Getting out of the Living Room: Launching in Cape Town

Stephen Murray was part of our International Intensive in 2009. He is now planting a church called Hope City Presbyterian.

For a church planter, gathering a “launch team” or “core group” that will form the nucleus of your future church is a daunting task. Where are the people going to come from? How will they come? What if no one ever comes? 

Those questions cross my mind at least 2-3 times a day. I’m just three months out from leaving my job as an assistant pastor at an established church and plunging headfirst into planting a church in Cape Town. On the eve of the plant, the one thought that haunts me is this: If you’ve got no people, you’ve got no church. 

So gathering a launch team is a daunting and supremely important task. At one level it’s the essential aim of the church – to gather a community of Christ-worshippers. God has been gracious to us this year. He’s brought people from some of the most unexpected places. He’s formed them into a little community that eats, prays and loves Jesus in my home every Wednesday evening. We’ve got a spectrum of people, from hip young jewelry designers to homeless Tanzanian refugees. As daunting as gathering this group is, it’s also unbelievably heartwarming and awe-inspiring. It’s a community, beautiful and joyous in its messiness. 

In this sense, it’s a lot like our city. Cape Town is gateway city, which simply means that it sits in the awkward position between two worlds, with large doses of both the developed and developing worlds as part of the fabric of the city. The city is incredibly rich, incredibly upwardly mobile, and at the same time incredibly poor and impoverished. Our highs are high and our lows are low. We see that in our microcosm of a community. A few nights ago we shared our supper with our Tanzanian friends at their shelter, while you might find some others in our community eating sushi at an upmarket restaurant in Green Point. If it weren’t such a daily reality it would seem bizarre. Such is life in Cape Town. 

To form a launch team that will set the tone for our church, we need to permeate the society at so many different levels. It means supper clubs, antenatal classes (or the pram-jam, depending on life stage), markets, pubs, and block parties. But it also means soup kitchens, shelters, development meetings, and advocacy trips to the home affairs department. It means really engaging deeply with different sectors of this city. 

Al Barth, who’s walked alongside us on this journey for a long time now, once mentioned to me that a lot of church planters think they just need to set up shop with contemporary music and great preaching and the people will come. They often crash and burn when the church stagnates at 30 people after 3 years. The missing ingredient? They failed to establish a network of interwoven personal connections with non-Christians in their city. That’s the delicate phase we find ourselves in now, a phase that every church planter inevitably goes through. The task at hand is to build natural meaningful relationships across the strata, relationships that provide a fertile soil for the glorious message of the gospel to take root.

I’m praying that God gives us the courage to really live in our city. It would be a lot easier to hide in our little corner of it. I’m praying that he will open up numerous doors for life giving relationships to be built and that he’d continue to multiply the messiness, starting in my living room and going forth out into the city.