New churches don't have grand openings. They don't commence, kick off, or inagurate. They don't get underway, begin going, or embark. New churches launch.
Somewhere, someone—who’d probably started a few churches—thought the word to describe what happens in a new church should be more aggressive than what happens at a furniture store. Someone thought - let’s compare this thing to a rocket being sent into orbit. Liftoff is magical; it’s explosive and the trail of smoke left behind makes onlookers celebrate. Launches are dangerous. People are watching. Lives are at stake.
Mission control does everything in their power to make the launch go smoothly. But the astronauts are the ones in danger. They are the ones strapped into a seat that’s going to put them in a place few humans have gone before. They are living every child’s dream, but every child isn’t in their seat. The training and preparation weeds out the fanfare and only the faithful and convinced can stand at the intersection of danger and destiny. These astronauts are called.
The risk in strapping yourself to a seat that—if all works well—will send you into a space outside of ours, and—if it doesn’t work well—will send you to a sure death, is worth the risk for every astronaut. They know, more than anyone else, the cost of flight. But, they also know the reward of flight. If all goes well, the morning after launch, they will sleep with the stars, floating light as snow through the magical world of their Maker, where space and time are continuous and woven together so neatly it’s as though they are one.
Somewhere, someone—who’d probably started a few churches—thought, yeah, it’s like that. Starting a church is like launching a rocket. I think he used this term because he knew, if you endured the costly training, knew the danger ahead, strapped yourself in, and survived the launch, then you might just sleep among the stars and dance with your God.
When we launched Resonate we were rookie astronauts. We didn’t have a lot of the logistics and language figured out but we were convinced of the mission. Our team went to a church planting boot camp in Vancouver, British Columbia four months before we launched and we were the only church in attendance without a name. We didn’t have our values figured out either. We didn’t have a prospectus printed out and we didn’t bring business cards.
But, we had something no other church at boot camp had. We had a team. Our table may not have had any printed material on it, but our table had the most chairs. We brought our greatest resource: eight people sitting there with a fire in their bones. Every other church had a name, a vision statement, a mission statement, a set of core values, a plan to become financially self-sustaining, and a mouthful of words that would make your eyes hurt. They had a table full of documents and dreams. But they sat alone. And sitting alone in a rocket should be illegal.
Now, sitting with a bunch of friends in a rocket with no vision, mission, values, and plan should be illegal too. We had these things in our heads and hearts; we just hadn’t put them in written form. That’s why we were at boot camp—to put words to the fire. We needed help. We needed a mission control to guide us and tell us where the black holes were. Boot camp provided that. It forced us into the right conversations and the right fights. It made us clarify and simplify and explain.
Church planters talk a lot. They never tire of speaking vision. Trouble with vision is it lives in the clouds. Now, the beauty of vision is also that it lives in the clouds. If someone, somewhere hadn’t looked at the clouds one day, pointed up and said, “We can go further than that you know, to what’s beyond the clouds,” then there would be no astronauts. But, if someone hadn’t put the “Beyond the Clouds” mission to paper and sweat, then all the same, we would have no astronauts.
It takes both. Vision and action must be married. Or as the great inventor Thomas Edison wrote, “Vision without execution is hallucination.” We have to see the clouds and look beyond but we can’t keep living in the clouds walking around saying lofty things wondering when it’s going to happen. Church planting is dreaming and making. It’s preparing to launch, launching, and thriving in the unknown.
A lot of church planters are hallucinating. They don’t like action. They like drinking coffee and staring at their phone. I heard an indicting joke about church planters from a guy at boot camp. He said, “How do you get a church planter to plant a church? You take his computer away.”
We flirted with this when we started. Concepts were more fun than work. Now, concepts are work, rightful work that you should lock yourself into a room and figure out, but they are not the only things worth fighting about. They are the supporting cast—the guardrails. But they carry no weight if they are not being tested by action.
We were first-time planters. Again, we had a fire, but not a system. We had to test our concepts and process on the field in real time. We won and lost battles in full view for our first few years. Being a rookie is a blessing and a curse. You’re raw and fearless and daring, but you’re also foolish and naïve and arrogant. Rookies who don’t ask questions make me nervous. I think that was the best thing about us. We were young and restless but we always had a pen and paper in hand asking everyone we knew how we could get better.
We tried things our first year we laugh about now. We said things from the microphone our first year we would never say now. We learned. We grew. We moved forward, consistently throwing everything under harsh evaluation. We gave each other grace. None of us had done this before. So, we learned together. And learning together is the real blessing of being an astronaut.