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Are Quakers Capable of Planting Churches?

Are Quakers Capable of Planting Churches?

5 years. We’ve been at work here in DC for more than 5 years, trying to start a new Quaker community.

We’ve learned so much.

For better or for worse, most of what we’ve learned has been what not to do. Church planting is way harder than Faith and I ever imagined. In retrospect, it’s obvious that we did almost everything wrong from the beginning: No institutional support, no funding, no mother church, no experienced mentors, no strategy. Just a freshly minted Master of Divinity degree and a heavy dose of can-do attitude.

Many bumps along the road and several iterations later, we’ve actually accomplished quite a lot in our naïve attempts at faithfulness. We have put down roots in our city, gaining a large network of friendships and many useful working relationships. We founded the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, a national network of disciples who are wrestling with what it means to be radical followers of Jesus in 21st-century America. We’re learning what it means to live our lives primarily in the post-churched reality that most of our peers call home, making discipleship relevant outside of the Sunday-morning routine.

Despite all this learning, there’s still no Jesus-centered Quaker community to speak of in the DC metro area. The Friends of Jesus here are very small and scattered, and although we still hold Bible studies and gather for mutual support, we’ve accepted that for the time being we really don’t have the critical mass to be a worshiping community.

This is sad for me, but it’s also a relief. We’ve struggled for a long time to kick-start a Jesus-centered Quaker congregation here in DC. We’ve burned ourselves out several times. The lows have been pretty low. And after the second or third time of losing all joy in the process, it’s time to take an extended step back.

Despite all the setbacks, my main question is still, what’s next? We’ve learned and developed so much over the course of the last 5 years. I personally feel better prepared than ever for whatever work God calls me to. Amazingly, I still believe that God is calling me to the work of laying the foundation of new communities in Jesus. As hard as the last half decade has been, there’s still this sense of conviction and passion that won’t let me go; there’s a fire within me for building up the body of Christ, nurturing leaders who can grow and shepherd new communities.

That being said, there’s no way I want to repeat the process we’ve attempted so far. Stepping out into this kind of ministry with no mother church and virtually no institutional support is madness. We owe it to ourselves and to God to do what it takes to make sure we’re well-supported before we strike out again. There’s a reason that most church plants start off with a sizable core, not just one couple trying to gather a community by themselves. They’re wiser than we were.

This presents us with a dilemma. The reason that we tried to start a church with virtually no outside support in the first place is that we were (and are) unaware of any existing Quaker network that could have walked with us in this mission. There’s no Jesus-centered Quaker church in the DC metro area that could have nurtured us. As far as I know, our tiny little missional community is the only Christian Quaker presence in the region.

After several valiant (if foolhardy) attempts to plant Quaker church in our city, it seems probable that I have been unrealistic in my unwillingness to go outside of the Quaker family for support and guidance in the process of starting a new congregation. For a long time, I was committed to seeing our church plant be wholly Quaker in its origins and support, but now I wonder: Was that wise?

What if Quakers just aren’t capable of planting churches anymore? Perhaps the Religious Society of Friends, broadly speaking, simply doesn’t have the body mass to lend its strength to new efforts like ours. Could it be that the only way for Friends of Jesus to come to life is through integration and collaboration with other, more robust and mission-oriented communities, beyond the Quaker fold?

One thing is for sure: I’m not willing to allow Quaker brand loyalty to get in the way of faithfulness. If God is still calling me to participate in the work of founding new communities of disciples, I have to respond, even if it means moving beyond where the broader Quaker family is able to go right now. I have no doubt that God will raise up from these stones children for Abraham, if necessary.

What do you think? Am I missing something here? Are there places where Quakers are doing really vibrant work in planting new churches and missional communities? Are there existing projects that we could be partnering with? Or is it time for us to broaden our horizons and be more proactive in joining with other Christian groups that also feel called to develop communities of radical discipleship to Jesus?

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  • Dear Friend,

    Walk with others who are obedient to the Holy Spirit, true spiritual friends who will encourage you to hold fast to your Quaker convictions and will support your activities in support of building a Quaker Christian community. But hold fast.

    The danger of joining a non-Quaker community is not that you will fall away from a life of Christian formation, discipleship, community, and witness. The danger lies in falling away from being a witness to those Quaker Distinctives that ought to be maintained, not in service to you or your ego, but in service to the Church.

    Go where the Spirit is, make friends with other believers, but (please) not at the expense of the calling to which you were called.

    Perhaps from among them you will find friends of Friends willing to support your Concern.

    Your Friend,
    Kit Kight
    Syracuse NY

    • Thanks, Kit. At the end of the day, it may be that I have to let go of my dream to see this all happen under a Quaker institutional banner in order to be faithful to the heart of my call, which is to build up the body of Jesus in the world, in the form of radical discipleship communities.

      I’ll always be a Quaker, no danger of that changing. It’s who I am and how I’ve been formed, and I’ll always carry it with me. The question is whether the broader Quaker body is at a place where it can lend support to the mission that God has given me and others in the Friends of Jesus Fellowship.

