Newsletter 62 - November 2007
This is a special issue of our newsletter. I will mention a few recent and upcoming events at the end, but I want to dedicate most of it to a new project that we are undertaking to plant new evangelical churches in the province of Trento.
The Project Trentino
Long time readers of these newsletters know that the focus of my ministry is the planting of new evangelical churches in the province around Trento. For about 12 years this has been the vision of the church, and also mine personally. But the vision has not moved forward very rapidly. Twelve years later there is a strong and active autonomous group in the Valsugana, a smaller autonomous group in the Val di Non, and a group at Rovereto that just started 18 months ago. Another area of the province in our original plan remains untouched, whilst there are still further areas that we would like to reach. This speed is to be expected for a church with about 20 members, as we were then, and even for a church of about 75 regularly attending adults as we are now. That is 75 people stretched between the four areas in the province, plus the three cell groups at Trento (started three years ago), the teenagers' group (two years ago), the Young Adults' group (this year), the Sunday School and other ministries of the church. This means that the resources are lacking for a concentrated effort to work towards our vision. For about the last decade we have been praying and looking for church planting missionaries willing to move to some of these unreached areas of the province, to pioneer groups there while working with the church at Trento. But as yet, God has not sent anyone.
For these reasons, the church and European Christian Mission have decided to try to give the church-planting ministry a kick start. The idea is not just to send human and financial resources to Trento, but to use them strategically to create a church planting model that can multiply itself more rapidly. The vision itself remains the same: plant new evangelical churches in the province where there are none.
The first stage is still to work in four areas, creating churches that will then in the second stage plant other churches in the more remote zones of the province. The change will be in some of the methods that will be used, which will be of three types:
1) We are still looking for pioneering church planting missionaries for some of the unreached areas. But we realise that these are not as common as they once where. So we are offering as well a short term (two year) apprenticeship or training scheme to learn about church-planting in a different culture on the field, working in partnership with a church committed to church planting and under the guidance and training of an experienced church planting missionary (me!). Our desire is that those then trained in church planting through this scheme would start church planting elsewhere or within the province of Trento.
2) The church planters do not have to come from outside Italy; current members of the church could be church planters as well. In fact, many already are. The problem is that with full time jobs, family and often commitments in other Italian Christian organizations, they do not have much time left for an effective church planting ministry. The church currently does not pay any of its leaders, but we want that to change, with each new church plant to be also financially responsible for the partial support of its leadership. This is the model that can more quickly reproduce itself. To kick start this model, ECM is looking to financially support part-time two people in the congregation, but on a sliding scale over seven years: each year the mission will give a bit less, with the church taking up the difference, so that in seven years' time the church will be fully supporting two people part time, but also by that stage partially supporting others in the newer church plants.
3) The council hall that the church has been using for almost 20 years has become too small for our needs. It has other problems as well, being in an out of the way location and not being our own. The church is actively trying to rent a hall close to the city centre that could be used to reach out to the city of Trento and as a fixed base for the various church plants (e.g. for visibility, and for training and other common meetings). The church is undertaking to pay the rent for the hall, and this is quite a large commitment for it.
We want this to be more than a project of the Evangelical Church of Trento; we want it to be in partnership with Christians from around the world, because it is too big for just us. This means first of all in partnership with ECM, but also with others - like you. Of course, if you read my newsletters and pray for the things mentioned in them, you are already a partner in the ministry at Trento, and I would ask you to remember this project specifically in your prayers for the next few years.
Another way is to come, or encourage others to come, to the province of Trento to be a part of a vibrant church planting community ministry.
The third way is, rather than financially supporting missionaries sent to Trento, to support Italian missionaries from Trento to the Trento province. They don't have any language or culture problems, and to avoid creating dependence in the church, we are looking for a time limited commitment (maximum seven years, with reductions every year) so that the church starts supporting its own present and future workers as it grows.
In the church
All of the church activities have been going for three weeks now, and I have been encouraged by what I have seen happening in them so far, especially in the groups that I am involved in. Andrea and Carmelo are doing a good job of leading the Monday night cell group, in which they took my place. I will be attending the group until the New Year, with maybe a bit of help along the way, but they are responsible for the group.
On Tuesday there is the group at Rovereto, which has switched this year from fortnightly to weekly meetings, and already I have seen this make a positive difference to the way the group works, with more people coming as well. Unfortunately for Rovereto, the couple that I had hoped would be key people in the future of the group there got jobs elsewhere in the province this year (they are both teachers, and can be posted to different schools every year). But it is fortunately for the Valsugana, where they have moved to this year. In fact the Valsugana group has got past the usual threshold of a cell group of 12 people, which means it is starting to decline a bit in its effectiveness. So there will be a big decision coming up sooner or later, about splitting the group and/or starting a weekly service there. It is certainly getting closer to being a new autonomous church planted by the mother church at Trento, and being the first such church the decisions we make for it now will have ramifications on the many other churches that are in our vision to plant in the future.
On Wednesday there is another group at Trento, which for the past couple of years has been the hardest to run because the people in it are very different and there was little sense of belonging to the group. But it seems that the work of the past two years has paid off, and I can feel a different spirit in the group now, with a desire to help each other, and also the highest percentage attending each week of all the groups.
The group for the four teenagers has also had a couple of meetings. We are continuing with the studies in Luke that we started last year. Before the summer break, about a dozen young adults (mostly early twenties) started meeting informally, and now they have started regular programmed meetings three times a month. I have already seen that it has had a very positive effect on these people, as they come to church more often and some are a lot more sure about their commitment to Christ due to the encouragement of the others of their age. We have decided to have some social activity once every two months for the two groups (Youth and Young Adults) combined. When we mentioned this to the teenagers, they were very enthusiastic about it; they suffer a bit from a lack of Christian friends of about their age.
As well as the four groups that I am a part of, and the two others that I have already mentioned, there is also a cell group in the Val di Non valley that continues on, and another at Trento on Saturday afternoon. This latter is also over the threshold with 15 members, so a decision needs to be made about its future as well. Then there is also a monthly meeting of the women in the church, and an evangelistic English Bible study which is mostly attended by international university students. There is also the Sunday School (18 children from 4 to 11 years old in two classes), which Pinuccia is in charge of even though she does not teach there. But a couple of weeks ago she ran a meeting for the Sunday School teachers (as she does about three times a year), for some planning, encouragement and educational training.
Just a few highlights. Don't forget that you can find more details about all of these things on my blog at http://richard.laparola.net/