Posts Tagged Strategy

Austin, Texas

The city of Austin has been a top growth city in America for many years running, and has continued to grow, even during the recent economic downturn. In response to their ongoing explosive growth, Austinites began a campaign to maintain the distinctiveness of local neighborhoods under the slogan, “Keep Austin Weird”. Since then, this has become more generally the motto for the city at large. Austin is religiously diverse—among other things, it is home to the largest Hindu temple in North America. Culturally, Austin prides itself in being cosmopolitan, free-thinking, and tolerant of multiple viewpoints. It would be a mistake to think of a church plant in Austin as a church plant in Texas. What most people think of as Texan culture is a mostly suburban/rural phenomenon in the Austin area. Austin has as many tattoos and piercings as it has cowboy hats and shiny belt buckles.

Austin is also a young city. The average age for New Way Church’s initial target area (a four mile radius centered on the Gateway mall), for instance, is 36. The most significant demographic age group in this area are the “survivor” generation of 28- to 48-year-olds, which makes up 39% of the population here; the U.S. average for this group overall is only 29%. Austin overall is culturally very young. The presence of the University of Texas in the center of the city, with its 50,000 students, has a significant cultural impact, as do the multiple annual music festivals that draw international crowds.

The U.S. Lifestyle group (from a system of 6 demographic groups and 50 subgroups used by church psychographic research company, Percept) most significantly present in the area is the “Young and Coming” group. Young and Coming households represent 52% of this area’s population, 16% of which are of the Rising Potential Professionals subgroup; for comparison, the U.S. average for the Young and Coming group is only 15%. This area is also a highly educated one, with twice as many college graduates per capita than in the general U.S. population.

Given the large amount of transplant growth, the overrepresentation of people on the cusp of starting families, and the overall atmosphere of intellectual and philosophical experimentation, Austin represents fertile ground for church planting. In particular, this place has what has sometimes been termed “New Church Friendly Demographics”; it has been on the unofficial church planting “to watch” lists of a number of church growth thinkers in the General Church for years.

An additional reason for planting in Austin is that it is a good match not only for the New Church, but for this particular New Church planter, the Rev. Mac Frazier. When doing outreach work, it is important to find a good match between the target culture and the background of the founding pastor. In this case, Mac is coming from a background in high-tech entrepreneurship, and is intimately familiar with the culture, worldview and lifestyle of tech workers and managers that make up a significant percentage of the target demographic in Austin. Austin is a high-tech town; Dell is headquartered there and IBM has a major presence there, among other high-tech employers in the area. During the height of the tech boom there were regular commuter flights between Austin and the Silicon Valley—dubbed the “nerd bird”—because the growing cadre of web workers and growing Internet millionaires preferred the more laid back and progressive lifestyle of Austin.

[This is excerpted from the Launch Plan for New Way Church in Austin, TX. Go to yesterday’s except for an explanation of why we need More Societies (i.e. New Church congregations). Tomorrow: why Mac Frazier would make a good church planter for this plan.]

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More Societies

For a more complete argument in favor of the ongoing planting/launching of many small to medium sized congregations, see my presentation, “10 Reasons”. But here are just a couple of the reasons the New Church needs to launch many more congregations.

Most systems, (social networks, commercial markets, entertainment media, etc.) naturally tend toward a long-tail distribution pattern. Only when there are artificial barriers to distribution (limited shelf space, for instance) does this natural distribution pattern get truncated in a way that favors the investment in “blockbusters”, “best sellers”, “top 40 hits”, etc. The church world is no different. Church is essentially a local cultural phenomenon, and is becoming more so. These days, with new generations growing up with greatly increased expectations with regard to choice, variety, and customization brought on by the long tail effect of digital distribution, we will see a move away from megachurches akin to the de-urbanization trends caused when a society moves from industrialism to post-industrialism.

Going forward, young people will choose faith communities the way they would like to ideally choose restaurants: “fresh, seasonal, local”. In church terms, this means they will prefer congregations that are vibrant (as evidenced by an active engagement with the world), culturally relevant (and aware of current trends and issues), and distinctly local. Denominational affiliation has been increasingly meaningless, or even detrimental to church growth in the Christian world, and there is little reason to expect it will be different for Swedenborgian churches.

For these reasons, the optimal growth strategy for an organization like the General Church is to invest so as to maximize not the size of congregations, but the overall number of culturally varied congregations. Provided that such congregations are large enough to be self-sufficient, the portion of the Lord’s kingdom that the General Church represents will grow best when spread across as many different cultural niches as possible. This strategy also diversifies risk.

Other advantages of pursuing a multiple-congregation growth strategy include: diversification of risk and increased cultural variety within the body of the General Church. In fact, it is this last that is potentially most beneficial.

The General Church is a stuck system, largely due to cultural inertia. We can strive to change the established culture of the existing groups in order to grow them, or we can add new groups that have no pre-existing church culture. The latter takes less effort (and does less damage) than the former, yet still adds significantly to the overall cultural transformation of the body of the worldwide movement.

Consider also, this, from Heaven and Hell:

It is worth noting that the more members there are in a single community and the more united they are in action, the more perfect is their human form. This is because variety arranged in a heavenly form makes perfection, as explained above in 56; and variety occurs where there are many individuals.

