Eugene Cho

community that once existed?

When my wife and I planted Quest six years ago, there were some good things we did and some poor things I did.  It stayed a VERY small group for many months and really, for the first 1.5 years.  We struggled immensely to get to any sort of critical mass – which at that time, we discerned to be about 50-75 people.  I spoke, taught, and preached a great deal about being organic, a true community, intimate, etc.  Those are things I still teach about but wished I could have spent more time preparing people for what would happen if we actually came close to achieving those things.  It becomes attractive and it actually grows.  Acts 2:42-47 is a beautiful portrait of the early church community.  It must have been so attractive and the Holy Spirit was at work and the church just grew.

So, Quest has grown the past couple years.  This past year, we were running three service [mainly because of our small intimate cafe space] and had couple Sundays where we hit 500 folks [including children].  It’s not my goal for Quest to grow to be a mega church or even a large church.  That would actually pain me but I’m more at peace to just let that be and keep focusing on the things that God lays upon the hearts of our church pastors and members.  But, I do pray that it might be attractive to many and that Quest would grow in its influence to both its neighbors and the city of Seattle and beyond.   While Quest has grown in size, it also has shrunk fairly significantly in size.  We’ve had more people leave Quest this past year – graduations, job relocations, the move to the ‘burbs, etc.  Like Asians that fled Denny’s in the ’90s, we’ve also had numerous people leave Quest basically sharing that their hearts just weren’t feelin’ it anymore.  Really good people that I care for dearly.  Painful but better than apathy fo sho.

Read the following short email dialogue and share some ideas and feedback.  The email was received the week after I preached one of my last messages [before the church merger] about Quest being at a very pivotal time mainly because we have more people that are unknown that known at Quest; more consumers than investors; more guests than hosts…it’s a dangerous place to be.

Pastor Eugene,
I just wanted to let you know that your message was much needed and appreciated. I have sensed for sometime now that our church has become an easy place for anonymous attendance; it has been hard to witness knowing the beauty that once existed. Perhaps this is growing pains, perhaps there is something that can be done. I don’t know what else to say really. Just glad to know that you and the staff have sensed this and are calling the community to attention. See you Sunday, Pastor.

My response:

Thanks for checking in.  It’s certainly not what it used to be in some ways.  There is anonymous attendance but for me, it [the ability to have anonymous attendance] can be a good thing.  We need to have space and grace for “anonymous attendance.”  The danger is when that is where people choose to stay and when the church leadership allows that to be the case.  So, it’s definitely an issue. Having said that, I’m always hopeful and encouraged because I see how people are connecting and growing together – especially in community groups.  While Quest is a failure in many ways, I see it’s beauty – now just in years past but even now.  God is gracious…

Our estimation is that about 50% of our church’s 350 adults are in some form of small or community group.  Not bad but more can be taking place; here’s some questions and requests for constructive feedback and ideas:

  • How important is the need to have “space” for anonymity in today’s context of church?  Is it the enemy of community?
  • So, if you’re a Quester, how do you feel about Community Groups?  If you’re not particpating in one, what’s the main reason?  I’ve always been intrigued that the majority of people that choose to leave Quest are NOT involved in some sort of community group.  They may have been at one point but had stopped going for various reasons.
  • If you’re checking in from other communities, what are the things that your community does that deepens the experience of “doing life together.” 
  • To all: what are your ideas to ensure that Community Groups don’t simply become narcissistic?  While we deeply care, pray, encourage, forgive, and love one another, how do we also seek to engage the neighborhoods/city that our groups meet?

During our ONE service on June 3 where all three of our services gathered for one service as well as the Interbay community joining us, I spent a few minutes with a long time Quester who had been with Quest for many years.  I noticed her with her husband in the back of the rented school gymnasium because she was crying.

