the chc@dtc experiment is coming to a close

february of this year saw cedar hills church launch its first off-site gathering. we prepared for a couple months and then launched february 18th. it has been quite a ride. we've been meeting in downtown sandpoint at a restaraunt - downtown crossing. the gathering has been put on by a group of about 10 people and attendance has ranged between 18 and 60.

there are several really cool aspects of the downtown crossing gathering (chc@dtc). we do live music, the teaching component happens via video, which i like, we offer free drinks at the bar (non-alcoholic only or we'd definitely be packing the place out) and a great group of people who are there consistently. i also really like the time slot. i'd much rather be a part of a gathering like that in the evening than the morning.

for all its great points, chc@dtc has failed to build momentum. the most common comment heard when i mention the gathering to people is, "wow, that's cool." however, for all the people who apparently think it's cool, very few of them, if any, make it a priority to be there.

We had a conversation last night with the core group who make that gathering happen.
two main questions were asked. first, how has this gathering helped to introduce people to a growing relationship with christ. second, if the goal is to create an event or venue that will further god's mission in sandpoint, and given the resources expended on making this gathering happen ($200/week and many, many person-hours) would we do this or something else?

the answers to these questions were much more unanimous than i expected. while there have been many great benefits from this gathering, we haven't seen an influx of people who wouldn't be a part of cedar hills anyway. most people who have made it their primary gathering simply prefer the evening to the morning. the second question really clarified the issue for us when we all felt that the resources used could be pout to more effective and efficient use elsewhere.

so there it was. a great experiment coming to a close. from here i'm gonna post some key learnings that have popped up so far as well as some reasons why this gathering may not have taken off.

  • innovation is difficult but very worthwhile. i really can't say enough about how great it is to be able to try new things without fear of being chastised for failure. cedar hills really understands the value of innovation as a tool for growth. having taken the step to try something like this, i think it'll be even easier in the future to try things with less than 100% chance of success.
  • it's great to have a church presence in downtown. there's no data that has anything to do with this. i'm just a big proponent of being a part of a community, involved and in touch, rather than separate and unaware.
  • leadership was a problem from the start. i am the leader of chc@dtc because it fits within my realm of responsibility. the idea of the gathering is right up my alley, but with my current workload there's really no way i could have given that gathering the attention that it needed. i piled it on top of an already-full plate and it just got lost in the shuffle. so to sum this all up, intentional leadership would have made a huge difference.
  • drop in traffic isn't a reliable growth engine. i kept waiting for people to pop in off of the street and just be drawn to this gathering. there were 3 people in 6 months who came and stayed, 2 of which i knew already. several more popped in, but left when they realized what was going on.
  • advertising to remind people about a gathering at a different time and place than they typically expect a church gathering.
  • treat it as a different entity rather than simply another gathering of cedar hills. our goal was to position this gathering as simply a third option alongside the two sunday morning times. however, it was different enough in other aspects that i don't think people really saw it that way. we could have leveraged this difference into a whole new worship experience that may have seemed to have more merit, as opposed to a copy of sunday morning, but with a smaller band and video teaching instead of live.
  • leadership is key!! i know i mentioned this earlier but it's so primary in my mind. i'm gonna pick myself apart for a minute here. 1. i didn't make room in my schedule to lead this gathering. 2. i can either lead people or be a part of making a gathering happen, not both. leading music on sunday night pulled my attention away from other things that could've been crucial to helping the gathering along. plus, in retrospect, it could've been a great venue to give away musically. that was the initial idea, but when it came right down to it, i think it seemed like too big a risk. plus, mentally i was expecting the thing to be a hit right off the bat and wanted to go with a proven entity - the status quo!
i'm sure more learnings will emerge over time. i'm sure this won't be the last off-site gathering that we do. there was some great times had, people who got involved in leadership that weren't before, new relationships and several people had their first church experience as a part of chc@dtc. all in all, a huge win! now to find the next experiment.

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