Equip Church Planters
Our primary concern at NEU is church planters. Yes, our goal is to see churches built (or revitalized) in urban neighborhoods. But our energy and care are directed to the planter, his family and team. In that sense, we are ministry grandparents to the urban communities we seek to reach.
The first step is an eyes-wide-open assessment process. We want you to know a lot about us, about the neighborhood you may plant in, and we want to know a lot about you. So once you express interest in planting, being on a plant team, or serving with our core staff team, we (including your spouse if married) will spend time together in Providence and in relevant other locations. We will talk, pray, work, meet with others and do all we can to get to know one another. We will discuss our training and assessment process, our philosophy of ministry, theological commitments and our backgrounds.
If you proceed, the next step is to raise support for a one-year apprenticeship and then serve in Providence for that year (not for our core staff team). If after a year of apprenticeship we all agree to move forward, then you will raise support for your permanent position, and move to your placement. All planters and plant team members live in the neighborhood where they serve.
During your apprenticeship and in the early stages of your placement, you will participate in our training program.
If you are not already from a New England urban neighborhood, you will need contextualized ministry training. If you have not completed a minimum level of theological education, you will need that. In some cases, you may need both. That training may include:
- a part-time job in an urban neighborhood
- support-raising training, through Support Raising Solutions Bootcamp, and our ongoing coaching
- Church in Hard Places + NEU assessment and feedback
- multiple training tracks through Church in Hard Places
- Grimké Seminary online courses
- a one-year pastoral apprenticeship
- reading, writing, discussing and spending time with our staff and other like-minded pastors and workers
We don’t aim to plant quickly or slowly. We want to do what’s necessary for you to be fruitful. So we will evaluate as we go the readiness of you, your family and your team. In most cases we will have already chosen the neighborhood you will plant in. So we will help you decode the community if you or team members are not from that community. We will help you “listen” to the community, learn its strengths and weaknesses, and learn to partner with those already there. Humble listening and partnering are crucial to fruitful ministry.
We will also pay careful attention to the gospel health of your own team. The single greatest barrier to your plant will be relational challenges in your own team. Our staff is equipped and prepared to help you lay a foundation of healthy trust, conflict resolution, gospel transparency, and fruitfulness. We will also continue to pay attention to your financial health—as a church and as individuals.
Most plants in the inner city will call for an organic start, rather than a big launch. “Missionary” church planting often begins with a small bible study in a home. It may include ESL classes, Summer OFF in a nearby park, a lot of pre-church pastoral care and prayer walks.
The first step to a sustainable church is an eyes-wide-open assessment. A bad fit in the first place will end quickly. The next step is community—the fellowship and friendship of others doing the same thing in New England. We need each other. So we will meet regularly for fun, prayer, discussing struggles and successes, and to eat meals together.
We will provide shared ministry resources to help you with media services, administrative help and more. Fledgling plants can’t do it all.
We will provide ongoing coaching for support-raising and other solutions for financial sustainability. We do not believe in “maximum work for minimum pay.” We do believe that all our workers should be supported at a level that enables them to sustain life and ministry through all seasons, for a long time.
As needed, we will provide or recommend counseling services. We will also suggest, and in some cases require, conference attendance at international, national or regional events.
Through it all, we will be your support partners—praying, talking, coaching, being a friend.
Diverse teams require diverse leadership teams from the start. So if you do not already reflect the make-up of the neighborhood you plant in, we will work together to develop a team that does.
We encourage you to begin now to pray for plant team members who bring many kinds of diversity to your team. Who your team is made up of will be who your church is made up of.
Our core staff team is looking to Acts 29 and the Diversity Initiative, under the leadership of our friend, Doug Logan, to grow the diversity of our own team, and to develop a clear leadership pipeline from urban neighborhoods, back into urban neighborhoods.
Plan A is to plant churches that are led by teams from the communities of the city. Where that isn’t possible, then we will seek to jumpstart those plants with laborers from elsewhere, then transition to indigenous leadership as soon as it’s healthy to do so.
While in many cases the “homogenous unit principle” makes for easy church growth, our inner cities are full of diversity within small geographical ranges. As Reid Monoghan writes, “In our North American cultural narrative we have deep roots of racial bigotry, systemic oppression and cultural suspicions between various peoples. We also have the opportunity to live out, together, the transcultural nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ which creates one new people out of the peoples of the earth.” We believe in and are pursuing this vision of church planting.
Gospel-centered churches put at the core of ministry the message of the cross. An awareness of sin and of the holiness of God is, as Richard Lovelace writes, the prerequisite to spiritual renewal (Dynamics of Spiritual Life). Spiritual renewal precedes family and community renewal. The gospel is the greatest mercy we have to offer other sinners like ourselves.
Robert Woodberry has affirmed this biblical truth in his sociological study, The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy.” When missionaries seek first social change, little fruit is borne. But when missionaries begin with the message of salvation, then significant, lasting change has resulted.
Our approach reflects the same. It is true that unbelievers need to know how much we care—perhaps before they will listen to the gospel. So we will generously offer care, resources, job training, shoveling a driveway or ESL classes. But we will never believe that we have fulfilled our calling until the message of eternal life is communicated. We are helpless sinners who have been reconciled to Christ and given the ministry of reconciliation, so we seek to persuade others.
NEU Church Planting evaluates neighborhoods based on multiple criteria. Those include poverty rates, crime rates, educational levels and more. They also include access to other gospel-preaching churches, spiritual openness, relationships with civic leaders and more. If a neighborhood may be of interest but does not meet our criteria we will recommend others to plant there. Our focus is on the neediest neighborhoods of New England’s cities.
It is important that we do not lay a foundation on someone else’s work (Romans 15:20). So a key component in selecting neighborhoods is careful conversations with existing churches. If there are existing churches who request a partnership, either for revitalization or with our Summer OFF program, we welcome the opportunity to work together. We want to be an encouragement and servant to existing churches who bring the gospel to these communities.
We embrace the ministry philosophy of The Chalmers Center (When Helping Hurts) and their recommendations for approaching a community.