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.
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.
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.