Joining the Club: New congregation organizes as an RCA church
"A lot of the main mojo of our church was creating a community where people could process the claims of the Christian faith in an intelligible way," says Jared Ayers, pastor of Liberti, a newly organized RCA church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
"We wanted to start a community that would be hospitable for people to be able to investigate the Christian faith, while not assuming they had any background or prior knowledge, or that they would assume large parts of the Christian story were true."
Ayers and his wife, Monica, moved to Philadelphia from Michigan in 2008 to start Liberti. Ayers says Philadelphia is very secular, a challenging place for a new church start. "It isn't the kind of place where you hang a sign out and say, 'Hey, we're starting a new church.' A lot of ministry models I'd worked with in other places just didn't play here," he says.
One of Liberti's earliest values was to be hospitable and continually invite friends and neighbors to join. "We gathered an initial really small group of people; some were Christians and some were not. And we started talking about what is the gospel, what is the church.
"We mostly grew due to networking--we didn't do advertising or anything like that. It was simply people connecting friends and neighbors into this growing circle of relationships."
Today, Liberti is a multisite church with two campuses: one in the heart of downtown Philadelphia, where they rent the facilities of a historic Baptist church, and one in an area called the Main Line, a suburban area west of the city where they rent space from Rosemont College. Between the two locations, 500 to 600 people attend services on a given Sunday.
Liberti celebrated its organization in October by closing off the street around the downtown campus and throwing a huge block party. The celebration included bounce houses for the kids, a chili cook-off, and a home-brewed beer contest.
The congregation plans to put down some permanent roots by purchasing the church it is currently renting. Ayers says they'll need to raise between $8 and $9 million for the purchase and renovation.
"On one hand, it's a crazy thing for a church that's just organized to take on," says Ayers. "But it's a pretty unique and strategic opportunity. You couldn't buy a vacant parking lot in the neighborhood we're in for that price. Most new churches in a city center never get the opportunity to buy property."
Ayers says his prayer is that the congregation will remain focused on pursuing mission even as they become more settled. In the future he sees Liberti continuing to plant more campuses and churches in the city and throughout the region.
"The great temptation, as things start and then grow and get to a place where they're sustaining themselves, is that we think we've arrived," he says. "In some ways, we're just getting started."