  • me:  “Hey, are you ok?”
  • quester:  “Yeah [as she gestures toward the congregation]…it’s so big.”
  • me:  “Is that good or bad”
  • quester:  “Both…”

And that conversation basically sums up how many are feeling.  Both rejoicing and grieving.  400 people really isn’t that big of a church but in our church context, it’s a big crowd.  So, the challenge for us – how to remain an intimate community while the church grows.  I have told folks that whether we like it or not, the word is out and the Spirit is at work.  Your thoughts are appreciated.

Filed under: church, emerging church, pastors, quest church

9 Responses

  1. Jennifer says:

    Eugene,

    Great post – lots to think about.

    I don’t know for sure, but I think a large number of the anonymous attendees are the students. And after spending 2 years at SPU and seeing how their need for community is already amply met there, it makes sense, and I don’t see it as a bad thing at all. They come to church to worship, learn, have communion…and then they go back to school where they are already engaged in multiple formats for small groups and community. I think its a joy to have them at church. Their presence in worship says something special about them since there are plenty of SPU students who let that community meet *all* their needs and they don’t seek out a church at all.

    I think one of the most interesting things about this merger will be what will happen when the students come back in the fall. Everyone else will have had time to adjust a little bit, and they will need time too. Even though they are “anonymous attendees” I love their presence and we would be worse off without them.

  2. Wayne Park says:

    This has been very interesting and also very helpful to us up in Bellingham.
    Thanks for sharing this. Your retrospective becomes my prospective in the years to come…

  3. Dean says:

    Eugene,

    I defintely appreciate this post, that represents the struggle of so many of us in different communities of faith as well. At Pathways, we are still young and small, but find that there is a disconnect in getting people from attendance to small group community. We are presently thinking through whether there are smaller steps more easily taken by those who have never been in a small group community that will make the transition easier.

    My fear is a small community who loves their community so much that they forget their mission.

  4. James says:

    Eugene,
    The reality is it’s impossible for each person to have an intimate relationship with each and every person. I appreciate the fact that you and others on staff are trying to create the spaces for friendship, relationship, and community to take place.

    Also, when you say that “it’s not my goal for Quest to be a large church” – umm, I think it’s already too late…Thanks for sharing the post.

  5. Jennifer says:

    PE

    I guess in some ways, I don’t think its a bad thing that many people don’t participate in c-groups. I don’t know for sure, but my impression has been that you and Minhee and the rest of the staff don’t attend them. I think its good for people to have an option if they need an intentional way of finding community…but I’m sure many folks find the same kind of spiritual community outside of c-groups, and that’s okay too.

  6. e cho says:

    The goal isn’t to get everyone to get into OUR cgroups. Getting into some sort of community is important – at whatever level. But i do think that if Quest is one’s home church, there needs to be a level of investment.
    I would say half the staff are involved in regular and weekly community at Quest. Minhee is involved in a cgroup that meets weekly called the “moms’ group” on wednesday mornings. they utilize the lectio divina… while it’s not considered a cgroup, i enjoy my devotional time every tuesday am with all the pastors and ministry directors. we [david, leah, ray, karis, deanza, and i] really enjoyed the rhythm reading from jonah 4.
    “that’s ok too.” – absolutely.

  7. Jennifer says:

    Eugene,

    I think thats a sweet way to look at it….If someone isnt involved in a c-group, its not a sign that they are annoymous attenders. You could hardly call half the pastoral staff annoymous! 🙂

  8. Blake says:

    Eugene,

    I want to first echo the other posters, saying that I appreciate this post and your thoughts. Interestingly enough, this very topic came up in my own c-group last week.

    IMHO, I believe what we are experiencing is nothing more than the growing pains of a church that has nearly doubled in size over the past few years. Many of us who’ve been around in a while do miss some of what initially drew us to the church (small congregation, intimate community, knowing EVERYONE in the church, etc.). However, I simply think our church has evolved as it has grown. Losing those aspects was inevitable. We couldn’t expect to stay small forever, especially not in a church (as you pointed out) where God is moving. This growth is healthy. Painful for some (myself included), but definitely healthy. Some of us (I think) had simply grown comfortable with the 5:07pm and 1:0-something service and don’t like the fact that God is choosing to rock the boat. When we decided to move to three services we knew some fragmentation of the community was going to happen, but we had no choice and I want to commend you and your staff for your diligent and largely successful work to maintain how tight-knit our church is. Granted, I’ve been around a while so I feel pretty well connected, but I believe it is BECAUSE I’ve been around a while that I can reach out to those who are newer; to make sure that they feel the same intimacy, genuine love, and community that I felt when I first stepped through the doors.

