When you hear the word experiment, the institution of church is not the automatic connection you make. The first image that enters my mind are beakers and lab coats. When it comes to church most envision a specific pattern of prayers, songs, and sermons. Churches seem to get stuck in different order of worship ruts that limit the imagination and creative energy of a congregation.
Now that these ruts have been in place for so long people are afraid to venture outside of them. There is a fear of the unknown, as if the building would collapse if the offering wasn’t done in an orderly fashion.
The question I keep coming up against is how do we re-infuse creative imagination into a worshiping community?
Union Coffee in Dallas, Texas has definitely found a way that works for them: you build it in from the beginning. Mike Baughman and Chelsea Zortman were able to tell me the story of how their coffee house/community center came to be.
As they told me the story, I was excited to hear that at the core of the work they seek to serve the community around them as much as they serve those that attend church.
“We wanted a church to be so embedded in its neighborhood that if the doors were closed it would actually matter to people other than the ones that show up for worship.” - Baughman
Yet, Union did not start with a service. It started with a coffee shop and a visioning team. The visioning team chose to wait to start any worship service because they wanted the community to really guide what program they put into action. It wasn’t until nine months after the coffee shop opened that a worship service was started.
The commitment to let the community guide what Union does has allowed for some interesting experiments to happen without fear of shame because it didn’t work out. Baughman likes to refer to this as the divine spark. Each person that is apart of Union has the divine spark of something within them and Union seeks to help nurture that spark.
The leadership is there to guide and equip the community with what they need to get their project off the ground, but not to hold everything for the community. As well, they are not enmeshed or held back by the anxiety to keep everything going often found in tradition congregations.
Through all the different experiments that Union has done they have always held to the important fact that they are in a specific place and time for the glory of sharing God’s love with those around them. They seek to be a place where all are considered leaders and all are to put forth ideas that can change their city and world.