Chris Bullock is a young pastor and church planter employed by the Georgia-Cumberland Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Spectrum asked Chris about his approach to church planting, and how his ministry team is impacting downtown Atlanta.
RD: How and why did Fusion Church begin? How did you choose your name?
CB: Well, the “why” is always more important than the how. Simply put, FUSION was our response to the Gospel Commission to go make disciples. To make new disciples, we need to go where God is building his church: the lives of people. Church planting is all about extending the Kingdom of God into the homes and hearts of people who are not yet following Jesus. This is our why. The missio Dei is our why.
And the how? First off, church planting is always done in partnership with God. The Apostle Paul describes us as "co-laborers" with God. FUSION began because four of us were praying that God would use us. He then brought us together. Before we did anything, we spent several months meeting in living rooms and coffee shops just seeking God in prayer and sharing our ministry dreams with one another. It soon became evident that all of us shared a common passion for relational evangelism and church planting.
The first thing we did was start a young adult cafe worship on Friday nights at the church where I was on staff, 20 miles north of downtown Atlanta. Soon after, we began prayer-walking downtown every Monday night for a year. We were asking God to give us his vision for the city. We had amazing experiences ministering to street dwellers and receiving their ministry to us, meeting residents and business owners, etc.
During that time, the Georgia-Cumberland Conference approved our proposal to begin a new city church. We did surveys to see what people thought about their community and to ask what a church might look like that existed to benefit the community. We went to listen, as learners. Amazingly, it worked! Never once did we have a door slammed in our faces and we even had unchurched and non-Christians tell us that they appreciated our approach since we weren't there on our soapboxes preaching down at them.
We left the church where I was on staff just ten months after beginning the FUSION young adult worship, which had about fifty in attendance at the time. We told people we did not want them to come with us unless they were on board with our mission. Only a few did follow us and it was a year before FUSION launched as a new church. Our goal was to build a church from the outside-in rather than to gather a critical mass of believers.
The name FUSION came during the first months that the four of us were meeting and praying. We had pages of our values, missional dreams, ideas of what a healthy church should look like, etc., and we were looking for a name that would best describe it all. We exhausted tons of options before coming to the name FUSION. It was rather humorous because all four of us instantly knew it was the right name. FUSION describes our lives being united (fused) with Christ and with one another, and when this happens, God's power is unleashed in and through us. So our vision or tagline is: “Unleashing God's Power Together.”
RD: Why did you choose Atlanta as the venue for Fusion?
CB: I'm convinced that God chose our place. I tried to be a church planter in other cities in the past, but those doors always closed. That said, let me share some startling facts about Atlanta. Having 5.5 million people in the metro-area, we are the largest city in the southeast U.S. The I-285 perimeter around the city is a 64-mile loop. There are over 250 square miles inside the perimeter and within that area we only have Adventist churches that are ethnic-specific, i.e., Hispanic, African-American, Caribbean, West African, Portuguese, etc. As thankful as I am that we have these wonderful churches ministering to their specific target groups and languages, we are missing the mark on inclusivity. And so we are not reaching the demographic that prizes evidence of inclusivity while deciding which communities to be a part of.
Also, Atlanta's average age is 33— about five years younger than the national average. Young professionals are moving into the city and creating gentrification. So there is a huge need for young, multi-ethnic, socio-economically diverse churches that speak the eternal Gospel in today's language. I wish I could say that this problem is isolated to Atlanta, but unfortunately it is shared by most every major metro-city in the United States. Since the majority of the population now lives in cities and the majority of Adventist churches are outside the cities, this is really a crisis. Recent social changes in American cities pose significant opportunities for us, and so demand our prompt attention. But unfortunately most Adventists seem either ignorant or apathetic about what’s going on.
RD: Your website describes Fusion as a “new emerging faith community.” What does this mean?
CB: We are not trying to classify ourselves as an "emergent" community or any other label, which is why we also left off the denominational name Seventh-day Adventist. We want to be known more for what we do and what kind of people we are than because of our label or what we say we believe. If our goal is to show people who Jesus is, then we must be his hands and feet. People do not care what you believe until they believe that you care. By "emerging," we simply mean that our new faith community is rising up from within the city, and it consists of all sorts of people of faith. There are non-Christian people of faith regularly attending our worship gatherings and small groups. We want to honor and respect wherever people are at, coming alongside of them in their journey to share what Jesus means to us. We hope he will become their hearts desire, as he is ours.
RD: What contemporaries inside and outside the Adventist church have shaped or inspired your mission at Fusion?
CB: Back in 1998 I was personally inspired by Pastor Roger Walter to become a church planter. That was my first pastoral assignment and the year Roger came to Colorado to start “The Adventure” church.
Derek Morris has been a very important spiritual mentor in my life since 1996. We have also been inspired by Shane Claiborne, Louie Giglio, Mother Teresa, Alan Hirsch, Francis Chan, Ed Stetzer, Richard Foster, Margaret Feinberg, Russell Burrill, George Barna, Thom Rainer, Neil Cole, Leonard Sweet, and a host of others. We are tremendously blessed to partner with our conference president, Ed Wright; VP ministerial, Harold Cunningham; and church plant director, Bill Levin, who give us incredible support and loving accountability. They make it possible for FUSION to function with an Adventist affiliation and we are grateful to them and their leadership teams.
