Our Church Planting Story: The Underdog
Everyone loves an underdog story. Particularly in Scotland. We love to root for the little guy. Maybe because we feel like a national little guy (maybe you’ve seen Braveheart?). Alternatively it could be that a diagnosis of tall poppy syndrome is our cultural diagnosis whereby we are afflicted with the need to chop down any poppy that gets too tall. In the United States there is notability given to the all-American. In Scotland we would tend to call that person an over-achiever. Our movies and stories are largely confirmatory of our love for the underdog, the story of the little guy who defies the odds.
We are in good company. God loves an underdog story too. A short survey of scripture reveals that reality. It might be tough to admit or you might resist this realisation but your spiritual story is an underdog story. Brought from darkness to light, from death to life, in and through our weakness God has done His work.
The reckoning is that in order for Scotland to get back to the same state of church health of 30 years ago some 6,000 healthy churches would need to be planted.
Our story at Harvest Glasgow is an underdog story. There is a statistic kicking around that the last 15 years have seen over 1,800 churches close in Scotland. In that same time only 300 have been planted. The reckoning is that in order for Scotland to get back to the same state of church health of 30 years ago some 6,000 healthy churches would need to be planted.
So we reckoned it would be fun to tell the story of how God has worked in underdogs like us to undertake His work. After all what would give us any hope of being a church planting church in a spiritual graveyard other than a belief in a God who makes dead things live? We will take a few of these articles to tell the story of how a tiny church plant was given grace by God to become what He had laid on our heart to be. A church plant that plants churches.
The story starts before March 2009 but that seems like a good point to pick it up. We returned to Glasgow from a couple of months church planting training and assessment in Chicago with a desire to plant a church planting church. Our vision, if you asked us back then, was to plant churches in each of the main cities in Scotland (Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee, Inverness and Stirling). It was on paper a bit of a pipe dream. At that point we had the grand total of seven people committed to the church (I still hold that as a legitimate number even though it included two kids under 3-years-of-age and our black Labrador).
I came to the job of church planting loaded up with a bunch of inspirational missionary quotes, a clear sense of the deep need of our home nation and a yearning for something that could only be explained by God being at work.
That small crew grew by the goodness of God. We were something of a rag-tag bunch—young, inexperienced but with a desire for God to work in our lives and a prayer that God would work through our lives. My most common descriptor of the folks who gathered around the early season of Harvest Glasgow would be lost, hurt, broken and disappointed. God made us underdogs so that His grace and goodness in what would happen next would be undeniable.
God made us underdogs so that His grace and goodness in what would happen next would be undeniable.
We launched on August 16 of that year. If you are a church planting playbook legalist look away now. We had 16 people on our launch team and the outstanding reaction I get when I look back at pictures of that group were how young we all looked. At 33 I was the oldest in the launch team and the only one with any church leadership experience. We launched then because in a culture that is less entrepreneurial and where most of the the pioneers left there was a need to show people what we were talking about, to allow them to see, hear, taste, and touch it. God brought 150 people to our launch service and we praise God that they did not all come back week two. The Lord knew that the slow building of the work would be what would serves us and His glory best. We wanted to establish certain things that would make us distinct from the common experience of church that most people had, particularly around the merging of contemporary music and expository preaching and the transparency and vulnerability of small groups. We simply would not have had the capacity to create that culture with the small group of leaders we had.
We wanted to establish certain things that would make us distinct from the common experience of church that most people had, particularly around the merging of contemporary music and expository preaching and the transparency and vulnerability of small groups.
I saw something recently that said that young pastors tend to overestimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what can be accomplished in five years. God settled us into a pattern of ministry that prayed for a slow and steady that would win the race. The danger place for the underdog in God’s hands is to underestimate all the wise ways that He is working that we don’t see. God was proving His promises to us over and over again and providing a foundation for what He would do next.