Is Crowded House a version of the missional community idea? Or more practically, a mid-size gathering that’s easier to connect to?
Crowded House is one aspect of a Network and a Network is really a holistic vision of a church that is represented in a hyper-local way. It has elements of community for growth and service. There are multiple entry points for connection in a Network. Some people connect at the Crowded House. Others get into a Small Group right away. Others connect to the Network through a serving project to feed the poor, care for refugees or a single mom in the neighborhood – just to name a few. The key principles expressed in a Network are: everyone needs a community to grow in, everyone has cause to serve and everyone can develop someone to follow Jesus. The Network provides various levels of social, spiritual and service venues for people to “do church where they do life.”
How often do they meet? How many do you currently have? Where are you finding leaders for it?
We began casting vision for doing life as a church in Networks a year ago in the summer of 2010. Being a church on mission is not a new thing. It has been the core of who were are since we started.
Starting Networks was a strategic change for us. We piloted the idea in one area of Austin with a group of leaders for about three months. As we told their story of “doing church where you do life” in these various sized spaces and venues for growth and service others wanted to try it. As Gateway staff we built the organization for how a Network might function each month and volunteer leaders have been creating them the last nine months. It is staff supported and volunteer led.
We now have thirty Networks with about 750 people connected to them at various stages of development. The Network leaders are often spiritually gifted leaders with a passion to love people with the same love they have received from Jesus. They are often times faithful Small Group leaders or leaders of past serving initiatives. Network leaders must have a high capacity for leadership and hold the tension of providing environments for individual spiritual growth while still reaching out in love to others in the neighborhood/city.
What excites me the most is that some of our Network leaders are people who have started actively following Christ at Gateway in the last couple of years. We are fulfilling our mission of being a church ‘out of the culture.’
Are you being influenced by certain books or ministries to innovate in this way?
John Burke, our lead pastor, planted Gateway in 1998 with Ted Beasley. He has been a driving influence on who we are as a community. At the same time he empowers us as staff to figure out what is next for us as a church. Our mission is clear about helping un-churched people become a unified community of growing, multiplying Christ followers. It’s new strategies like implementing Networks that come from our staff and really from listening and learning from our leaders and emerging leaders.
We want a generation of leaders who have never been churched to look at the Scriptures, tell us what they see, and then together be who Jesus calls us to be as his body. They help shape and craft the direction of Gateway.
We have also been influenced by others like Neil Cole who spoke at our Advance leadership weekend (we’re not a church on retreat) two years ago. Other voices like Greg Ogden, Randy Frazee and Joseph Myers have been helpful along the way.