A neighbor in our condo building asked me if I like to fish. “I haven’t dropped a hook in the water since I was 14,” I told him. I went on to tell him about a conversation I had with a church member at Cashie Baptist Church in Windsor, N.C., when I served as their pastor.
“I don’t have the patience to fish,” I told that avid fisherman at Cashie. “Pastor, if you’re any good, you don’t need patience,” he responded with truth and laughter.
What the man from Cashie explained was that with enough experience, a wise fisherman can assess the situation, and make a good decision about the places he’s likely to be successful.
At the beginning of this year, after seven-and-a-half-years serving in denominational roles, I returned to the work I love: local church leadership. I also returned to the work I really love: planting a new church among the people who are my neighbors.
What we discovered among our neighbors in the South Loop neighborhood of Chicago are thousands of people open to gospel conversations and interested in spiritual community. However, despite a handful of great churches in the region, they never found a church where they feel like they fit.
Back in January, when the planting of Advent Church for South Loop became my full-time work, it began with a series of conversations with neighbors about our neighborhood, as well as a careful examination of demographic data of the South Loop.
One reality became very clear to me. In a community of well-educated and affluent people, we faced a significant challenge. Most of the people who live in the South Loop work in very specialized white-collar roles.
My eyes were opened to a substantial reason that the small group Bible study we first initiated last Fall never really gained momentum.
The people in our community are consumers. They pay others for goods and services. They also expect high quality when they invest their time and money in anything. There is a certain expectation they have when they hear “church.” Four or five people sitting around a table does not fit that expectation.
The reality of our mission field meant the time had come for me to live by the counsel I gave to dozens of church planters over the last 12 years. “The question to ask is not, ‘Can this be done?’ The right question is, ‘How can this be done?’”
Lacking clear answers to my question in February, I began several weeks of earnest prayer, seeking wisdom and understanding that I did not yet have.
In early March, I posted a question in our neighborhood Facebook group asking if there was a network of entrepreneurs in our neighborhood. The wisdom and understanding I sought was being revealed in this simple truth: entrepreneurs are those who have demonstrated a willingness to take ownership of something that doesn’t yet exist, then work to make it happen.
In something of a “Eureka!” moment, I realized, “These are the people I need to know.”
Several weeks of responses by entrepreneurs in the neighborhood made a couple of things clear. There was no network in the South Loop exclusively for entrepreneurs. Yet, there was a lot of interest in one. An obvious opportunity presented itself: create a new network of entrepreneurs in the South Loop.
In the months since, we have seen a leadership team of five entrepreneurs emerge. We are committed to giving entrepreneurs who attend our meetings value-added experiences that help them take their first step or next step. After several regular monthly meetings, the feedback we have received indicates we are achieving that objective.
So how does this advance the mission of Advent Church for South Loop? Most significantly, giving life to South Loop Entrepreneurs allows us to instill the DNA for Advent Church before the church is born.
Our mission is to reveal the glory of God by seeking and doing good in our neighborhood.
Creating South Loop Entrepreneurs is a way to invest some of my experience and passion for entrepreneurship in my neighbors. Creating South Loop Entrepreneurs also allows us to live out our core values of growth and service, as we seek to help our neighbors develop in their ability to start and grow their businesses.
South Loop Entrepreneurs has introduced me to more people who are at least willing to hear the claims of the gospel. The network has also given me relationships among the people I need to know to see the church become reality. Additionally, an unanticipated but significant blessing is the leadership credibility I have gained among my neighbors by offering visionary direction for the network.
This leadership credibility is essential to successfully planting a sustainable church and gospel movement. South Loop Entrepreneurs has advanced that credibility in a broader network of relationships. As you consider the mission field where you live, what are the gifts or abilities you have that you can invest in your community? How can you turn your interests into an opportunity to serve unchurched people around you? Who are the people in your community who share your passion? How can you bring value to the people in your neighborhood, town or community?
Joining others who share your interests or working to start something new will introduce you to people who are not likely to open their door for an outreach team, take a tract in public place, or stop by a church booth at a community event.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Dennis Conner is pastor of Advent Church for South Loop in Chicago, Ill.)