So our church plant failed…

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free
A lot of rain, Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center, Humble, Texas 0428090937photo © 2009 Patrick Feller | more info (via: Wylio)

Easter Sunday will be the last time we meet together as The Mission.  We’re throwing a little send-off party for our pastor and his family, who made the difficult decision to move to south Florida where a new youth ministry position awaits. 

There were no big arguments, no dramatic exits, no taking sides. We just couldn’t sustain the church financially. 

Yep.  It's that boring...and it's that sad. 

On the one hand, I’m thankful...

I’m thankful that we managed to end in the same way we began—unified, of the same mind, with grace, and in love.  Too often the dissolution of a church is messy business, with hurt feelings, accusations, and blame circling around the whole affair like hungry vultures.  I’m so grateful that we were a part of a church that did things differently, even if it was just for a time. 

I’m thankful for the friends we made. Many of the relationships we built through The Mission have become integral and enriching parts of our lives. Dan and I agreed that if all we take from this experience is our new friends, then it was totally worth it. 

I’m thankful that, at least for a short time, we created an environment in which those who had been wounded by the Church felt safe. As we were talking Sunday, one such participant confessed that The Mission had helped her soften towards those who had hurt her in the past, that she felt more prepared to worship alongside those whose faith looks different than her own because The Mission had provided a place of rest in which she could be herself.  As much as I wish we could continue to provide that safe place for her (and for ourselves), maybe it's more important that we helped her feel at home in her own skin, regardless of where she worships.

I’m thankful that we did what we said we would do. We reached out to the community by volunteering and giving. We gathered together a group that was theologically and politically diverse. We refused to draw lines in the sand when it came to non-essential doctrines. We humbly confessed our doubts, our shortcomings, our fears, and our questions. We focused our study and our efforts on joining God’s mission of reconciliation, and together we loved God and one another well. 

I’m thankful that for the first time in my life, my gifts as a teacher were encouraged and celebrated in the church, even though I am a woman. I wasn’t turned away or talked about because of what I write about on the blog and in my books. Whereas most churches have treated me as a liability, this one treated me as an asset. 

I’m thankful that our pastor consistently devoted himself to extensive study, research, and good teaching, even when he was often speaking to just ten or twelve people. That says a lot about his character. 

 I’m thankful that instead of simply complaining about church in the Bible Belt, Dan and I took a risk and got our hands dirty in an effort to “be the change.” We knew that this was a risk and that failure was a possibility. But we did it anwyay, and I'm proud of that. 

But I’m also really sad...

I’m sad because it sucks to invest your time, money, hopes, and dreams into something that doesn’t work out. 

I’m sad because I will miss my pastor, his wife, and their two beautiful daughters. 

I’m sad because I feel guilty for not generating more time, more money, and more energy to building this church. Sometimes I worry that the reason we didn’t succeed was because of my reputation. Maybe people didn’t come because they knew that “the girl who believes in evolution” was in attendance. 

I’m sad…no, I’m angry… because I know there are people in this community who will be delighted to hear that we failed

I’m sad because I feel that our failure only confirms my fears that a church like this one—in which all are welcome, in which women can lead, in which politics don’t get in the way of fellowship , in which questions are encouraged, in which a diversity of opinions is celebrated, in which gossip is kept to a minimum—simply cannot make it in Dayton. 

And I’m sad because the prospect of searching for another church leaves me feeling so exhausted, so bitter, so cynical, and so lonely I just can’t imagine climbing out of bed on Sunday mornings ever again. 

So I guess this season of life is shaping up to be one big Holy Saturday.

We are disappointed. 

We are thankful.

We are confused.  

We are waiting. 

Right now it’s hard to imagine a Resurrection Sunday around the corner, but I suppose that if the same spirit that raised Christ from the dead lives in us today, anything is possible. 


Ever been part of a failed venture? Got any advice for moving forward?

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