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Small Town Church Planting Needs Creativity & Imagination!

Luke Geraty

Luke Geraty

Pastor, Red Bluff Vineyard
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As followers of Jesus who have joined God on his mission, we should naturally spend time reading Scripture and doing our best to apply it. Our lives should be marked by prayer and intentionality in regards to engaging with people and seeking for spiritual transformation. A “both/and” commitment also means that we are actively involved in seeking for social justice as we love the marginalized, poor, and disenfranchised. At least these are the types of things that we often talk about on a regular basis.

But what about creativity and imagination? Have you ever stopped to ask what role creativity and imagination play in church planting and ministry?

I think we undervalue the role of creativity and our imagination when we talk about church planting and ministry and it is something that I believe we would be wise to put some thought toward. Here are three reasons why:

(1) In order to reach everyone in a small town context, you need to be creative. Some church planting models suggest that you fix your eyes upon one target, be it an age group or a ethnic group, etc. In small towns, this doesn’t work very well. But in order to minister to the different social classes as well as the unique ethnic groups and age groups, you have to be pretty creative. In the church I serve, one of my friends has embodied this concept in a powerful way. Her name is Kathy Nordberg and she decided one day to put together a “Fall Free-4-All.” She contacted local businesses and individuals and organizations to help our church host a community event that would provide basic needs like haircuts, glasses, clothing, and so much more… all for free. That first event had over six hundred people attend and guess what? There were people from every social class, multiple ethnic groups represented, and young and old alike. It was creative and effective and we are doing it every year now.

(2) There’s a place in our imagination where God shows up. I realize this is controversial in some theological circles, but I believe this is where the Holy Spirit often speaks to us and guides us. As we sit and dream about missional praxis, either by ourselves or with those we are working together on mission with, God can show up and give us visions, impressions, and guidance. Had I not been told to be intentional toward hearing from the Spirit I’d have likely carried out what I call “one-way-prayer.” That’s the kind of prayer where I tell God things or ask God for things but don’t take the time to listen. As I learned about prayer through a lens of “conversation,” I found myself talking to God and then taking time to listen. To be clear here, I’m not suggesting that we imagine things and then say, “Hey, that was God.” I’m simply suggesting that God can speak to us in our imaginations. Our imaginations are deeply a part of who we are and should be connected to how we view worship (cf. James K. A. Smith’s Imagining the Kingdom for more on this concept).

(3) Valuing creativity and imagination is a way of acknowledging that different contexts require different methods and models. A few weeks ago I was meeting with my good friends Michael Houle and Ross Nelson. These two are a part of the Small Town USA partnership and together we’ve formed a triad (as discussed here). As we were talking about church planting, the subject came up about church planting models. As many of you know, there was a time when the Vineyard pioneered a church planting model that was very effective (see an interview with Ed Stetzer on this). By no means do I want to take away from that model because I know dozens of pastors who used it and dozens of churches that came out of its application. But it’s not the only model. And what excites me the most about where church planting is at in Vineyard is simple: followers of Jesus can be creative and use their imagination to discern what church planting model is best for their unique situation! Small towns are not like New York and Los Angeles is radically different than small towns in Iowa. The way that one contextualizes in those locations should look different, I think, and if we’re opposed to be creative or using our imaginations (or having God speak to us that fuzzy place we call our “imagination”), we may miss out on some powerfully effective ways to reach people for Jesus.

So by all means, your team should feel free to be creative and turn to your imaginations when it comes to doing ministry in Small Town USA!

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About the author
Luke Geraty is a young budding pastor/theologian who serves at Trinity Christian Fellowship. Husband of one, father of five, and deeply committed to proclaiming Jesus and the kingdom, Luke contributes regularly to ThinkTheology.orgVineyardScholars.org, and Multiply Vineyard. Follow Luke on TwitterFacebook, or send him an email.

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