What is a family of churches?
The simplest answer to this is that a family of churches is a collection of autonomous churches who love each other and share in life & mission. In the same way that we look at individual believers and families and expect them to engage in biblical community, we come together as individual churches in community. The life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus has made a new community and a new family within the Kingdom of God. The connection made between people through the blood of Christ is stronger than connections made by birth and genetics. Through Christ, we are family, and we are better together.
We think, Pray, Serve, & Work for one another: Commonwealth is a part of our identity as God’s people, but it is certainly not a virtue of our culture. We have to be intentional to live not as individualists and isolationists. To this end, “family” means we get to have other churches in other contexts to think about, pray for, serve alongside, work for, support, and plant. This is the meat of the community piece of Family. This means we actually get to think about, talk about, and pray about one another other in our individual churches. This also means we get to spend time together serving our community, building up each other’s churches, and just plain having fun and worshiping together.
We share resources for the advancement of the Kingdom: This doesn’t just mean money! There are many different types of resources that are needed in order to accomplish the work of the kingdom. We need things like leaders, artists, administrators, vision and, yes, financial resources. Being in a family means we all get to help one another fill in the gaps where those resources do not exist, or are left wanting, within individual contexts. This can be as mundane as shared cost on services (like church management software, bookkeeping, or web services), or as intimate as filling each other’s pulpits or worship schedules when there are gaps, coming together for leadership development, going on mission trips together, or pooling money to raise up new church planters and missionaries.
We belong to a bigger mission: The mission of spreading the gospel and making disciples throughout St. Louis and the world is always before us. As family, we get to work together to plant the gospel in places where we couldn’t, or otherwise wouldn’t, on our own.
We will multiply disciples, communities, & churches: Because this mission is so vitally important, one of the greatest benefits of family is that we get to share the burden and blessing of creating disciples in new places and among new peoples. We get to come together to send “our best” to plant missional communities, churches, and missionaries. This could mean pooling money or other resources, and/or challenging individuals and families within our churches to join the core group of new works, or even sending out pastors and missionaries from our elderboards and staffs.
How does this work out practically?
A lot of this has already been mentioned or alluded to above, but to be specific:
- Talk about and pray for family churches regularly and as a part of corporate liturgy.
- Regularly communicate joys and concerns in the life of each church for the purpose of prayer.
- Unify around the mission of the church in the world.
- Spend a certain amount of each year preaching through the same books of the Bible.
- Staff come together for regular collective preaching meetings (planning out the preaching of the same book of the Bible) and prayer time.
- Share people resources as is beneficial (fill each other’s pulpits and worship teams, share administrative staff, etc)
- Share the cost of church services (management software, web services, apps, etc)
- Come together in leadership development (raising up elders, planters, missionaries, etc)
- Find opportunities for church bodies to spend time together (joint mission trips, joint mission and service projects, joint worship service or picnic, etc)
- Pool money for the planting and establishment of new churches.
How is this different from a denomination or association?
The answer to this is simple but also subtle. Each church is fully autonomous, and there are no denominational affiliation requirements (although Red Tree is a full participating member of the SBC). The difference is that we are not attempting to create an institution together. We’re simply trying to love each other and work together where it makes sense for the kingdom. The family of churches connection is smaller, and it hopefully effects a church’s week-to-week thoughts more than a denominational affiliation might. We rarely mention in a weekend gathering that we are a part of the SBC, but we mention and pray every week for the other churches in our family. Think of this in the same way that someone might rarely think about the fact that they are an American, but would likely think daily about their spouse and child. Our hope is that our churches would grow in genuine affection for each other and find deep joy in laboring together for the kingdom.