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  • Writer's pictureIan Russell

Riverfront Family Church Home Gathering Proposal

Over the past several months, we have engaged in sermon series called Semper Reformanda — the Church reformed, always reforming. In light of the challenges we face as a community, we have had an ongoing conversation about the future of our church.


This proposal is being put forward by the RFC Board and pastors following a summer of reflection, prayer, and conversations about the future of Riverfront Family Church. We will consider this proposal further at our special meeting on August 27.


The Vision

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. - Acts 2:42-47 (NIV)

Our vision, as the board and pastors of Riverfront Family Church, is to transition to a church model centered around weekly home gatherings (both in person and online) with monthly larger community gatherings (which will be hybrid to allow all to participate).


As Acts 2 tells us, while this is a “new” model for us, it is not a new model in a historical sense. Gathering in homes is the way the church started and the way the first followers of the Way did life together. It is also not a new concept for Riverfront, as the original intention behind Huddles and 242 Groups is quite similar to our vision for future home gatherings. In many ways, we are merely going back to our roots.


Our dream is to be a community of People of the Way, following Jesus our Lord, dedicated to serving Hartford and the surrounding communities, committed to radical inclusion and justice, gathering in various forms, locations, and capacities, doing life together, prioritizing belonging over believing, united by a shared mission and purpose.


What Would and Wouldn't Change

We use the term "home gatherings" intentionally to reflect that these gatherings will not replace Riverfront Family Church, and they will not take on all or almost all the functions of the church. To emphasize, we do not envision forming house churches in the sense of carrying out all or most functions of a traditional denominational (or non-denominational) church, or disbanding Riverfront Family Church and replacing it with house churches.


This is a programmatic change, not an organizational change. The following aspects of Riverfront, in no particular order, are not changing:

  • The overall institutional structure of Riverfront Family Church.

  • The leadership of the church (co-lead pastors, teaching pastor, officers, and Board).

  • The financial oversight and accountability of the church (Ben, Dave, the Board, and annual meetings).

  • Our denominational affiliation (ABCUSA).

  • Our affiliations with various networks and ministries (AWAB, GHIAA, etc.).

  • Our bylaws.

  • Our statement of faith, common purpose, etc.

  • Our existing small groups (Huddles, book group, Bible study, interfaith dialogue group, etc.)

  • Our approach to pastoral care and relational ministry. In particular, our pastors will remain available to provide pastoral care to all members and attenders of the church, regardless of when and how they participate in the new model.

What would change is our approach to weekly worship gatherings.


Purpose & Goals

The home gathering model is meant to achieve four major goals:

  1. Financial stewardship: Riverfront is running at a significant deficit and has been for some time. This deficit is primarily driven by the cost of our (underutilized) physical meeting space and related expenses. While we have enough reserves to sustain the church for some time (i.e., this is not an emergency), we believe stewardship in this season means letting go of the meeting space. The new model would allow us to continue to gather as a church in a more financially sustainable manner and redirect our resources into relational ministry and community partnerships.

  2. Variety of times, locations and formats of worship: There are many individuals and families who are still part of the extended RFC family, but for one reason or another, the traditional Sunday morning gathering no longer meets their needs. There are also numerous individuals in Hartford who would be interested in attending church but the Sunday morning time is a barrier (e.g., people who work in the hospitality industry). The smaller home gatherings would give us flexibility to explore additional times, locations, and formats to meet people where they are.

  3. Dedicated online, in-person, and hybrid experiences: We are committed to continuing to offer robust online and in-person worship experiences to serve the varied needs of our community. Thus far, we have accomplished this goal by offering exclusively hybrid worship services. However, hybrid services come with significant drawbacks. There is always a sense in which the online attenders become “secondary” to the in-person experience, and there are also significant audio/visual challenges that affect accessibility and inclusion. The new model would give us more flexibility to create dedicated online and in-person experiences that embrace the unique strengths and opportunities of each modality, while continuing to offer hybrid services for the monthly gatherings and other major events (e.g., annual meeting) that in turn embrace the unique strengths of the hybrid modality.

