In September 2007, a group of eight lay people and two co-pastors began meeting together as part of a launch team for a new church development of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Three and a half years later, Kairos Church is a vibrant congregation with an average attendance of over 200 adults in our Sunday worship, more than half of whom are under age 35, as well as an average attendance of 40 children under the age of 10 . . .
Seven of the eight lay people in our core group had either not been involved in a congregation since their youth or had never been in a church at all, and there was a mixture of excitement and skepticism about exactly what we were doing in this mission. At our first gathering, one couple actually asked that we not call ourselves a “church” because the word had so many negative connotations for them: They stated that the word reeked of lifeless institutionalism and meaningless ritual, and they desired instead to be a part of something that was far more dynamic and life-giving, both to them and to the world.
Church participation is declining throughout the United States, particularly among younger generations. Research by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons suggests that when asked about the church, a rapidly growing number of Americans, including 49% of 16-29 year olds, “admit they have a hard time actually seeing Jesus because of all the negative baggage that now surrounds him;” more than 40% of these young people do not have any active association with a congregation. In describing the state of the church in North America, Hugh Halter and Matt Smay write, “the world around us is growing increasingly disinterested in our Christian story. Statistically they respect us less and less every year.”
The desire to call ourselves something other than a “church” gave the group our first issue to discern as a community. Thus during the first few months of our existence, we gathered in one another’s homes to sing, pray, and look to the scriptures for the meaning of the word “church.” We discussed how the book of Acts depicts the church as the gathered community of Jesus followers rather than an institution or denomination. We saw that the word “church” was primarily about people committing themselves to a Kingdom-oriented relationship of reconciliation with God and neighbor. The group was invigorated to watch the word transform before our eyes and to imagine capturing scripture meaning in each of our lives.
It is important for any congregation to understand why so many young adults are not involved in a Christian faith community. Research of young adults in the book unChristian discovered that even though the church is incredibly unpopular, these young adults often distinguish between their feelings about Christian spirituality and about organized Christian religion. Kinnaman and Lyons write, “Jesus draws an interesting set of reactions as he receives much more favorable ratings from outsiders.” On the other hand, many see Christians as “antihomosexual (an image held by 91 percent of young outsiders), judgmental (87 percent), and hypocritical (85 percent). These ‘big three’ are followed by the following negative perceptions, embraced by a majority of young adults: old-fashioned, too political, insensitive to others, boring, and not accepting of other faiths.” Kinnaman and Lyons come to the conclusion that the institutional church has become known for what it is stands against rather than what it stands for. These sentiments were prevalent among the young adults in our core group. However, in examining the biblical narrative of church as a community dedicated to a redemptive relationship between God and neighbor, our group quit focusing on what they did not like about the modern institutional church and instead started dreaming about what the biblical definition of church might look like today.
As 2008 dawned, we began to feel that it was time to formalize our values, to record them, and to consider opening our gathering to others who might feel led to explore our community. There were different ways that we talked about doing this and in the end we decided on an approach known as a Vision Frame described by Will Mancini in his book Church Unique. We appreciated Mancini’s emphasis on congregations clearly articulating both their mission and their values. In addition, our group believed in formalizing Kairos’ definition of “success.” While many Christians do not believe it is possible to quantify when a church is “successful” Mancini disagrees and so did our core group. We decided to follow the process of writing a Vision Frame as outlined in Mancini’s book. This consists of coming to a consensus on four basic questions:
- Mission- What are we doing?
- Values- Why are we doing it?
- Strategy- How are we doing it?
- Mission Measure- When are we successful?
For weeks we talked through his questions, and eventually we unanimously adopted the Kairos Vision Frame. The mission of Kairos Church is encouraging one another daily to follow in the way of Jesus. This answers the question, “what are we doing?” It is a statement that is inherently relational with both God and our neighbor. Every one of our ministries seeks to draw us closer into relationship with God, one another, and our global neighbors. Thus, discipleship is as much about building relationships as the transfer of information from teacher to student.
The Kairos Vision Frame shapes everything that the community is and does – it is not a finalized document stored on a shelf and forgotten. The Kairos church and Vision Frame can be reviewed at www.KairosAtlanta.org.
Thomas and Beth Daniel, Co-Pastors of Kairos Church, serve together in ministry in Atlanta, GA.
. David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, unChristian (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007), 15.
. Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, The Tangible Kingdom (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008), 12.
. Kinnaman and Lyons, 24.
. Ibid., 27.