Out of the Culture Process by Craig Whitney

gatewayleaderslogoCraig Whitney of Gateway Leaders shared the process for creating the church out of the at an Exponential Pre-Conference. Here are his insights:


If you want to start a church out of the culture, you must be a church out of the culture from the beginning.  The DNA is set at conception.  The behaviors of the founders will become the habits of the new church.  Your process will produce your product. This session will describe how you start a church out of the culture.

Session Goals:

  • Tie together the out of the culture vision with a transferable process and structure.
  • Connect the process with the Biblical church planting practices of Paul in Acts.

Can we build this?

About 15 years ago I started learning woodworking.  Started with simple projects/basic tools advanced far enough to make actual pieces of furniture that we use in our home.  I never advanced to the level of master or artist.  Almost all my pieces were copies. Not patterns or kits, copies.  Most often Mandee, my wife, would see something in a magazine and say, “wouldn’t that look great in our living room?”  Which meant, “can you build this?”  So I’d take the picture and figure out how to build it. Getting the process right, made building a joy, getting it wrong led to hours of wasted time and frustration (and often lumber).

Most of you are here because you have a picture in your mind and in your heart of what a church, the church, could be.  In some way that picture has probably resonated with the vision John shared in our last session.  You’re like my wife holding the folded over page of the magazine saying, “can we build this?”  Can we turn this picture that we are carrying around in our heart and our head into a reality? Can we start a church “out of the culture?”  Yes, you can.  You will need a process.  Not just any process.  You will need a process that produces a church like the one you have pictured.

Parable of two church starts

Jesus told lots of parables, some were designed to compare


Two builders

The first church planter moved into town and immediately found a new school in a new, fast growing suburb.  He then called his buddy worship leader and invited him to come create a rocking band for this “hip” new church.  He then called in a favor from another buddy to build the best looking graphics and website anyone in this town had ever seen.  He schedule preview services and started advertising – awesome worship, amazing children’s programs, messages you would enjoy listening too and be able to apply to your life.  Sure enough, people came and the new church was launched.

The second church planter moved to town and started asking questions.  He wanted to understand what people believed and how they lived.  As his understanding grew he invited a core of people to join in him in getting to know people, doing life with new friends and inviting them into relationships as they created opportunities to meet the physical and spiritual needs they had discovered.  In time some of their new friends began to follow Jesus as they invited them into Christ centered community.  Together with these new friends, many of whom will still unsure about Jesus they created a space to weekly explore questions of life and faith.  Their friends came, and so did their friends and a new church was born.

Two different processes.  What can you tell me about the two churches?

If 5 years from now, you want to see a church that

  • Effectively reaches people far from God, you need to start by reaching people far from God
  • Engages people in life transforming community
  • Energized to love people through tangible acts of service
  • Equips people to be multiplying Christ followers

The church you want to be in 5 years is the church you need to be right now.

An out of the culture church begins by being and doing what it hopes to become.

The habits of the founders will become the culture of the congregation.

Out of the Culture Process

Build Relationships

Matthew 1:23 Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”

John 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

The first thing you must do to start a church out of the culture is build relationships – it’s imperative.  Incarnational ministry has become one of the many labels in the 21st century American church – it’s one an out of the culture church would wear proudly because incarnational ministry demands relationship.  The first thing a leader or group of people must do if they hope to make disciples in postmodern, post-Christian people groups is build relationships.  These are not casual relationships; these are real, share life with one another kinds of friendships.

In their extremely valuable book, I Once was Lost, Don Everts and Doug Schaupp identify 5 thresholds postmoderns must cross to find faith.  The first, “know a Christian they like and trust,” speaks directly to the need for genuine friendships.  Church Planters and their teams must pour themselves into people in their neighborhood, at the coffee shop, at work, on their teams or in their clubs.  Where they find open doors, they must forge friendships by opening their homes and intentionally and regularly doing life with the people they meet.  If your friends are not becoming the church you’re starting, something is very wrong.

When Where How?

  • Neighborhoods
  • Affinity
  • Causes
  • Work

Genuine friendships most often begin when we have something in common.  That I want you to experience new life in Jesus and you don’t believe in him is not something in common.

Create Community

Mat 9:10-13 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Christlike community is inclusive community.

In the process of starting new churches out of the culture we have learned that relationships must become networks, not hubs.

Hubs are centered around one person.  That person may, through those relationships, have the opportunity to lead people to faith but they won’t become a community.  Community is essential for growth.  Leaders must intentionally invite their friends into community – into relationships with one another.  In most out of the culture churches community is formed in some type of small groups.  These may be seeker small groups, Bible studies, serving teams, or simply intentional affinity groups. These newly formed communities create the exponential momentum needed for effective evangelism and discipleship leading to the formation of a new church.

