Cultivating the Soil Through Startups and Community Development
Church planting is both a spiritual and relational endeavor. Obviously, everything we do and what we're about has spiritual implications as there is no sacred / secular divide, but sometimes it's helpful to break down planting into different elements.
Of course I didn't know much about this in my first church planting endeavor. For me, if I prayed more, got more people to pray more, and lived rightly then surely my church plant would be a success. I had so spiritualized everything that I failed to take into account the long process of cultivating the soil. That meant taking the long-term approach to build relationships. Instead, I couldn't wait to get to our public launch where then all of the work would be about growing our congregation.
But I'm an introvert. It doesn't mean I'm not relational ... it just takes time. Not only that, but to be in situations where connecting is easy and natural. Cold turkey conversations in the park, coffee shop, or transit are not really my thing. And to be honest, sometimes that can be a bit creepy and weird too. However, put me in a place with regular and consistent connections and I'm good to go. Then conversations happen naturally, blossom over time, and inevitably so does the natural process of conversations turning spiritual.
My most meaningful and repeated conversations and cultivation came from my part-time job as well as people in my neighborhood. But it took time. What I've learned since then that in order for me to be effective in cultivating the soil I need to be in like circumstances of regular (and even mundane) contact. This where diving into launching a startup, whether that is a business or community development endeavor, has a side benefit of cultivating the relational (and spiritual) soil of your community.
What I didn't know then was this notion of cultivation. When I moved to my new city where I was to plant in I immediately wanted to jump to the harvest mode. But I never cultivated anything initially. It would be like a farmer moving across the country to a new farm and as soon as he lands there he assumes that he can immediately begin harvesting the wheat or corn in the field. But he didn't plant anything. The fields have yet to be cultivated ... soil plowed, seeds planted, fertilized, watered, etc. That's why seemingly most "successful" church plants are led by people who're either local or have been around long enough to develop thick relational networks. In other words, cultivation has been happening for some time.
When we combine business startups and non-profit community development into the church planting process what we're also doing is, like a farmer, taking time to cultivate the fields. Building genuine relationships, getting to know the community, and planting seeds. I'm afraid, that too many church planters are like me ... they just want to jump straight to the harvest. And when there is no harvest ... very few (if any) people from the community show up to your church apart from the handful of people who might have moved with you.
Maybe it is time to slow down and have a longer runway. We need to spend more time cultivating the soil. And a natural way to do this is through startups.