    • “The danger of joining a non-Quaker community is not that you will fall away from a life of Christian formation, discipleship, community, and witness.” That’s certainly a potential danger, but 1) many Quaker communities don’t exhibit all of these characteristics, and 2) there are non-Quaker communities which do exhibit them all (definitely in my ares). The question would be whether to identify with a community which exhibits those characteristics but is missing some of what we find so valuable in the Quaker transition.

  • Rene Lape

    I think there is a deep hunger for the wisdom, dedication and insights that you bring to the ministry of calling people to “Christ experienced”; but I think the time of denominational revival is gone. There are people in every denomination that need to hear of the life-changing insights early Friends brought to the Christians of their day, insights that led them to start whole new communities; but I am not sure the terrain is the same these days. i think the message is a lot easier to get out these days, but the call typically rejuvenates the individuals out there who are seeking for a deeper sense of connecting with God, consecrating their lives and finding new ways of building communities. It is going to be “something new”. I know it’s hard, but you know my prayers are with you.

    • The temptation to maintain the denominational identity can easily become a stumbling block to Obedience. I may be of Cephas and you of Paul, but we are all one in Christ. Nevertheless, we should be faithful to the Light which we have received, even (and especially) if we walk in community with others in the Church who have been shaped by other traditions and experiences. While I would discourage giving in to the temptation to maintain a denominational identity, I think we are obligated to maintain our individually distinctive identities, without which the testimonies and concerns to which we are called will be quenched by our efforts to “connect” with others. True spiritual friendship honors individual concerns and convictions. The world, and the church, needs the Quaker witness, much more than it needs Quaker institutions.

    • Thanks, Rene. I agree with you that sectarian denominationalism is dead as a doornail, but I still do believe that God works most powerfully through communities, rather than through isolated individuals. As much as I am able to “get the message out there” through social media, I’m more interested in embedding the message “in there,” in the context of in-person faith communities centered around Jesus and his Way.

  • As someone who has been partnering with Micah in the efforts in the DC area, and is a veteran of a prior effort (Friends in Christ) to plant a Christ-centered Quaker community in the area, I share some of the questions Micah has. In the prior effort, we made real efforts to find a base of support for our efforts within the Quaker community. We had short-term support from one Quaker institution, but that created internal political problems. We were unable to find the kind of relationship we sought to nurture and support the development of a new local faith community of the character to which we felt called. There were very sympathetic parts of the Quaker community, but they were at too great a distance to practically nurture us.

    I do believe there are places in the country where an embryonic group could get the kind of support within the Quaker community needed. However, there are many places where that is not available. Sometimes new communities succeed in starting a new ongoing faith community without a sent planting group or ongoing support from an existing faith community, but much more often they do nurture some people in the effort but they do not survive as an ongoing community.

    While I think there are some parts of the Quaker tradition which are very valuable and are worthy of being incorporated into new communities, I am more concerned about nurturing communities which genuinely bring people closer to Christ and serve the whole Gospel in this world than with being tied to the boundaries of a specific tradition within Christianity. So I think the possibility of a partnership with an existing community which does not consider itself Quaker is worthy of consideration. Does anyone know of any community which considers itself within the Quaker stream which started through a partnership with a faith community outside the Quaker stream? If so, please share that experience.

    • Thanks, Bill. This adds depth to what I’ve written.

  • barbara.hrrsn@gmail.com

    Have you REALLY tried talking to the other Quaker Meetings in the area?

    • Hi Barbara,

      Yes. A lot.

      Before beginning our efforts here in DC, I had done extensive visiting among Friends in Baltimore Yearly Meeting. And once I moved to DC, I did quite a bit more visiting, both to YM and QMs, as well as to local Meetings. I know the leadership of Baltimore YM fairly well, and I feel like we have a pretty good relationship.

      For better or worse, the guiding principles and mission of Baltimore YM differ substantially from those of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship. Our calling is to found communities that are explicitly and collectively rooted in the desire to follow Jesus as our Lord and Teacher. The other Friends Meetings in our area don’t share that call, even if some individuals are sympathetic.

      I think that everyone involved would probably agree that full partnership in this work is probably not realistic, even if it makes us sad.

    • It might be possible to get one to take such an effort under the care of a local meeting. However, their perspective is sufficiently different from ours that I don’t think they are really in a position to provide us the kind of support we need, and the connection might be confusing to those seeking a fellowship centered in Jesus Christ. In the earlier effort in which I was involved, we did believe we could have been taken under the care of a meeting but didn’t feel that made sense although we did have the support of being able to use the meetinghouse without charge.

      In that effort we did meet with the leadership of the YM which covers our area. 3 of the 4 leaders who met with us, while very supportive of what we were doing, felt that any attempt to bring our effort within the YM would split the YM, which was certainly not something we wanted to do. Also, at a different time, a Co-Clerk of YM Advancement and Outreach said they would not support us unless we reflected the spiritual diversity of YM; i.e., we could not be allowed to be explicitly centered on Jesus Christ.

  • Micah,

    I don’t know much about modern Quaker communities, though I have always appreciated their tradition and gained strength from the witness of early Quakers. I do know that if God is against anything it is sectarianism, so yes, I think it is always a good idea to go outside one’s tribe for cooperation and learning.

