Liz and I frequently attend events where we get to learn more about Clontarf.

Liz and I frequently attend events where we get to learn more about Clontarf.

In November of this year, Elizabeth and I came on staff with Christian Associates  (CA) as Team Leaders in Dublin. It has been an exciting time for us with a lot to learn and process.

One item that we found attractive about CA was their church planting process. Not only did their philosophy fit well with what we believed we wanted to see happen in Dublin, they have great people who’ve been doing it that we can learn from.

In order to share a bit about this process with our friends and supporters, we decide to take some space in our monthly enewsletter and share about each of the six steps over the next several months. (Subscribe to our newsletter | View December’s edition).

However, as we began writing our thoughts (Elizabeth wrote as well), it was getting way too long for the newsletter, so I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts here.

Embedding is the first step in CA’s church planting process, and the one we have been in for the past two plus years. The big idea behind embedding is to

indwell and become and enriching presence in context.


When we planted a church in Ithaca, New York, our family had already lived there for five years. In addition, I was a life-long Upstate New York resident, and Elizabeth had lived upstate for 14 years. While we wouldn’t have said embedding was part of our strategy back then, it was clearly the first step in our process even then.

Part of the embedding process is understanding the context you are in. Who are these people? How do they think? What is good news to them? What do they dream about…talk about….Questions like that.

Although I only speak one language, I know that the best way to learn a new language is to be immersed in it. It’s the same way with understanding a city and all that makes up that city (it’s people, culture, history, media, entertainment, etc.). While you can study a culture and read about a place, the only way you really get to know it is to live in it. To embed in that place.

In Ithaca we joked that nobody was actually from Ithaca. And once you’d lived there 5 years, you were a long-term resident.

Here in Dublin, Liz and I have been called “blow-ins” and should we live here 30 more years, we will still be “blow-ins.”

Ithaca was a very transient city. In Ireland, while there is a high level of emigration, it seems to catch people by surprise to find out someone would actually want to move here.

“How are new residents in your city viewed?” may be a small thing, but had we moved here imagining that it was the same in Dublin as it was in Ithaca, we would have made a number of missteps..

When we first began thinking about moving to Dublin, the plan was that we would not start a church, or try to gather people for at least 18 months to two years. A couple of our reasons were:

1) We wanted to understand the culture. Quite a few people told us that Americans who went to Ireland or the UK often had a more difficult transition that those who went to countries where English was not the main language. Their understanding was that when you were here (Ireland), the UK, Australia, and it was easy to hear the common language and assume that you were in a place with a common culture.

Go to a country where English was not spoken, it was clear every moment that you were in a place very different from where you were from.

Over the years we’d met a number of people who went to language school (immersion) before heading overseas. Although we didn’t need to learn a new language, we decided to treat our first couple of years in Ireland as “cultural school.”

So we’ve learned by asking questions. We’ve learned by trial and error. For example, one  day I waited by my phone for a friend to call, only to be surprised when he knocked on my front door. I now know that if he were going to use the phone he would have said he will ‘ring me.’ That is a small example, but multiply that out several times each day and you get a picture of what it’s like.

2) We wanted to listen to the people who live here. It would have been quite easy for Liz and I to land here in Dublin having already planted and led a growing church and think that we’ll just do the same things here that we did in Ithaca. There are actually a good number of similarities in demographics between Clontarf and Ithaca…we could do that. But that method of church planting doesn’t take into account the people who live here.

Sometimes this is hard.
Okay, most of the time this is hard. I am a type A personality. I like to accomplish things and check them off my list. When Elizabeth and I were leading a church in Ithaca, each week there were things we could say, “we did this.” “The worship service was completed and x number of people participated. We met this many new people.” Stuff like that. When people asked, “what do you do?’ we could list the things we did that week.

Since we arrived here, sometimes we are asked questions like, “How many small groups do you have going?” “How many people are attending?”  I understand those questions. And part of me wants to have different answers, but we’re not there yet.

Before we moved here, I would have anticipated this part of the process going more quickly. I was wrong.

(I do wonder how much of this is an American ‘thing’ though. We’ve heard many times from leaders in the Irish church how often Americans have come here to church plant, and don’t end up staying for long. We’ve also been told, “I don’t think Americans can plant churches in Ireland.” We’re still exploring what all of this means, but I do think the American sense of “this needs to happen yesterday,” has a damaging impact on this process.

Where we are at…
The big thing with embedding is that it is not agenda driven. Yes we are trying to meet people and learn about this city, but our purpose is to build friendships, not to recruit people to build a church. Our focus is on how can we love and serve the people who live around us in a way that is good news to them simply because we believe that God wants to express his love through us.

Having started and led a church before, I know that church leaders can at times fall into the trap of looking at people through the eyes of, “how can I get you involved in our church?” That was something we knew we couldn’t bring here with us.

So that’s where we are. I hope that it paints a reasonable picture of how this is working. And as I mentioned, Elizabeth wrote a bit more about this in our newsletter, so I encourage you to give that a read.