Forgive me for the "informal" nature of this update - it's kind of like I'm writing to a pen-pal instead of giving you some formal update. This work is much more of a story than a development project, so it is my hope that this medium would more accurately reflect the nature of The Mustard Seed Project, and what church planting is evolving into these days.
I am composing this e-mail from what is becoming an increasingly familiar backdrop for me - the Suwanee Starbucks - waiting on Julie, a regular barista her, to call my name and follow it up with "grande iced coffee". As I reflect on the last few months, it's been a lot like this. I'm settling into a new place, a new culture, with new people, developing a new routine, and waiting for a moment to have my name called. It's very much the task of becoming known to those around you, and making one's self available to others' stories and struggles by sharing your own. It can be nitty gritty, awkward work, but it's also quite thrilling when things begin to click.
The last four months have been an amalgamation of exciting, confusing, encouraging, lonely, and dynamic experiences in and around Suwanee. It involves a lot of just putting yourself out there where people are and blazing a trail. I have done everything from joining Kiwanis and Business Alliance meetings, to playing soccer at the local fields with new friends from Romania, Guatemala, Honduras - and Alabama. I've taught people how to properly pour a draft beer, shared empanadas from a food truck with fellow Pomeranian owners at Suwanee Town Center, and lounged a few Saturdays around the local public arts studio for the North Gwinnett Arts Association. I've also attended every church within six miles of the Town Center - 15 so far, most of them other church plants. I'm not sure how people who are "church-shopping" do it - I feel like I've heard This is Amazing Grace more times than the band that wrote it. Whether the churches have 15 people or 1500, they are all pretty similar, and that's where I think we have a real opportunity.
What is so exciting and yet so daunting about this project is the type of individual we are seeking to engage - people who have left organized religion behind like an old flip-phone (I apologize if any of you are still toting around flip-phones - that's very vintage of you). "Nones", "Dones", and "Spiritual but not religious" are just labels, categories, and generalizations - each one of those individuals has a story that is sacred and bursting at the seams with depth and meaning. What we are doing here in Suwanee is seeking to hear those stories, affirm those experiences, and invite them to find a new layer of depth and meaning and value in community with others.
The first step is listening, and the second is inviting people together to share their stories, experiences, and dreams. It takes trust, and time to build it - but it's so worth it. That's what we'll be up to this Fall 2015. We kicked off a hiking group this July to help us connect with each other and with God in the beauty of nature. We are also just starting a small Bible/faith discussion group this month because a couple I had been spending time with texted me one Friday night and said, "Hey, we'd love to join a faith discussion group with you, are you game?" Oh, yes, I'm game.
I'm also hard at work now developing some gatherings to launch this Fall. I'm working on some socials at my apartment complex, a game night, a little project called #FaithDropSuwanee, and a few other things. I'm most excited about launching a gathering called SPARQ - Space for Asking Real Questions. This gathering is going to begin this Fall, meeting every other week, and it's sole purpose is to create intentional time and space for people to come together around coffee and dessert to ask and engage them with questions about the Bible, faith, and doubt that they don't feel welcome asking or exploring in traditional churches. There is definitely a need for people to have the time and place to explore these big questions without the threat of some sort of inquisition, so we are looking to provide that.
It's also been great having Meaghan back with me during the month of August. She still has some classwork to go and will be finishing up most of her coursework this Spring. It means more time apart, as she is now working on some research and publications with her professors. She is getting some incredible opportunities to establish herself in the field of qualitative research for homeless student populations (if you're on Twitter and interested in her work, you can follow her @MeaghanCochrane), and has got to walk through some doors that God has opened up.
By far the biggest success has been our hiking group. We began the third week of July, and we've already done five hikes together, averaging 15 people per hike. We have a number of people who have attended more than one hike, and are starting to form a community and get to know one another well because of our time on the trail together. We hike most often on Sunday mornings - you might say we are heading for the big green hilly sanctuary to find worship together. You can check out our group, called the Suwanee "Take-A-Hikers", and see photos from our hike at meetup.com/suwaneehikers.
If you've actually read this far, you can pat yourself on the back - seriously, take a moment and celebrate how you have defied the stereotype that our attention spans in the technological age are no longer than 30 seconds. Take that, technological distractions!
So here is your reward for defying the odds - some ways you can help and get involved! We have three big events that we want to use to simply get the word out about The Mustard Seed Project, and invite people to take advantage of opportunities to connect. I'm listing each event, along with days and times (look for more information and sign-up details about a month before each event). If you volunteer, know that we will have a prep meeting the week before each event to go over how to answer people when they ask you: "So what in the world is a Mustard Seed Project?"
Here are the events and dates - you will be able to sign up online to volunteer for these events through RPC's ACS/Access Member Login, under Serving. Keep a lookout for them!
- Suwanee Fest: Saturday, September 19 (prep meeting Wednesday, September 16)
- Peach State Chili Cookoff: Saturday, October 3 (prep meeting Wednesday, September 30)
- Suwanee Wine Festival: Saturday, November 7 (prep meeting Wednesday, November 4 - volunteers should be 21 & over)
There are a lot of other events at Suwanee's Town Center, and I will be attending most of them - please feel free to come on over and check it out. Give me a heads up when you are coming, and I'll be glad to meet up with you. You can find a list of events here - www.suwanee.com/whatsnew.events.php.
There are some other ways that you can be plugged in!
- Be a part of The Mustard Seed Project Prayer Team! We send out items to be held up in prayer every week. Just email me if you'd like to be included.
- Stay up-to-date and connected with what's going on. You can keep your eye open for corner updates in the RPC Sunday bulletin, but you can also keep up with us on the web at www.roswellpres.org/mustardseed or www.pastorzacmorton.com. I also send out daily text devotionals, which you can sign up for on my website. You can also look for our Video Log updates on RPC's Facebook page.
- You can keep up-to-date with us on social media. We will share updates via the RPC Facebook page, and I have a "Pastor Zac Morton" Facebook page. (If you "like" these two pages, you will get automatic updates in your News Feed.) My handle on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Vimeo, and Tumblr is @PastorZac. I regularly post and share about what is going on in Suwanee and in the area of faith and culture.
- If you're especially interested, read up on the conversation going on in wider church culture and church planting. Here are some book recommendations of some authors/speakers to give you some perspective. (These aren't endorsements of all of their ideas; they are just a few influential voices informing emerging faith culture.) The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons; Christianity After Religion by Diana Butler Bass; What We Talk About When We Talk About God by Rob Bell; Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans; Jim & Casper Go To Church by Jim Henderson and Matt Casper
- Please continue to keep an eye and ear out if you meet people in and around Suwanee - especially people who are disengaged from church. Spread the word, and feel free to pass my name and information along to people. If you all are mobilized, we can plant a whole lot more seeds.
- Please continue to pray for The Mustard Seed Project. God is up to some incredible new things in the world, and we get to be a part of this emerging story. Discernment and support through prayer are extraordinarily vital.
As always, if you have questions, ideas, or comments, you can reach out to me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org or on my cell phone at 724.986.4870.
It's exciting and thrilling to be on this journey together, and I can't wait to see what God has in store for us!
Pastor Zac Morton
Associate Pastors, New Church Development