We are perpetually learning that the Christian life is a connected life, since it is Christ who is our common peace, our common identity, and common point of focus. We praise God that He binds us together with Gospel partners far and wide, even and especially with you in the North!
Our setup is a little different than most churches, so I'll give you a bit of a refresher. We see our selves as a pomegranate - one fruit with lots of clusters. We meet on the alternate weeks for BIG TABLE, which averages somewhere around 135-140 people (86% under 40yo, 25-30 of these kids, mostly under 6yo). One issue we've had over this last year is that we are running out of space for the meal we arrange prior to every Big Table gathering. (More on that later.)
On the alternate Sundays we meet in NEIGHBOURHOOD TABLES, which are smaller, more local gatherings. There are four of these in different parts of the city. I lead one close to the church building (Downtown Neighbourhood Table), and Jim and Yvonne lead one in Fernwood, just north of us. They vary quite a bit in size, style, and even venue. These are the local expression of the church, and if we had our way, they'd each become their own church plant over time.
In addition to Big Table and our four Neighbourhood Tables, we have eleven or so different 'table outposts', most of them Bible study/community groups, but a couple are pretty distinct. We've got our MARKETPLACE GATHERING, which is a business lunch ever other Tuesday in which we aim to connect a life of work with a life of faith. We also have TABLE CONVERSATIONS in which we aim to build relationships over substantial conversations. Marketplace has been pretty stable over the last couple years (around 25 or so a meeting), but Table Conversations continues to grow. There are now 600+ people who are in the group, and we average somewhere around 30+ a night, which is especially remarkable given that almost all of these are not Christian!
Some of the people from Table Conversations connect with our Community Groups, which meet midweek. Since I lead Table Conversations, chances are high that if they connect to a group it will be the one we just started in February. We moved to a neighbourhood nearer the church building where we meet, and we launched a group we are calling LindenVille (on Linden Ave). We are taking it slow so I can figure out how to best steer the group, since many of the people legitimately need Christian community and spiritual formation, while others are outsiders who I am trying to welcome into our community through hospitality and friendship. This is a tricky prospect (pray for us!). As of now, we have something like 30+ adults and 10 kids who are regular/semi-regular. Thankfully they haven't all shown up at once (though we did have one night with 22 adults and 8 kids).
At the moment, we're an easy point of welcome for newcomers to The Table (who live downtown), and most recently I've been introducing Conversation cards to help ensure that people go deeper than chitchat. It seems to be working, but I'm hoping to spin off a couple of groups from this one by September so I can more directly focus on connecting with our neighbours. This, of course, is our primary concern: loving God, loving each other, and blessing our actual neighbours, as we think this is our best shot at seeing Jesus Christ revealed in common life. (The common life of the Spirit and in ordinary living.)
After all that, here's what we look like on a map. The Table logo marks our meeting place for Big Table, the triangle represent our Neighbourhood Tables, and the circles are our midweek groups.
And now comes the big news. Early on Andy and I agreed that once we start averaging around 120+ on Big Table Sundays we would start to plan for a new site. This fall we spent a lot of time with our 30+ leaders discerning our direction, and we've decided to start a NEW SITE in the fall. Essentially, both sites will be like new church plants, though the downtown group will have the advantage of being in the same building. We're doing this because we are firmly committed to the view that the GOSPEL best translates through relationships, and once a community hits 120+ it becomes too big people to recognize one another; it is a major social shift and relationships suffer for it.
Beyond this, we think missionary work is most effective when it is most LOCAL, so we have taken as our slogan for the year GROW SMALL. As a result, we had three 'preview' gatherings since January 1 to work out some wrinkles and get a feel for what life will be like as two communities. It's a bit scary, and it will be a lot of work, but we are convinced this is what God has for us. It has definitely pressed us into desperate prayer and we have had to develop even keener eyes for future leaders.
How you can pray:
Andy and Katie, our church planting partners, just had their third baby last month, and our family has struggled with some pretty severe health issues this year. Both of these realities have been draining, even if we've seen the LORD's hands over the birth or Ira and working through illness. Please pray for protection for our families, energy and focus to direct The Table into this new direction, and boldness in creatively proclaiming the Gospel.
Also pray for increased commitments to personal giving for those in our church community, as many of our people are just learning what sacrificial fellowship looks like. Though our model is ideally set up to start new church plants/sites at relatively low cost, there will still be a bump up in new rent and stipends for a couple more apprentices. This means we will also need to find funding partners outside of our community - basically, more people and churches like yourselves who are committed to the Gospel spreading in Victoria.
You give us courage and hope in sharing Christ down here. It is tough sledding and seems like such slow work. Apart from support from people like you, we would not exist. It is so encouraging to know we are not alone, but tied together by the common glue of the Gospel.
We pray that the Spirit encourages you all, grows you in faith and maturity in Christ, and leads you all into your next phase with much grace and wisdom.
We bless you and thank the LORD for you.
With loads of affection in Christ,