RD: Are other churches like Fusion growing up in Adventism right now?
CB: Yes. It appears there are some that share similarities with us, although we are all different. Matt Gamble was working with Steve Leddy at the 24/7 Ministry Center in Seattle before going full-time as an international speaker. I love what Steve is doing to multiply churches. Ryan Bell in Hollywood, CA, is making a mark in his city and on Adventism. Jay Perry, Adam Breiner and Matt Segebartt at reNEW Church in Shakopee, MN, started from scratch with just their team as half-time paid pastors. Those guys are missional entrepreneurs. I'm sure there are also others in the U.S. and around the globe with whom we would share similarities and I just don't know about them.
There's also a movement of "organic" house churches within Adventism. In sort, there are tons of other Adventist churches and ministries out there that I admire and respect. What I would like to know, however, is whether or not there are any Adventist churches that have taken the "launch" approach, as opposed to the "plant" approach to church planting.
RD: What is the difference between a church launch and a church plant?
CB: Basically, a church plant starts with a core group meeting and the goal is to add numbers to that core group as they continue meeting. This appears to be how most new Adventist churches begin. A group decides to start a new church and to begin from the inside-out (with their own group). Many wonderful and successful churches have started this way. In doing a church launch, the primary difference is that it begins from the outside-in, since it begins with the people in the community as the launch team. In this approach, the community is your church.
RD: At Fusion you receive people as partners rather than members. What is the difference, and what does it mean to be a partner of Fusion Church? Approximately how many partners and other attendees come to Fusion each week?
CB: On the local level, FUSION has no membership. Membership gives a false impression that you have special privileges and can lead to an arrogance of entitlement. The church is not a club that you join and pay dues to, consuming all its benefits. We are a faith community, and each person has something to contribute to the community and its mission. Therefore, we have partners. We recognize that people are on a journey, and if at this point in their spiritual journey they would like to partner with FUSION Church, then they must adhere to certain standards and practices, and be affiliated with the belief system of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Our goal is to set the bar high because we take discipleship seriously, instead of giving away membership in order to make our church look good on the books. We believe that a healthy church has far fewer members, or partners, than they have in weekly worship and small groups. Since FUSION is only 11 months old, we are just now about to begin with our partnerships. We are attempting to implement a system that holds people accountable in the areas of evangelism, discipleship and authentic spiritual growth. Our attendance runs 50-70 and we have over 40 in small groups.
RD: What kind of people come to Fusion and how does the community collective understand its Adventist identity? How do you see Fusion enlarging Adventism as a denomination? CB: We are reaching mostly young creative professionals, which is our primary target audience. The average age is roughly 28. We have some families with young children as well as some college students, but the majority are young professional singles. (Though two of our biggest supporters, Richard and Elaine Green, are 69!)
You'll find Caucasians, Asians, African-Americans, Jamaicans, Haitians, doctors, filmmakers, students, graphic designers, web developers, accountants, homemakers, chefs, musicians, nurses, Wal-Mart clerks, biologists, teachers, etc., worshiping together and in small groups each week.
At this point, the identity of the community collective is more closely associated with FUSION than with Adventism. However, the power and health of any denomination is in the local church. If our local churches are not healthy and strong, our denomination will be weak. Our community and attendees learn about Adventism through the local church, not from the General Conference or even the division, union or conference. It concerns me that some Adventists demonstrate loyalty to the global church at the expense of their local church. If the Adventist denomination wants to be relevant, we need to empower local churches. This is going to require greater trust and less control coming from administrative leadership, while at the same time we cultivate loving accountability and support. FUSION can enlarge Adventism by creating healthy local churches.
RD: What does a Sabbath morning look like at Fusion, and what other activities are your partners involved with throughout the week?
CB: Sabbath morning begins early with setting up since we are a portable church, in the sense that everything we use comes out of and goes back into a storage area every week. We have breakfast available at 10:45am and worship begins at 11:15. During the worship we also have a FUSION Kids program. We do not have Sabbath school but instead use our weekly EPIC Groups (small groups) to facilitate deeper study and community outreach. On some weeks you'll find FUSIONeers doing servant evangelism projects, going out into the neighborhood to meet a small need in a tangible way or sharing an invitation to join us for worship. Some of them volunteer at various community service organizations. Last year we did a Valentines karaoke party in a homeless shelter, which was a lot of fun both for us and the residents. We also continue to do community bridge events, which are non-religious events put on for the community and hosted by the church— a park festival, game or open mic night at a local establishment. Our favorite so far was when we hosted an Art Gala and featured local artists through a silent auction.
RD: What future hopes and dreams do you have for Fusion Church?
CB: As God enables us to grow, we don't want to become a mega-church, but a multiplying church. I would like to see us start three new churches, or campuses, within the first five years of our existence. That is my hope and dream. I want to partner with God in creating healthy local churches that take seriously the Gospel Commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2156