since 2015 making disciples and building a team which will help train more disciple-makers and leaders for the city. They hope to launch the public face of Refuge Detroit church in 2018. Find out more at refugedetroit.org or email Drew directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.