    That said, though there are not many Quakers in the DC metro area, there certainly are disciples of Jesus, aren’t there? How could you join with them and enrich the local church as it now stands (and by local church I do not mean a specifically branded congregation, but the sum of all disciples of Jesus who live in your area)?

    • Hi, Joshua!

      Most disciples whom we know in our area are either a part of an existing congregation. We’ve definitely been connecting with them, and the folks in our Bible study are mostly of this type. Not clear any of them want to plant a new church, but they’re looking for something deeper in their walks as followers of Jesus.

      There’s lots of work to be done at all levels, and church-planting is not the only valid ministry out there. For better or worse, however, it still feels like a calling for me. I wish God would call me to something easier!!

    • There are actually a *LOT* of Quakers in the DC metro area. I can think of 5 large, vibrant Meetings in the area off the top of my head. For fewer than 70 people to attend at Friends Meeting of Washington or Adelphi Friends Meeting or Bethesda Friends Meeting on a given Sunday would require…well, everybody must be out of town that weekend for Yearly Meeting. Baltimore Yearly Meeting is a reunited FGC/FUM Meeting, though, so it’s not strictly Christian.

      So, no, it’s not that DC area lacks Quakers. It’s that the DC area doesn’t have many Quakers who are bothered by the idea of worshiping with Quakers who don’t identify as Christian.

      • Hey, Mackenzie –

        I’ve never suggested that the DC area lacks Quakers. I’ve said it lacks Quaker churches. I don’t think that’s a controversial statement.

        • My reply was to Joshua, not to you. Joshua said “though there are not many Quakers in the DC metro area,” which is an incorrect understanding of the situation.

          • Thanks, Maco. I was just going by what Micah seemed to imply in his post. I’ve never been to the area myself, so I wouldn’t know. 🙂

  • broschultz

    When Stella and I decided we needed a Quaker Meeting that welcomed Jesus we were fortunate that there were two meetings that were close to closing down. One was kept alive by one family of birthright quakers who loved Jesus the other was often locked for lack of attendance by it’s members. One had running water and the other didn’t. The one that didn’t have running water was a little closer to home and was a beautiful chapel type building across from a State golf course. The other was a historical building that had been added onto across from Lord & Taylor. We made an offer on the latter and the existing membership took us up on it with some misgivings. That was about 6 years ago. For the first 3 years I ran a Christian Coffee House out of the building every Friday night except during the summer. Attendance would range from 20 to 60 people depending on the artists but with hundreds of Christians walking through our historical building who asked questions about Quakers we failed to add to our numbers. We started with 6 new members (2 other couples who loved Jesus joined us (Actually 1.5 couples who loved Jesus and one non-theist who loved his wife). I can proudly say that today we still have those same people, but now we have become more of a community. Occasionally we are joined by some older members and attenders and from all accounts they feel welcome but only three show up with anything resembling regularity. The blessing is the meeting has a building and money to keep it in repair and that enables us to carry on without seeking financial support. Hoping to finding relevance for Quaker Process in a Lord & Taylor world we are embarking now, after building this community togetherness, on the part you started with, that is reaching out to meet the needs of the Long Island community. It has taken us 6 years to get to this point of forming a small group community and being respected for doing that by the other Quaker communities at our Quarter and State level. But I think we are ready. Stay tuned.

    • Thanks for this testimony, Jim. I’m deeply grateful for the work that God is doing in your Meeting.

      Do you have a sense of what the next step is, in terms of growing beyond the core of half a dozen?

    • Jim, we really appreciate what you and Stella have done. You found the opportunity where you were to get something going. We need to look wherever we are for where the opportunity is, but sometimes we have a hard time finding it. We need to let God get beyond our preconceptions so that we may see an opportunity that our mindset had blinded us to.

  • Brent Bill

    “What if Quakers just aren’t capable of planting churches anymore?” Wow. That seems like a pretty sweeping statement. As does “Perhaps the Religious Society of Friends, broadly speaking, simply doesn’t have the body mass to lend its strength to new efforts like ours.” Those sentences do not resonate with my experience as the coordinator of the New Meetings Project.

    In autumn 2012, FGC launched the New Meetings Project — an effort to nurture and encourage Friends who felt led to by the Spirit to start new Quaker worship groups and meetings. Since that time, the NMP has supported and nurtured 18 new groups across North America. Groups that did not exist prior to September 2012. In addition, we have worked with a number of other new groups that started before the NMP actually began — supporting them with spiritual advice, resources, and more.

    Part of the NMP’s charge was to create a replicable model for helpping in the creation and successful spiritual establishment of vibrant, deeply grounded Quaker meetings. Another part was to develop resources for such groups. Another was to develop spiritual mentoring teams to walk alongside new groups as they get started. We have accomplished all of those things. Resources on everything from outreach to deep worship can be found on newmeetingsproject.org Mentoring Teams consist of seasoned Friends who exhibit the gifts of the Spirit as outlined in Galatians 5:22 — who walk alongside new groups providing spiritual support, practical advice, and connection for up to two years.

    We continue to learn and grow the project, introducing new resources and opportunities. We are at work with another 20 Friends who are in discernment about their possible leading to start a new meeting.