  • Each new person in a hub ads 1 connection
  • The connections in a network grow exponentially
  • Practically speaking, we know that not every person will connect to every other person – thats no a reason to ignore the exponential power of a network, the reason you absolutely must harness it.

Serve Others

Mark 10:45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Galatians 5:13 serve one another in love.

A church is the hands and feet of Jesus in the world meeting physical and spiritual needs. Serving is simply an authentic expression of Jesus’ love for others. It is a vital step in the process of starting a new church out of the culture.  Serving open handedly communicates to others that you are here for them, not yourself.  In a cause minded post-modern culture serving is also an attractive aspect of community.  It often becomes a way to reach out and draw in at the same time.  Consistent serving also establishes an important element of DNA – the church is what we do for others not what is done for us.

This commitment to serve takes a variety of forms.  Some new churches have formed separate nonprofits to facilitate community engagement.  One ELI church has set aside the first Sunday of every month to serve the community – in place of a worship/teaching gathering.  Others have integrated regular serving into their small groups structure and schedule.  There is no single right answer – except that serving must be an integral part of the life of the community from the very beginning.

Lead People to Faith

Col 1:6 NLT This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God’s wonderful grace.

The natural outcome of building relationships, forming community and serving people in love is people coming to faith in Jesus.  The essential mark of a church “out of the culture” is people far away from God coming to faith in Jesus and becoming all He created them to be.

This may happen sooner – from just building a relationship – it must begin to happen here.   In fact, if it doesn’t begin to happen here, there is little that follows in the process to cause it to happen.  Developing leaders is the key that enables the process that has begun to multiply, but it isn’t likely to catalyze something that isn’t already happening.  Beginning a service, by itself, is not likely to cause postmodern, post-Christian people to come to faith – primarily because they won’t come unless someone they trust invites them.

Help People Grow

Col 1:28-29 So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect[g] in their relationship to Christ. 29 That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me

Jesus told us to, “make disciples.”  Becoming a disciple is a process of transformation. How does this happen?  It is amazing how many church leaders have no idea – they have no theory or practice of change.  They are simply doing church.  An out of the culture church is not doing church – it is making disciples.  Though this list is not exhaustive, discipleship requires creating a culture that is:

  • Intentional – change is actively pursued
  • Relational – authentic community is the norm
  • Spirit-led – God is seen as actively engaged in the daily lives of believers
  • Mission-driven – people become like Jesus when they join him in his mission

Just like the serving step, there is no one size fits all program.  Out of the culture churches are contextualized and thus each must discover the keys to growth among their people in their context.

Equip and Train Leaders

2 Timothy 2:2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.

The church is effective when it is able to transform people from lost to leading.

This step may in fact be simultaneous to all of the above – it all depends on who you start with.  If a church planter is working alone, they will need to complete all of the prior steps before they will have any leaders to train.  This may at times be necessary, but it is a very slow way to start a church.

We have found the most effective process has been to form a missional core – a group of 15-25 people who are on mission together to make disciples and form a new church out of them.  Members of the missional core must be:

  • Growing Christ-followers
  • Intentionally building relationships with unbelievers
  • Leading or serving in the newly formed church
  • Giving sacrificially to the cause

As such, they need to be equipped and trained to be effective in their endeavors.  This commitment to train and reproduce leaders is another critical component of DNA that must be instilled from conception.

Gather to Grow

Acts 20:7 On the first day of the week we came together to break bread.

1 Cor 11:17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good.

You may be wondering if public worship gatherings are even part of the plan.  The answer is yes – only when all of the prior steps are implemented and functioning well.  Public worship is important, but it is not the church, it’s the visible birth of something that started months before.  Premature babies have a rough start in life – some don’t survive.  One of the most common failures of a new church is simply starting public worship services to soon.  A tangible goal of this process is to see a minimum of 100 adults gathering for services that are already part of a community, where many of them have come to faith and are growing while actively serving one another under capable and adequate leadership.

Catalytic gatherings accelerate growth by challenging everyone to greater trust in Jesus.

Keep Working the Process

Finally, it is important to understand that these are steps in a continual process.  In the first go around, you may do them in sequence.  Once you start, you don’t stop.  Building relationships isn’t a strategy for starting a church – it’s a lifestyle.  Forming groups and community isn’t a program – it’s a culture.  Equipping and training leaders isn’t a quarterly class – it’s you’re the way you do ministry.  Leading people to faith isn’t a random outcome – it’s your lifeblood.  A leader must, therefore, create a culture in which each of these activities is a norm.

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