By Kelly Hartnett
Jimmy Cooper was serving as an associate pastor at Morning Star Church in Dardenne Prairie, and from the start of his appointment, he knew he would soon be leading their second church plant. (The Word at Shaw, Morning Star’s first church plant, launched in 2010 under the leadership of Pastor Keith Scarborough). For three years, Cooper worked to absorb every ounce of Morning Star’s DNA. His goal: Replicate that DNA a few miles down the road. People began referring to his church-to-be as “Morning Star West.”
A year into his training, Cooper heard Mike Breen speak at Exponential. Shortly thereafter, he read Brandon Hatmaker’s Barefoot Church—a bold statement against consumer Christianity with a clear directive for the church: Get back on mission. “Hatmaker and Breen struck a nerve in me. As I thought about my new church, I had been experiencing a gnawing dis-ease, and they put words to it. As I dove deeper into what I know now is the ‘missional movement,’ I discovered a huge conversation happening among leaders like Hugh Halter, Matt Smay, and Michael Frost, and I was captivated by their perspective.”
When Morning Star launched in 1999, the attractional model of ministry was in full swing. Churches all across the country jumped on Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church bandwagon and gave the Sunday morning worship service the bulk of their attention. “If you build it, they will come,” was the method of the day, and many churches—Morning Star among them—experienced exponential growth and are continuing to do incredible work with the people who come through their doors. The problem, Cooper was coming to understand, is that there’s a growing percentage of people who will never actually come through those doors. While Warren’s baseball analogy is certainly true for some people, there’s a large number who want to run it backwards. “For those folks, the primary entryway into a life of faith is not the Sunday morning worship gathering. And we can’t ignore them,” Cooper asserts.
Even as Cooper was inviting people to join the launch team for his new church, The Way, he was formulating his ministry plan. “To me, there are aspects of both the attractional and missional models of ministry that are important. I couldn’t see abandoning one for the other, and so I began to wonder what it would look like to be both.” References to “Morning Star West” became fewer and farther between—not because The Way’s mother church was doing anything “wrong,” but because The Way was shifting toward a revised DNA. Cooper recognized how critical it would be to offer a compelling, passionate worship experience such as Morning Star’s; however, he knew it couldn’t stop there. Instead, he wanted to focus his attention on developing a community of Christ-followers who would be “living differently”—people who not only declare the Gospel, but who also demonstrate it in their everyday lives. “Getting together for corporate worship is critical. However, we aren’t going to develop disciples if we’re expending all our energy on what happens inside the walls of our church buildings. We have to develop a missional mindset—a lifestyle of ‘sentness’ that battles against our culture of busyness, consumerism, materialism, individualism, and indifference.”
How does a new church accomplish that? Cooper smiles, “We’re sort of building the plane as we fly it. Right now, the American church is conditioned to see ‘mission’ as a trip or an event, not a way of life. Shifting toward a missional culture isn’t exactly easy.” The Way began cultivating that culture first through “Worship Without Walls”: one Sunday each quarter, the church “cancels” its Sunday morning service and instead engages in projects throughout the community. Worship Without Walls gives participants at The Way an intentional opportunity to invite their friends and family to see the church in action—and to join them in doing tangible good in our community. Cooper is also hopeful that Worship Without Walls will create curiosity in people who are skeptical of the church because they’ve experienced it as all talk and very little action. Interestingly enough, on average, more people participate in Worship Without Walls than attend the Sunday gathering.
The Way is currently turning its attention toward group life. Cooper explains: “Several years ago Willow Creek Community Church did some ground-breaking research on spiritual growth. The Reveal results were staggering, and one conclusion haunted me in particular: There is no direct correlation between participation in a small group and spiritual growth. None!” Still, Cooper believes groups are important for developing community, and serving together is crucial. “We want to create groups that form disciples the way Jesus did, which is definitely not just sitting around a table reading the Bible.”
So is The Way a “missional church”? Cooper isn’t all that interested in the labels. “We’re neither missional nor attractional; we’re both. We’re striving to both declare and demonstrate the Gospel. We gather and we scatter.” The Way’s mission field includes both de-churched people—who might be more likely to expect an attractional style—and people with no church background—who will be wholly disinterested in such a style—so the church has to balance that tension.
“It’s messy,” Cooper admits. “There’s nothing formula about any of this. But it’s imperative that we live in the tension and lean on the genius of the ‘and.’”
The Way holds worship gatherings on Sundays at 10:30 am at Peine Ridge Elementary School in Wentzville. The church is engaged in mission and ministry with several community partners, such as Crisis Nursery, Operation Food Search, The Bridge, and more. For more information about The Way, visit livingdifferently.org.