    Our charge is to work with any group of Friends who wish to start a new meeting — unprogrammed, semi-programmed, pastoral. We attempt to connect people to larger Friends groups (FGC, FUM, etc) who reflect their worship style and theological leanings. We have offered to share our learning with various Friends and continue to desire to that.

    While we are still in our new, learning stages (and I hope we always will be) we are endeavoring to be faithful to the call of the Spirit and helpful to those who feel a leading to create vibrant communities of faith grounded in Quaker faith and practice.

    Friends are capable of planting new, vital meetings. Indeed — with God’s help — it is being done. I am humbled to be a part of this vital work.

    • Philana Danceforth

      Your words give me hope!

    • It makes sense to connect Friends interested in starting something with a larger Friends body which shares their perspective. But some of us feel like orphans who don’t really fit into the structure of larger groups, or the ones (now thinking of a level not higher than a YM) where we might be compatible being too far away to be practical partners. I certainly don’t think this blog entry, despite its provocative title. is intended to disparage what you are doing, but rather deal with a situation where we don’t seem to be able to plug into an established Quaker group to provide the necessary support.

  • Brent Bill

    The
    Essential Core of the Quaker Way for NMP Travel Team

    The following are two responses to the question, “What
    is the essential core of this faith of the Religious Society of Friends that we are hoping to
    nurture in new worship groups and meetings?”
    These responses were compiled by the attendees at the initial travel
    teams retreat held at Quaker Hill Conference Center April 5-7, 2013.

    1)
    There is a transforming Power greater than ourselves of
    Love that we have individually and corporately experienced. And this, which is Eternal Truth, is what we
    have to offer. It is what enables us to
    be changed and to live increasingly like Christ and Love. We say this without apology or defense. Come and try it!

    Based on what we have experienced, learned from Friends through
    the years, read in the Bible, heard when we listened to God together, and
    continuing revelation from the Spirit, we believe the following are hallmarks
    of today’s Quaker meetings:

    Gathered
    worship

    Corporate
    discernment

    Intention
    to live closer to Love

    A distinct
    process of ministry

    2)
    We have experienced the transforming power that is greater
    than ourselves – the power of Love and Truth – in gathered worship and
    corporate discernment. This power has
    changed us and continues to change the way we live in the world.

    • Adria Gulizia

      Hi Brent,

      It seems like you are doing some interesting work with the NMP. I’m wondering, though, how it applies to our situation in Friends of Jesus. Joel prophesied a revival, the Holy Spirit being poured out on all flesh. In the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, we feel the Holy Spirit moving and believe that now is the time for an uprising of that Spirit and a commitment to the cross and to the Kingdom of God. How successful have the meetings supported by the NMP been at realizing that vision? Is that vision shared by the NMP?

      While gathered worship and corporate discernment are just as important as they ever were, we also want to embody God’s passion for those on the margins of society, proactively share the good news of the Kingdom of God, and live, corporately and as individuals, in the power of the Holy Spirit, nailing to the cross anything that keeps us from that aim. Is that what you have in mind when you refer to an “intention to live closer to love”?

      I definitely look forward to hearing your thoughts!

      In Christ’s peace,
      Adria

      • Brent Bill

        It may well be that it does not apply to your situation with Friends of Jesus… Perhaps. I think it could … I think the work we’re doing in nurturing and support of new groups could be helpful to FOJ groups, should they want to take advantage of the resources and services offered to any new group.

        If the condition for using resources means that the resources and/or organization has to have a mission statement that exactly or substantially mirrors the FOJ mission statements, then we probably can’t be of any relevance to FOJ.

        We endeavor to be open to the fresh winds of the Spirit and encourage and nurture all who sense the Spirit moving them to a new work and wish to make use of our resources and methods. We are not interested in creating cookie cutter congregations that match a definition that match any one certain definition of what it means to be “Quaker” — since that limits the work of the Spirit.

        And let me say my response comes from Micah’s provocative (not that provocative is bad!) statements/questions. The NMP exists to help new groups. We have developed resources and connections that nurture new groups. We have helped new groups align with structures that can help provide nurturance and support. Quakers can start new meetings. And they can survive and thrive and change the communities they are located in.

        • Philana Danceforth

          No cookie cutter congregations, limiting the work of the Spirit!! Amen!

      • Philana Danceforth

        Adria, thank you! I think the things you’re speaking of are what I call “radical discipleship” — and the world needs MORE! Bless you 🙂

  • Duncan Pugh

    Spam huh? Goodbye.

    • What’s this about spam?

      • Duncan Pugh

        My supportive post was ‘detected as spam’?

        • Thanks weird! I’m sorry about! Can you re-post?

          • Duncan Pugh

            I see no reason why you should not cooperate with other denominations. I like the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Church … surely there is one in DC and NYC? I removed a link to the London church’s site as maybe it was spammed because of the links.

            Regardless of any of these questions you should not underestimate the ‘butterfly effect’ of your activities with all of its ebbs and flows. When you took the Golden Calf down to Wall Street that was a truly inspired act although its significance may have been lost on many people who do not know the story. You have certainly had an impact on my thinking and praxis over here on the other side of the Atlantic and I’m sure some of that rubbed off on people that I come into contact with, like my rolling 600 plus Religious Studies students a week when I was teaching and on and on as they live their lives for better or for worse.

