I can’t even begin to tell you how much I miss you, how much I miss worshiping with you and being around you in general. I know many of you have been enduring having me in your living room on Sundays, and I’m grateful for that, but I miss being able to see your faces in return.
After consultation with our leadership team and our staff, I’m writing to you about our plans for gathering for the rest of 2020. Please click the video that I’ve recorded for you to hear this update, or you can read below for more details about our current reality, our plan, and how we’re asking you to engage in this over the next few months. This is not a “short” email, but I think it’s important to share with you as much information as I can at this time.
OUR UNCHANGING MISSION
I will always remember the first weekend of the pandemic walking through a Target with shelves that were completely barren, and I suddenly felt the urge to sing the REM song, “It’s the end of the world as we know it.” At that point I had no idea how true that was going to be.
I could insert a statement here about all of this being unprecedented and different and weird, but you already know all of that. Everything’s changed, and we’re all tired of hearing about it and talking about it.
One thing that I think is really important for me to say is that one thing that has absolutely not changed is the mission and vision of our church.
Our vision is still to help people who feel far from God or disconnected from the church connect to Jesus and a community of Jesus followers. No external factors are ever going to change that.
I’m recognizing my own need for Jesus more and more during this season. This time in our world is hard enough as it is: I’m struggling, I know many of you are struggling, and I can’t imagine how much more I’d be struggling if I didn’t have my faith in Christ as an anchor for my soul. I want people to have that same anchor, and I feel a burden of responsibility to share what I have with anybody and everybody who needs it.
UNPACKING OUR BAGS
I recently heard an analogy that I thought was helpful and appropriate for the time we’re living in.
When you go to a hotel and you’re just going to be staying for a few nights, you leave your clothes in your suitcase because you know you’re just going to be there for a few days. But if you’re staying there longer, if you’re going to be there for a week or more, you unpack your bags and you get settled in for a little bit. You know you’re eventually going to be back home, but it helps you feel better and more organized when you unpack your bags.
Many of us have been operating like we’re just here for a few days and our stuff is still in our suitcase. Since March, our team has been working on overdrive trying to assess the situation and adapt to the moment, to make plans and make contingency plans for our plans when the situation has changed. During the past five months, we have only been planning a couple weeks at a time, because things have been shifting so rapidly that it’s been difficult to make concrete plans beyond that.
OUR ADDED COMPLEXITY
One of the added complexities for us as a church in this season is that we don’t have control over our own building. We’re at the mercy of the school system, and it is looking increasingly unlikely that we are going to be able to meet as a large group at the school for the foreseeable future.
At this point, I think it’s safe to assume that we will not be able to be back in the school for the rest of 2020.
In many ways I feel the pain of high school seniors right now, because it feels like we’re going to miss our senior year as a church at Sunset Middle School, and miss some of the “lasts” that I’ve been looking forward to and the nostalgia of being in our last year as a church in a school.
I am absolutely holding on to the hope that because of this, we’re going to have an even sweeter season of firsts when we begin to move into a new facility.
I want you to know that we’ve continually explored other options for meeting in our area, and no one seems keen on having the liability of allowing a large group to meet in their indoor space, their outdoor space, their amphitheater, or their parking lot. Trust me, we’ve tried and we’ve asked and we’ve tried again. We do have property, but we don’t yet have any accessible parking at or near our property, so it’s not yet a feasible option for meeting.
So, for five months, we’ve been living with our clothes in our proverbial suitcase, waiting on external factors to change that are outside of our control, wondering “Is this the week that things change with the school?” I believe that we simply can’t wait any longer.
It’s time for us to unpack our bags and settle in to a new reality for the remainder of 2020.
Our vision is the same, but the reality right now and for the rest of 2020 is that we are not going to be able to pursue that vision through a large Sunday morning gathering. I feel strongly that we absolutely must still pursue that vision, we’re just going to have to do it differently.
We can’t be deterred from doing what God has called us to do. I’ve found great encouragement from the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus himself said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not withstand it.” I’m taking that to heart in this season.
Just because we can’t gather all together as one group, that doesn’t mean we can’t gather at all. We want to gather and we should gather when and how we can, of course paying attention to what government leaders, the CDC, and our own team of medical professionals are deeming to be safe.
In order to continue to accomplish our vision, we are going to have to shift our strategy for this fall, and we’re going to need your help to do it. For the next several months, we are going to organize ourselves into a network of what we’re calling Village Gatherings. You might say we are going to temporarily become a coalition of house churches, neighborhood churches, or something like that.
Instead of thinking of The Village as one large gathering of people on Sunday morning, what if The Village became 50 or 100 smaller gatherings of people on Sunday mornings and throughout the week, meeting in yards, driveways, garages, parks, workplaces, and anywhere else we can think to meet.
