In 2009 a group of friends began a discussion which would lead to the formation of a new faith community, The Park Community Church. There was a mutual feeling, amongst the group, San Antonio didn’t need another church. San Antonio needed a different kind of church. We held our first meeting at the Austin’s house. The idea was to meet together for a few months with a core team of people. We anticipated only a few people for the first meeting, but word got out and the Austin’s living room was packed out. We quickly realized we were going to need a bigger room. These initial days were rooted in community and relationship. Our hearts were exploding with what might be, and our ears were tuned to what God was doing. For many of us in the room on that first night at the Austin’s this was simply a natural of evolution of years together in community groups and ministry leadership.
After several years, multiple rooms, and two giant trailers we discerned God’s calling to plant multiple churches, deeply embedded in neighborhoods. This lead to the discovery of the neighborhood parish, and consequently the formation of a parish network of churches.
The Parish Network
The Parish Network model envisions one urban church community consisting of several neighborhood churches that network together for the common good and renewal of the city. The city parish church is diverse in its essential nature, uniting women, men, and families from various cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds across a major metropolitan area.
Each neighborhood church has its own core team and senior leadership team who provide spiritual direction and a specific missional vocation for the congregation. Each neighborhood community also has its own structures for pastoral care. On the other hand, the neighborhood churches share centralized resources such as student ministry, workplace, family and artistic ministries, as well as a counseling referral and citywide mercy projects, to name a few. In addition to resources the neighborhood church is supported by the central ministries team.
These neighborhood churches hold weekend worship gatherings that highlight how the kingdom of God is being expressed all across the neighborhood. Each community has the freedom to contextualize its worship to the culture of its neighborhood; communities meeting in areas with many families may focus on developing a thriving children’s ministry, while a gathering in a neighborhood full of artists may include interactive, creative elements in its worship.
The Parish Network model is a highly relational, deeply interdependent, kingdom-focused vision of the city church. It enables church to remain small enough for each member to be known intimately and to involve every person in ministry while maintaining a kingdom-sized vision for renewing the city. Mission is both local and citywide.
Missional communities are organized around a shared mission to a neighborhood, industry, or context. They cultivate partnerships with schools, organizations that provide social services, business leaders, activists, community organizers, and anyone else who loves his city and wants to make it a better place to live; they then leverage those partnerships to implement strategic projects aimed at redeeming and renewing that neighborhood.
Missional Communities provide an opportunity to abide in God’s love through the essential practices of Christianity: confessing sins to one another, reading and meditating on Scripture, praying for non-believers to be captured by the life of God. Missional Communities cultivate vulnerability through committed relationships, servanthood, and love, and very often meet over a meal in the home of a fellow member. These groups allow believers to walk together in the rhythms of Jesus’ way through the practice of shared spiritual disciplines: prayer, the study of Scripture, fasting, relationships of accountability. The pursuit of vulnerability in these groups requires the practice of reconciliation, and communal life deepens as members learn to bear with one another in love.