            I’ve been reading Psalms 12-14 recently for support … alongside your blog of course!

            Anyway here is a lovely piece of Lutheran music to cheer you up … I’ll leave out the link as it was a YouTube video of a Bach cantata so maybe that’s why it was spammed?

            Here are the words in English …

            Sing God’s praise in every land!
            All that heaven and earth
            of life do hold must exalt his fame;
            let us join the angels now
            to chant a hymn of praise to God,
            who through envy and pain
            has ever stood beside us.

            I thought you’d deleted it Micah and reacted negatively Micah but that’s probably because I feel like verbally abusing my boss today and I’m not seeing him until tomorrow.

          • Thanks for sharing this, Duncan. I’m glad you said something, because I definitely wouldn’t mark your comment as spam!!

            One church here in DC that is particularly inspiring to me is the New Community Church, which is a part of the Church of the Saviour network. There are definitely folks here doing good work, it’s just about seeking God’s will for how life-giving collaboration might happen.

          • PS: Sorry about your work situation. That’s rough. 🙁

          • Duncan Pugh

            It’s not so bad … but not playing the role of a doormat is difficult when you are supposedly committed to non-violence and peaceful negotiation. So for the first time in my life I am going to give my boss an absolute ultimatum no ifs or buts or I am walking away from a two man operation where, for example, he drives around in a Porsche Carrera 4s and I cycle 35 miles to pick a work vehicle up only to find that he has left when I get there … long story short my pride and joy won’t fit in the car even with the wheels removed and the mudguards are now irretrievably damaged. Like I said Psalms 12-14 and Ecclesiastes 1-11 are a great comfort.

          • I’m not aware of any Dietrich Bonhoeffer churches in the U.S. I couldn’t find anything by Googling for that. In our area, it seems the churches we might share the most with are those in the Church of the Saviour network, which has 8 small churches, 7 in DC and 1 in Maryland where I am now attending. But I don’t know if any of these have the energy on top of their existing ministries (about 3 dozen among all these churches) to nurture a new group with a little bit of a different tack (some of them do use the Quaker business process, and they place importance on silence, so they are closer to us than most denominational churches). I think it would be more us joining with them in what they are doing, and remaining open to see if God was leading us to establish something a little different and being patient in waiting for such a leading.

  • Hi Micah,
    I’ve seen new Friends meetings sprout up, but rarely in the Baltimore/Philly corridor. My guess is that there’s something about the weight of Quaker identity that chaffs if a new Quaker group doesn’t resemble existing Quaker meetings. It can happen (the West Philly worship group is finally a preparative meeting) but it’s often a rocky relationship. Worship groups the U.S. West often seem to have an easier time springing up on their own and being accepted by regional Quakers.

    From what I’ve seen, the most common new worship groups have been self-organized rather than planted. They’re located in geographically-isolated small cities in red (or at least purple) states where they become a haven for progressives who don’t fit in with the dominant culture. The liberalness is the uniting identity and the freedom of anything-goes is a strong appeal to the members who have probably grown up in stricter religious settings where they were always being told what to do.

    The kind of strong Quaker/Christian message that you seek is not going to go over in this type of setting. It’s like you’re looking for a graduate seminar on Quakerism whereas most new worship groups are Thursday book groups where everyone’s free to bring their favorite spiritual book to share.

    • I think there’s a lot of truth to that, Martin. I guess my question at this point is how to move forward, regardless of labels and affiliations, to gather communities of disciples. There are churches here in DC, for example, that are doing excellent work in this regard. Perhaps it’s time to join forces with them in some way? Pray for us!

    • I think you’re probably right about where and how most new Quaker groups are starting with some success in the U.S. I think a real issue for those of us in a very different situation is how we draw in folks who wouldn’t be drawn in to efforts of other churches. The lack of the kind of resources many church plants are given by their denomination or a mother church is a huge handicap in reaching them even if they are there. We think there is value added with the Quaker flavor, but is it enough and clear enough to people who would appreciate it to merit doing our own Quakerish thing and not just joining with some good church with a similar Gospel understanding and accepting that we will miss the Quaker flavor and have to get that only infrequently in other settings. And the problem of being confused with Quakers of a significantly different flavor is a real one.

    • Scott Wells

      I think this dynamic is the same for Unitarian and Universalist Christians, for what it’s worth.

      • Got any ideas for how to move forward? Are there other groups you can partner with to start new Christian fellowships?

        • Scott Wells

          Well, I’m starting by consulting with some ministers. But there’s not a lot of build-from-scratch experience out there, and less money.

          • Sounds like a good place to start. Let me know what you learn. I continue to wonder whether there are ways we can collaborate. Whatever that ends up looking like.

  • Michelle Williamson

    I think it’s telling that you use the word churches and not meeting.
    Typically in meeting there is a more broad spectrum of belief and as
    such the vibe of the meeting is a bit more moderate. As Friends of
    Jesus, we are not really offering something for everyone. Since we aim
    to be radical disciples, our meetings can have more of a fiery Holy
    Spirit vibe, which is anathema to some Friends. So, “church” is probably
    more where we’re headed and that’s more difficult to do in the Quaker
    world if you don’t have an existing congregation.