Now, hear me say this, if something changes, if there’s a miracle vaccine, if COVID-19 suddenly disappears and the school calls us tomorrow and says, “You can come back,” we can make that pivot quickly. I believe if the school called us on a Friday, we could be ready to go that Sunday.
What we absolutely CANNOT do is wait around for that to happen and get six months down the road and realize we’ve squandered an opportunity to do something significant for the Kingdom of God because we’ve just been waiting for something to change.
For any musical fans out there, to apply the words of the musical Hamilton to our church, “Hey, yo, we’re young, scrappy, and hungry and we’re not throwing away our shot.”
We are going to continue to work hard to offer valuable and meaningful content online for worship, for kids, for youth. We’re changing the format of our Sunday morning worship to gear it toward people who are experiencing it together as a group, to make it a resource for you to be able to use as you gather with other people.
We want to begin to think of our online content differently, not just as something you watch, but as something that helps you worship and connect with other people, family members, friends, and neighbors.
We know that many of you, for a variety of reasons, will still only feel comfortable accessing this at home and won’t yet feel safe gathering in groups outside of your family. That’s ok, everything about it will still be meaningful and useful for you as well.
CALL TO ACTION
Let me also say this. This might not be our normal, but this is not new territory for the church. In fact, the times and places in history when the church has grown the most rapidly and exponentially have been the times when the people were prohibited from gathering in large groups for one reason or another. If you look at the book of Acts, you see an incredible movement of house churches, and over and over and over in the book of Acts it says, “and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
I have been praying since the beginning of this that God would use an unprecedented time like this to reach an unprecedented number of people in an unprecedented way. I believe this can be a moment for our church to be part of a movement of disciples of Jesus who make disciples who make disciples, and that rather than diminish during this time, our reach as a church can grow exponentially if we step out in faith.
I know that many of you have been waiting in the wings for something like this, and I believe it’s time for us to rally together in this season. I’m asking each of you to consider how you can participate in this. If we’re really going to continue helping people who feel far from God or disconnected from the church connect to Jesus and a community of Jesus followers, we are going to need people to volunteer to host Village Gatherings in every neighborhood and every geographic area in our vicinity.
So to be clear, here’s the reality, the plan, and the ask:
Because we don’t have control over our own space or this situation, we are assuming we’re not going to be able to gather as one large group on Sunday mornings for the rest of 2020. We’re letting go of what we can’t control and focusing on what we can.
For the rest of the year, we are going to gather by organizing ourselves into a network of smaller groups called Village Gatherings that meet on Sundays and throughout the week for worship and prayer.
Finally, the ask, I’m asking you to consider doing two things:
1) Gather in groups as appropriate:
Maybe you gather with your pod, maybe you gather with your extended family, maybe you gather with your village group, maybe you gather with your neighbors, maybe it’s people who are already part of The Village family or maybe it’s people who aren’t yet part of our family but might become part of our family and the family of God through this.
2) Consider hosting and leading:
We are beginning to recruit hosts and leaders right now. You don’t have to have prior training for this, you don’t have to have a seminary degree, you don’t even have to live near us, you’ve just got to have an openness and willingness to listen to God in how he might be guiding you. We are committed to work with you, to equip you with training and everything you need to do this. We also will help facilitate and organize these gatherings as much as we can. Ultimately, through this and through you, we want to continue as a church to go to reach and serve our neighbors with the love of Jesus.
I’ll close with this, I got an email this week from Jeff Stockard, Jeff has been one of the key leaders in our church from the very beginning, and he emailed me to share the story of the Choluteca Bridge in Honduras.
“The Choluteca Bridge in Honduras is a beautiful bridge, built in 1998 and engineered to withstand hurricanes. Just after it was finished, it got tested. Hurricane Mitch hit Honduras and killed 11,000 people. The bridge stood firm.
There’s only one tiny problem. The hurricane rerouted the river, covered the roads and left the bridge standing on a solid patch of land, nothing leading to it and nothing leading away. The Choluteca bridge is the best metaphor for 2020 I’ve seen. But you know, we can’t stop building bridges. We can’t stop trying to make the bridges we build withstand everything we know that could happen. I keep hearing ‘2020 is a disaster, roll on 2021’. There’s 133 days left in 2020. I’ll call that 100 productive days. What can you do in 100 days, knowing what you know now, making sensible assumptions and knowing you could end up with a bridge to nowhere? Because you know what’ll happen if you just waste the next 133 days? You’ll end up with no bridge and that will definitely go nowhere.”
God has given us so much, and the last thing we want to do for the next 133 days is waste what we’ve been given.
Let’s continue to be the church that God has called us to be.
There’s a link below where you can step up and say “Village Gatherings? I’m In!” to host or participate in one of these Village Gatherings, so please be sure to click that.
If you have questions about this, I’d love to hear from you, you can always email me at travis@thevillagenashville.
Following Jesus Together,