    Just some thoughts. 🙂

  9. […] went out to a local Irish pub, The Celtic Swell, with c.group friends Brian & Sandra. Corin is 14 weeks old, and he slept through almost the whole dinner (a miracle, […]

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Collaboration.

col·lab·o·ra·tion
kəˌlabəˈrāSH(ə)n/
noun

the action of working with someone or a group of others  to produce or create something.

May we hold our logos, egos, and tribalism have their place. May we hold them loosely for they too shall pass. May we collaborate for the sake of the greater Kingdom of God ... which endures forever. As we honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., don't forget the God behind the man. The one true God who deposited this dream into MLK is still speaking to us today. Are we listening?

Be courageous. Be brave.

Being invited by the King Family to speak at the MLK worship service at Ebenezer Baptist Church in 2016 remains one of the most unexpected honors of my life. On the right is his daughter, Dr. Bernice King and his sister, Dr. Christine King Farris. Walking throughstreet markets in different parts of the world is the best. Soaking in the culture. Listening to the local language and music. Enjoying the amazing cuisine. Meeting new friends. Praying for the Gospel to penetrate. #ChiangRai Blessed be the local, indigenous leaders for it is they who live in the very communities they seek to love. For it is they who understand their context and culture...better than a Westerner ever will. For it is they who will continue to tenaciously pursue a better world with hope, justice and love when visitors like me leave.

Yes, blessed be the local, indigenous leaders. What an honor and privilege to celebrate with the on-the-ground local @thefreedomstory team to celebrate the recent opening of their Education and Resource Center for the local youth in Chiang Rai, Thailanf. This was made possible through a partnership and matching grant by @onedayswages and The Freedom Story.

While it was an honor to be there to cut the cord and say a few words, this is an example of collaboration. Much love to the Freedom Story team including their co-founders Tawee Donchai and @Rachel Goble, to their staff who live in the community, who understand their context and culture, and who tenaciously pursue a better world with hope, justice and love. And of course, much love to the students themselves for they each matter. Finally, to each person that donated to @onedayswages to make this grant possible.

May hundreds and even thousands of youth be impacted, encouraged, and mentored. May they capture a glimpse of God's love for them.

Photo: @benjaminedwards Part 2 on my wrestling with the complex issue of human trafficking. In part, documenting my trip to Thailand for @onedayswages...to listen, learn, and visit one of our partner orgs @thefreedomstory. More to come.

There's such painful and poignant irony in pursuing justice...unjustly. One way we do this is when we reduce people into projects...and thus, propagating the dangerous power dynamic of US as heroes and THEM as helpless and exclusively as victims. So dangerous.

Human trafficking is not just an issue. It’s ultimately, about people. Depending on the sources of statistics, there are anywhere from 29-40 million people in some form of forced labor and slavery, including sex trafficking.

And one thing I’ve learned, personally, is how easy it is easy to reduce people into projects which is why mutuality, reciprocity, and dignity are so vital. These are critical because God never intended people to be reduced into projects.

We forget this and we indirectly foster a culture and system of victimization or worse, the pornification of the poor or in this case, "the trafficked." And when you start dehumanizing the poor or trafficked, you have no genuine desire to build relationships with them. You believe or build stereotypes in broad strokes, singular, black and white narratives that have been told about them. You believe the lie that they have nothing to teach us and are incapable of contributing to the larger society.

Lord, break our hearts for the things that break your heart. Give us eyes to see others through your eyes. Give us humility so that we acknowledge our own need to learn and grow. (Photo via @thefreedomstory)

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