    That said, Friends of Jesus Detroit is in a similar place to DC. We are
    going to be doing mid-weekly Bible study/waiting worship/prayer
    meetings, but attended Detroit Friends Meeting yesterday. I have to
    admit it was comforting to be among so many Friends. But how long can we
    attend there without the focus of radical discipleship? Will we find
    something else that will nourish us? Or will we have to switch to a
    church? Having not attended a liberal meeting with any regularity before
    I’m not sure. Oh, and James Turrell was there. That was pretty cool.

    • Thanks, Michelle. That’s really well-said!

    • broschultz

      Not everyone got invited to share the Last Supper with Jesus. First day service is Quaker intro. Pick another day for Jesus intro and another for Holy Ghost intro. Let the Spirit draw those who the spirit wants to each.

      • Michelle Williamson

        I like how you put that, Jim. Thanks. One reason we are attending Detroit Friends is they have a great First Day School. So it really is Quaker intro for our kids.

  • Mark Russ

    Thanks for sharing such difficult questions! I feel your frustrations, they resonate with many of my own. You and Faith and the FoJF community are in my prayers.

  • David Lim

    Thanks a lot for sharing your journey in trying to plant a church. Perhaps there’s a better way for Quakers. You may like to read the lead article in my website: http://www.davidlim53.wordpress.com. Matt. 16:18-19.

  • Pingback: Are Quakers Capable of Planting Churches? | Martin Kelley / Quaker Ranter()

  • Mike Huber

    Although some may consider it ancient history, I can speak as someone who planted a Quaker church. In the late 1980’s, NW Yearly Meeting planted half a dozen new churches. There were about 50 churches in the yearly meeting, so six new churches was a significant expansion.

    Fresh out of seminary and deeply in love with Quakerism, I helped start a new Quaker community in Portland, Oregon. I enjoyed considerable support from NW Yearly Meeting, including financial support. My first-year salary was entirely covered by the yearly meeting. Yearly meeting support decreased by 1/3 each year, with the expectation that the new churches would be financially independent by the 4th year. Even with all this support, 2/3 of the newly planted churches failed to take root.

    A quick Google search confirms that most new churches (like most new businesses) are abandoned within the first 5 years. If failure is “normal,” then it’s probably not a sign of institutional crisis.

    I don’t think being a Quaker is a liability. In fact, when it comes to planting a church, I think we Quakers have some important advantages. When we gather for worship, we expect everyone to listen for the Inward Teacher. When we make decisions, we expect everyone to share in the work of discerning God’s guidance. Our structure is nonhierarchical. I think these expectations are enormously helpful in guiding people toward real discipleship.

    • Hey, Mike, thanks for sharing your experience. It’s really cool to hear how Northwest Yearly Meeting supported an active church-planting effort.

      My wrestling is not with my Quaker identity, but rather the Religious Society of Friends is a community of people where church planters can reasonably expect to draw support, encouragement, and fellow workers. Perhaps in NWYM there is that kind of spiritual and institutional infrastructure. If so, I praise God for that! Out here where we are, though, it’s not clear where or how to plug in.

  • Howard Brod

    Hi Micah,

    I read your blog with sadness. I know that’s not your purpose – to make other Friends sad about your plight. But that was my feeling. My meeting in Midlothian, VA was planted by the Richmond (VA) Friends Meeting in 1987. Nearly 30 years later, we have had our own meetinghouse for 12 years now that is located just a 25 minute drive from the Richmond Friends Meetinghouse. We started with just a few families in a suburban home. And frankly we received little financial or spiritual support from our ‘parent’ meeting. For us that ended up being just fine because we were certainly a different type of Quaker meeting from the very large Richmond Meeting. They were steeped in Quaker tradition due to hundreds of years of existence. Being new Quakers, we were immediately different: things like requiring or even emphasizing membership has never been important to us, and there are many other ways we are somewhat different from our parent meeting. Yet, when we have needed them, they have always been there for us. After our first year of existence we went to a local Baptist Church to see if we could rent their unused chapel. The minister was familiar with Quakers and greatly respected our theology. That Baptist church became our nurturer for 15 years – especially the first 8 or 9 years. The minister regularly met with us to offer support and guidance. The church even rented their beautiful chapel (built in 1850 as their original church) to us for whatever we could pay. We started at $30 a month for full use of the chapel any time we wanted – along with it’s 5 Sunday School rooms. They NEVER asked for an increase in rent – although we voluntarily increased it as we grew. The minister arranged with us to have joint worship services with his Baptist congregation. These two or so joint worships were semi-programmed with about 30 minutes of silent worship and a 15 minute sermon from him. We were NEVER encouraged to be Baptist-like in our worship and theology, and several of the Baptist Church’s members left that Baptist church to join our meeting. One or two are still with us to this day (the others have moved away). We are an entirely unprogrammed liberal Quaker meeting that does not shy away from the reality of Jesus as we also embrace all spirituality that embraces his teachings of love, forgiveness, and compassion. We have Christian leaning Friends, Taoist and Buddhist leaning Friends, non-theist Friends, and some Atheist Friends. We love our diversity and unity in the Spirit. We have had times when we have swelled to 50 regular Friends at worship each Sunday; and then years where we had just 3 to 6 at worship each Sunday. So, we have learned to not become overly concerned about numbers – if the Spirit is strong in our community. We have always felt lots of support when we requested it from within Baltimore Yearly Meeting. One great thing about that yearly meeting is that it doesn’t demand, expect, or sway their meetings to be any certain way. In fact, that yearly meeting is much like our own meeting in its openness to each meeting’s unique spiritual journey. I do think that if your group is aiming to have a paid pastor, it will be challenging to meet the financial demands you will have when first getting started. Have you thought of just having an unprogrammed meeting where most Friends are Christ-centered? If even just 6 people find that Quaker community meaningful, then just go with that flow. We have an ordained minister (former Baptist minister) as part of our meeting, who brings much to us without being our pastor in any way. She fell in love with Quaker theology and left her pastoral calling after 16 years to become part of our unprogrammed meeting. I think if you have something that is meaningful to even just a few people, you should probably accept that as God’s will. Numbers don’t necessarily equate to success. I over the above in the hopes that you glean something of use from it for your own situation.