Every community in heaven is growing in numbers daily, and the more it grows, the more perfect it becomes. In this way, not only is the community perfected, but heaven in general is perfected as well, since the communities constitute heaven.

Since heaven is perfected by its numerical growth, we can see how mistaken people are who believe that heaven will be closed to prevent overcrowding. Actually, it is just the reverse. It will never be closed, and its ever increasing fullness makes it more perfect. So angels long for nothing more than to have new angel guests arrive there. (HH 71)

Earlier in the same work, it says this:

Variety in worship of the Lord from the variety of good in different societies is not harmful, but beneficial, for the perfection of heaven is therefrom. …Unity, that it may be perfect, must be formed from variety. Every whole exists from various parts, since a whole without constituents is not anything; it has no form, and therefore no quality. But when a whole exists from various parts, and the various parts are in a perfect form, in which each attaches itself like a congenial friend to another in series, then the quality is perfect. So heaven is a whole from various parts arranged in a most perfect form, for the heavenly form is the most perfect of all forms. That this is the ground of all perfection is evident from the nature of all beauty, agreeableness and delight, by which the senses and the mind are affected; for these qualities spring and flow from no other source than the concert and harmony of many concordant and congenial parts, either coexisting in order or following in order, and never from a whole without many parts. From this is the saying that variety gives delight; and the nature of variety, as is known, is what determines the delight. From all this it can be seen as in a mirror how perfection comes from variety even in heaven. For from the things that exist in the natural world the things of the spiritual world can be seen as in a mirror. (HH 56)

From this it is perfectly clear how each society of the church can be further perfected through the addition of new members. It then does not take much of a stretch to see how the church as a whole will be greatly improved through the addition of new congregations.

[This continues the serialization of the Launch Plan for New Way Church in Austin, TX. It continues the Rationale section, started last week. Tomorrow: why Austin, Texas.]

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This plan has built into it a number of assumptions. In addition to the Core Values already listed, we are assuming the following:

  • The world and the church will mutually benefit from the creation of more New Church societies, and in fact will benefit more from many medium-sized congregations than from just a few large ones;
  • Austin, Texas is rich soil for church launching in general and for the New Church in particular;
  • The Rev. Glenn McKinley Frazier (a.k.a. “Mac”) is the right person to lead this project;
  • Church launching, using the crowd-to-core model of church growth, has advantages over church planting, using the core-to-crowd approach;
  • Many church starts jeopardize their ability to be financially independent, and thus their ability to grow, by getting into real estate ownership too soon;
  • Effective evangelism involves honest marketing, and effective marketing strives to demonstrate how a brand is the leader in its own unique category, not a latecomer in an already established category; and
  • Best practices from the old Christian church growth world are a useful starting point for making projections and setting benchmarks, but it must be remembered that our unique theology may prove to invalidate some of them as we go forward.

The following is additional rationale behind some of these assumptions.

[Excerpted from the New Way Church Launch Plan. Yesterday we wrapped up the first section (“The Point”), and today we begin the second section, “Rationale”. Next week we continue with the Rationale section, with “More Societies“, “Austin, Texas”, “Mac Frazier”, “Church Systems”, and “Crowd to Core”. If this is interesting to you, please post a comment. And if you know someone else who might have something useful to contribute, invite them into the conversation, too!]

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Thirty years from now, this church will have directly or indirectly improved the lives of thousands through the sharing of the good news and rational truths of the Lord’s Second Coming, and by providing ways for people to grow in understanding and love and usefulness, individually and as part of a larger spiritual community.

Locally, the people who worship at this church will have the reputation among their neighbors as being a friendly, service-oriented community that would be sorely missed if it were to some day disappear. Through great preaching, effective service programs and a strong network of small groups, lives will be regularly transformed by the healing teachings of the New Church and by means of the loving followers of the Lord God Jesus Christ as He reveals Himself in His Second Coming.

We will have grown and thrived and reproduced, having not only daughter churches, but also granddaughter and great granddaughter churches, including several additional congregations in the greater Austin area, congregations in other parts of the country in places like New York, Florida and California, and congregations in other countries in Europe, Africa, Asia and South America. Not every church launch will have been a success, but with a willingness to learn from mistakes and a faith in the Lord’s desire to see His kingdom more fully established on earth, we will have directly or indirectly launched 20 viable, self-sufficient congregations, each with at least one hundred and fifty members.

The main campus of the original Austin congregation will have become a center for church launch training, working in partnership with the Academy of the New Church Theological School to prepare ministers and other church launch personnel to continue the work of creating new venues for sharing the good news of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. By this time, the Austin church launching model will have evolved through trial, error, prayer and repentance to be the main church launch model used by the New Church worldwide.

[This is a description of what I visualize when I imagine the distant future impact of following the Launch Plan for a New Church presence in Austin. This flows from the Aspirational Goal posted yesterday. Tomorrow: An overview of the plan’s Rationale.]

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Aspirational Goal

In 30 years New Way Church will launch 7 additional self-supporting New Church societies, each with a weekly attendance of over 300 people, several of which will themselves have launched their own daughter congregations.

[Exerpted from the Launch Plan for a church in Austin, TX. Yesterday was Our Mantra. Tomorrow: Vision.]

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