For our Urban Church Planting Q & A series, we interview pioneer church planters who, having firmly planted churches in urban areas of the Twin Cities, look back and share their wisdom and reflections. Here we interview Andy O’Rourke, lead pastor of Antioch Community Church in Northeast Minneapolis. Antioch Community Church is also affiliated with the Acts 29 Network Upper Midwest Region. Antioch Community Church is the second church Andy has planted.
1. Why is urban church planting in the Twin Cities important?
I’m part of the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA), which historically over the past few decades has not experienced significant success in urban church planting. However, urban church planting in Minneapolis and St. Paul must be a high priority in the years ahead. These cities are the cultural epicenters for the rest of the Twin Cities metro area. Minneapolis and St. Paul are growing in population and ethnic diversity at staggering rates. Both cities are home to a multitude of colleges and universities.
2. Do you have a church planting model you followed or resources you found beneficial regarding the unique goal of church planting in an urban setting?
I would describe the model we used in starting Antioch Community Church as a “highly relational disciple-making approach.” This involved recruiting and gathering a team, building friendships with people far from God, and training a “core team” of people committed to the new church plant. Our philosophy of ministry involves keeping things simple. This means minimal church programming, which allows members of our church family to prioritize important relationships in their lives with both Christians and non-Christians.
Three books come to mind that have been helpful for me in understanding urban church planting, the centrality of the gospel, everyday disciple-making and the overall process of starting a new church. Here they are:
3. Did you find it necessary for your church to be “different” in order to find its identity and/or contrast it with established churches in the area?
It has become very apparent that as a church of 150 people, we can’t compete with the high level of excellence in programming found at the larger mega churches. We have limited resources. We also understand that the core of who we are and what we are about is gospel, community and mission. If you want to connect with other people in meaningful relationships and join together in living out the gospel in our city, Antioch could be a great fit.
4. How did you deal with the ebb and flow of growth patterns in the early years, and when and how did you feel like your church was sustainable?
The early years are difficult. This fall Antioch will celebrate her 8th anniversary. It took us nearly 4 years to become financially self-sufficient. Part of the reason for this is because we have a very high number of Millennials in our congregation. Young adults simply don’t yet have the financial stability that older adults possess. We also started with two full-time pastors on staff, which creating a greater need for raising outside financial support.
5. What is the loneliest part of church planting? How did you find community?
I think the loneliest part of planting is the lack of peers who understand what you’re going through as a pastor and wife. My wife and I have developed close friendships with several church planting couples from our region. We do have good friends in our church, but it’s also essential to have others in vocational ministry who can provide a relational support network.
6. What are some of the challenges of planting a church in an urban setting? How did you get to know and become familiar with the community you planted in?
There is no substitute for having “boots on the ground” and getting out and learning about the area you’re planting in. Who lives there? What do they do for fun? What are their hopes and dreams? What are the challenges the community is facing? What are the demographics of the community? What’s unique to the culture and history of the neighborhoods in your area? What sort of celebrations and traditions are there? What other churches and church plants are serving the community in like-minded ways?
Some of the challenges for Antioch have been:
1) The highly transitional nature of young adults. Transition can occur due to education, work, marriage, etc. We have people for an average of 2 years within our congregation. I’ve had to move from being discouraged and frustrated with the high amount of transition at Antioch to seeing that transition as an opportunity to equip people for kingdom ministry. God’s people don’t belong to me, they belong to him. Success equals sending and being a “sending church” is actually what I signed up for.
2) The cost of facility space in the city is very high. We currently lease space for our Sunday worship gathering.
3) The needs in the city can be overwhelming. Sometimes you wrestle with the question, “Are we really making a difference?”
Andy O’Rourke is the lead pastor at Antioch Community Church in Northeast Minneapolis. He pursued theological training at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, and recently completed his Master of Divinity at the University of Northwestern St. Paul. Antioch Community Church is the second church Andy has planted.