    • Philana Danceforth

      Thank you for your words, Howard — you have encouraged my heart!

    • That’s an encouraging story. Having that kind of support is what we have not found. In an earlier similar effort to the one now in the DC area, I was told by a Co-Clerk of Baltimore YM A&O that we would not be supported unless we had the kind of spiritual diversity that the YM reflected, i.e. we could not be a Christ-centered faith community and be supported by the YM. Furthermore, in that effort we met with the leadership of the YM, and while they were very sympathetic they thought it would split the YM if we tried to become affiliated with it. We certainly didn’t want to do that. Even if that all has changed, we would still have the problem that a BYM association would be a negative factor for many people who would be attracted by our vision of radical Christian discipleship. We (the earlier effort not the current Friends of Jesus) also explored with other nearby YMs without success, and I am pretty sure the environment in those YMs today is not more conducive than it was 2 decades ago.

      • Howard Brod

        Wow Bill! That is so disappointing regarding your experience with those Friends from BYM. I just don’t believe a Christ-centered meeting in their midst would split the yearly meeting. I can’t think of one meeting in BYM that would care what the spiritual leaning of another meeting was. That’s just crazy to me. It sounds like, rather than the Spirit of love pulsing through those you met with from BYM, it was the spirit of fear! I believe that if you came to my meeting asking for our support, we would whole-heartedly provide whatever support we were able. We would not presume to judge your spiritual path. I think the Richmond Friends Meeting would be inclined to support you as well. Love is always the way of Truth.

  • Marshall Massey

    I have long felt that success in church planting, meeting planting, and movement launching is not just a result of good leadership and good sponsorship — there has to be an unrecognized, but real, hunger in the community being reached out to, for the specific thing that the leadership is offering. If very few people want it, it just ain’t gonna happen, even if you pour millions of dollars into promoting it.

    And that, I think, may be the problem with authentic Quakerism today. In America we have a society that is empty and hungers for many things, including to be “spiritual” and “happy” and “correct”, and to be seen as “good people” and “successful” and admired, and to change the world. But it does not much hunger to be saved from its own ideas of what it wants, or to be reduced to simple dependence on Christ, or to simply be good for good’s own sake even when otherwise unrecognized and unrewarded for its goodness. Francis of Assisi’s teaching about how true happiness comes when we are rejected by everyone and beaten and left to starve and freeze in the night, is lost on the populace here. We may *need* those things, but we do not much hunger for them. And those are (it seems to me) among the key things that define authentic Quakerism and are not as readily available anywhere else.

    I was very impressed with the successes of liberal Quakerism in the western U.S. in my youth. I belonged to a monthly meeting whose membership grew more than 250% in the time I was there, which in turn was part of a yearly meeting that grew with nearly equal speed. It was not until that Quaker community began turning on members who had done nothing wrong, that I became disillusioned with its outward successes and beauties. In the end, that monthly meeting set up thriving satellite meetings all over town, which might have seemed like a great success in “church planting” if I had still believed in what it stood for. But at that point I was finally trying to learn repentance, and humility, and kindness, and obedience, and self-denial, the whole pattern of Christ, on levels that I had never connected with in all the years I had belonged, levels that I certainly had never heard the meeting talk about. And so the meeting’s growth, its “successes”, came to seem meaningless to me.

    I do not stand in judgment on you, or on the others here, to whom church planting is a meaningful goal. I am mindful that you may perhaps be starting from a different place from me, and not making the same mistakes. But as a result of my own journey, I have come to the point where church planting seems far less important than having my own self finally set straight by Christ and put on the path of life. When my own ego and hardness and defenses are at long last shed, maybe I will then be qualified to set something up for others. Or maybe not. But at present, all I can do is turn to the Teacher, and try to let myself be taught.

    • Thanks, Marshall. I think those are really helpful reflections. I resonate with your sense that the call is to repentance and faithfulness to God, not to pleasing the human ego and need for importance as measured by people.

      As someone who does feel called to this work of “church-planting” (or whatever words you want to use to describe the process of developing community rooted in radical discipleship to Jesus), I think it’s good to bear in mind that we who are faithfully laboring may be in a Good Friday time, rather than in an Easter moment.