  4. Sacred engagement: We believe in the potential of a small group approach to sacred engagement with the world, with the church serving as a facilitator of connections, belonging, and fellowship among congregants, and serving as a means of pursuing worship, contemplation and action stemming from imagination, creativity, and openness to the Spirit, through individuals acting together. We believe that gathering in small groups, in homes and in the community, and doing life together has transformative power. At the same time, maintaining the larger structure of Riverfront Family Church will put our combined resources, time, and talents behind the broader purpose of engaging in mission with community and regional partners (such as GHIAA and Billings Forge) as we continue to engage in ministry outside our congregation.

Here’s what it could look like.


Weekly Home Gatherings

We envision starting with at least three home gatherings: two in person and one online. Each group will meet three weeks per month (with the remaining week dedicated to the larger hybrid community gathering).


Each group would include a host (or co-hosts) responsible for providing the physical meeting space, as well as a leader/facilitator (or co-facilitators) responsible for leading worship at the home gatherings. These could be but need not be the same person.


We would shift the focus of home-based church gatherings towards fellowship, meals together, scripture teaching/discussion/application, faith-sharing, spiritual care for one another, and the use of arts in worship. We would encourage active participation in discussions, sharing of experiences, and insights in both physical and online groups.


We envision the home gatherings having a high degree of autonomy. There will be training for leaders and some degree of structure offered by the church leadership, but the groups will be free to pursue the style and direction of worship that fits their individual needs and goals.


Home gatherings would be open to all, and members, attenders and guests alike would be free to attend any home gathering in any given week. That is, these are not huddles, which demand a degree of commitment, but rather open gatherings.


Hosts and facilitators would be expected to commit to one quarter (three calendar months, or one meteorological season). Backup hosts and facilitators would also be identified to ensure continuity and protect against burnout if a particular host is either unavailable or exhausted and needs a break.


Much like our current church services, we would hope for these home gatherings to have coffee, tea, and perhaps some light/simple snacks available, but nothing elaborate (to avoid burnout and miscalibrated expectations).


Monthly Community Gatherings

The hybrid monthly gathering would be an opportunity for all of our groups to come back together, whether in-person or online, to share insights, victories, prayer requests, and so on, and to celebrate and worship together as a community.


We envision the monthly community gatherings would include the following elements, as a baseline:

  • Music/the arts

  • A lesson or sermon

  • Discussion

  • Sharing of testimonies, victories, and challenges

  • Corporate prayer

  • Communion (unless the members prefer to do this at the home gatherings)

  • Sharing a meal together (catered or potluck)

Having these gatherings once a month (as opposed to once a week) will leave more space for creativity and flexibility regarding the content of each gathering. Our pastors and lay leaders will have additional time to plan and implement additional content that may either augment or replace elements of the standard monthly gathering.


Children’s Ministry

At Riverfront, we have always believed that children are not only the future of our community, but an integral part of the present. While we are still working through the details of how children’s ministry would be integrated into this model, some of the components we have in mind include:

  • Having at least one home gathering specifically designated for families with children.

  • Integrating youth into the home gatherings in some capacity (e.g., reading Scripture, hands-on activities, music.)

  • Having volunteers facilitate discussion and activities for children and youth.

  • Providing childcare at the monthly community gatherings.

We intend to have a separate meeting specifically with parents and children to ascertain their needs and refine the details.


Communication

We will utilize all of our current channels of communication to keep our “scattered” community on the same page, including:

  • The weekly email newsletter

  • Our public Facebook page

  • Our private Facebook group

  • Our YouTube channel

  • Our website

The monthly large gatherings will be broadcast online, similarly to our current services, to offer interested observers a low-stakes way to “check out” the church. We are also exploring creating additional written, audio and video content to share on our online channels as we invite more people into this community.


Transition

If this proposal is approved, our pastors will engage with Immanuel with regard to continuing to use our current space for the monthly gatherings, at an appropriately reduced cost. We have several alternative locations in mind as well, if that is not possible.


In addition, we will need volunteers to come forward, including:

  • Hosts

  • Leaders/Facilitators

  • Logistics Managers

There are several members of our congregation who have already come forward and expressed willingness to volunteer. However, we need all hands on deck, both to provide a diversity of leadership and perspectives, and to promote sustainability and prevent burnout.


Our goal would be to implement this new model in October 2023.


Closing Remarks

This has been a difficult season for our church and a difficult process to explore. However, while there are times when we have been frustrated and exhausted, we are also tremendously excited to see what the Spirit will do in our next season as a community.

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