By Jeff Krajewski
“We decided to go small.” I couldn’t believe I said it, and I felt a bit embarrassed after it came out of my mouth. The person I was speaking with smiled politely. I could hear his inner dialogue: Going small, eh? That’s what all pastors say when they can’t grow a church.
Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.
When I first read the book in Bible college, 20 years ago, I remember thinking, I want to be a part of a church that is helping to shape deep people. I didn’t know what that meant or how it happened, but I knew Foster was right and I should aspire to be a part of something like that.
Fast-forward eight years. I remember Common Ground Christian Church’s first worship gathering as a new congregation. We had two services—550 people, all wildly excited with the vision to reach our city. We grew fast. Two services became three, and 550 became more than a 1,000 attendees each week. We had 62 parking spaces and 310 seats, but it didn’t seem to matter.
Something happened early on. I ditched my aspiration to build deep people and jumped on a different train. Our house church network became less about formation and more about assimilation. Our vision of leadership development was driven by our need for more groups—now. Leaders were people who showed up for more than eight weeks and brought their Bible. We grew fast; it was exciting. People called and asked what we were doing and stopped in to check us out. I was on top of the world.
Five years after our launch, we began to realize leaders were burning out and people were less than satisfied. We noticed while people were being connected, they were not necessarily being formed as disciples of Jesus. We started to wonder if we had lost our way. Had we bought into the wide-road way of thinking? Had we forgotten our calling as a church, and had I forgotten my calling as their pastor?
The church’s role is to tell the world the truth about the lie of fast and easy. We are called to demonstrate a radical alternative to this lie. But we came to wonder if we were actually feeding the lie. We knew something was wrong and we set about praying and talking to try and figure it out.
One of our stated values is authenticity and intimacy in relationship with God and with others. We were convinced people were best formed in relationships where they were known and where their stories could be heard. It seemed the size of our congregation was working against our value system; that size led to a diminishing return on relational intimacy. Our formation structures had become people management structures, and our conclusion was that if we were going to grow deep people we needed to change our congregational growth strategy.
Our ministry philosophy is rooted in Ephesians 4:12, 13; we think in terms of “equipping the saints.” We contend that for this to happen, people must be in deep mentoring relationships. But we noticed the larger our church grew, the less relationally intimate it became. We were successful in gathering people, in grouping them, and in helping to facilitate some sort of connection to our church, but we were increasingly less effective in discipling and mentoring them to become deep people.
We are convinced that spiritual formation and mission is a long, slow process that happens over time. Deep people are not formed overnight, and for our church to have kingdom impact in the city of Indianapolis and beyond, we needed to have a 100-year vision for our church.
We immediately began to think about our growth strategy in different terms. It couldn’t be centered around one facility and it couldn’t be personality driven. Our strategy had to be people-focused, with a high value on leadership development and multiplication at all levels.
We would plant and grow smaller congregations that, in turn, would do the same throughout our city. These would not be sites or campuses but, instead, congregations with pastors and elders and clear vision that would work itself out in local communities. These congregations would be equipped and released to be a church in the same way we are called to be the church. We would remain connected as a network of churches recognizing that certainly large churches can do some good things that smaller congregations cannot. We want to leverage the relational intimacy of the smaller, geographically specific congregations, and the collective resources of the network as a whole. We also created a resource hub that serves as the administrative, formation, and vision support for each of the churches.
Finally, I would not be the pastor at any of the area churches. This was a big deal for me and for the church; we realized how easily people can attach themselves to a personality and how easily that personality can be attached to their attachment. I serve as a part of the hub, and I support and encourage our area church pastors as they lead their congregations. I also spend a lot of time with leaders and emerging leaders, investing in the longer-term health and vision of our church in Indianapolis and around the world.
We are one year into this new ministry philosophy, so everything is still very experimental. Our hope is that we are being faithful to our part of the “body” in Indianapolis and that we are also helping to give some flesh to what many church leaders are wondering about the true purpose of the church.
Jeff Krajewski is founder and lead pastor of Common Ground Network of Churches in Indianapolis, Indiana. For more information, go to www.cground.org.