      Can we drink this cup?

      • Philana Danceforth

        I totally agree with this thought. I’ve been a follower of Jesus since I was a small child. In my adult years I’ve moved from one religious gathering to another in search of what you describe as “radical discipleship”. I don’t think there needs to be a religious label on that because it’s quite simply what we are called to do. GOD didn’t use labels, so we don’t need to, either. The problem, as I see it, is that American society isn’t much interested in radically following in the steps of Jesus. So no matter where you go, your gathering is likely to be small. That’s how “church” began, back in the days when it was the apostle Paul planting churches. Did Paul ever muse about the size, popularity, or growth of his plants? The Holy Spirit brings the increase as followers are faithful to their calling. It’s dangerous to get caught in the modern church mentality, to compromise purity to satisfy ego or some notion of what a community of faith “should” be. Are you a radical disciple because you’re Quaker? Or are you radically following the ministry example of Jesus?? In my thinking, THAT is the missing component for all of us: living loud. Being small and mighty are not mutually exclusive qualities. Isn’t it possible to be humble AND dynamic? I think it’s essential that Quakers — and all Believers — are more focused on being followers of Jesus than of being good Quakers/Baptists/ Catholics/whatevers. Thinking of radical discipleship in the US as being in “Good Friday” time really resonates with me, and answers the question, “What next?” What’s next? Radical discipleship! Brother, persevere (which is not to say, business as usual!). Can we drink this cup? We must! If we don’t, we’re lost.

  • Kevin Camp

    Speaking from my own potentially foolish effort, DC is probably the least fecund ground to form any religious gathering or Meeting. I’ve cultivated a lot of people who respect my own belief and my own ministry, but they quickly add that it’s not for them. There’s little to no tradition of attending Worship regularly.

    This is something that was difficult for me to learn myself, because I grew up in the Bible Belt, the Deep South. There, everyone attends church, almost every week. And no one sees anything wrong with religious membership. If Friends had reached Alabama a hundred years or so, I know there would have been established an explicitly Christian Friends Meeting. And I probably would have been a member myself.

    I don’t want to go back home, but if I did, it would be a million times easier putting together a group with lots of participation. But as for here, many Christian Friends split their membership with other explicitly Christian denominations. One of the strange things about Friends is the Friends/Episcopalian axis. People go back and forth between the two all the time, and after much reflection I’ve determined that Episcopalian worship allows for a much wider range of belief than one might initially think.

    But beyond that, I really have no other ideas to share. I would reiterate that this is one of the least religious areas in the entire country, and people place a very limited priority about religious expression.

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  • Paul Ricketts

    I just found this blog post and thread over lunch time.
    I just think the using us and them language is not only problematic but
    antithetical to the gospel. When the Roman centurion went to Jesus and
    said teacher my servant is ill, if you only say the word he shall be
    healed. The centurion was not Jewish or Christian and definitely not a
    pacifist. He was probably a pagan. Jesus said I have not found such
    faith in all of Israel. What did Jesus see in him that others didn’t
    say? I believe he saw a mirror of what was in his own soul. He saw
    something you cannot put labels on or exclude anyone.
    Radical hospitality is at the center of Gospel.
    Jesus gives us a model gospel living in Mark
    9:40.”Those who are not against us are for us” Those who do good,who
    work to better the world and serve others. Jesus knew we express our
    faith, in the lived experience of the
    indwelling presence of God within,not in human efforts. I don’t know how
    God work; but I strongly believe you can see the effect of the God in
    human lives. That is test of the beloved community and discipleship.Not whether we hyphenate Quaker Meeting or not. I also believe God is working in you Micah (and
    in me) in ways that we do not yet understand. As you continue to
    listen, worship, pray, love and serve, it will gradually become clearer
    to us. I believe the same is true for me and for any person of faith.
    Words are just that. What is more important is the reality behind the
    words

  • Paul Ricketts

    I am having some technical problems with my blog post.

  • Paul Ricketts

    I just found this blog post and thread over lunch time. I just think the
    using us and them language is not only problematic but antithetical to
    the gospel. When the Roman centurion went to Jesus and said teacher my
    servant is ill, if you only say the word he shall be healed. The
    centurion was not Jewish or Christian and definitely not a pacifist. He
    was probably a pagan. Jesus said I have not found such faith in all of
    Israel. What did Jesus see in him that others didn’t say? I believe he
    saw a mirror of what was in his own soul. He saw something you cannot
    put labels on or exclude anyone. Radical hospitality is at the center
    of Gospel.
    Jesus gives us a model gospel living in Mark 9:40.”Those
    who are not against us are for us” Those who do good,who work to better
    the world and serve others. Jesus knew we express our faith, in the
    lived experience of the indwelling presence of God within,not in human
    efforts. I don’t know howGod work; but I strongly believe you can see
    the effect of the God in human lives. That is test of the beloved
    community and discipleship.Not whether we hyphenate Quaker Meeting or
    not. I also believe God is working in you Micah (andin me) in ways that
    we do not yet understand. As you continue to listen, worship, pray,
    love and serve, it will gradually become clearer to us. I believe the
    same is true for me and for any person of faith. Words are just that.
    What is more important is the reality behind the words