The Watershed is a place where faith creates family. Our mission is to love God and people by being disciples who make disciples through small, home-based missional communities that, as a collective of communities, seeks to train people to join God on His mission in the way He has called and gifted them. We aim to connect with those in our local community who are not already participating in a local church using uncommon generosity, encouragement, engagement, and enthusiasm. The end-goal in mind is to create environments where watershed moments lead to empowering, equipping, and sending as many people as possible to join the flow of God’s Spirit-led intention for their lives.
We have great hope for the church in America and are not discouraged by current, growing trends towards the decline of the church and its influence on American culture. While there are many from younger generations who have turned away from the institutionalized church, they are still open to hearing about the love of Christ and how He actually CAN transform lives. They long to know that Christianity is a faith worth following. They want to see Christ fleshed out in tangible ways that prove to them He is real. Jesus said all people would know that we, the church, are His disciples by the way we love one another, (John 13:35). The type of love Jesus commanded His disciples to have for one another was to love each other as He loved them. In doing so, He radically redefined and deepened the command to love our neighbors as ourselves. The love Jesus demanded of His followers was one patterned after the life He lived, the death He died, and the victory over sin and death He achieved. It was a cruciform love based on humility, servanthood, and sacrifice. Living and loving like Christ was to be the disciples’ proof that Christ was indeed real in and among them. It was the evidence to the world that Jesus offered a better way.
It is this evidence for which those disillusioned by the church are thirsty. Their interest in faith is piqued when they see it goes beyond weekly attendance and produces the life of Christ in real people in whom they can encounter the power of the living Gospel. It is the desire of the Watershed Collective to inspire and encourage those who become part of our collective of missional communities to invite others in to join them in Christian community while spurring one another on to create habits of living out an active faith. We want to foster faith families where people who are still on the path to believing in Jesus can feel safe to join our gatherings and experience a sense of belonging before believing, while encountering the whole Gospel. As a result of this Gospel discovery, we believe our missional communities will enjoy the blessing of God by being emboldened to live out their faith through blessing their local communities. The inevitable outflow of belonging and believing is blessing, and that blessing means blessing the local community, not just the gathering of believers. Missional communities are concerned about the context in which God has placed them and are motivated to see God’s Kingdom reign, not just amongst themselves, but also in the places where they live, work, and play. We believe entire towns and regions can be transformed this way!
At the Watershed, we are convinced these small, discipleship-focused, missional communities are the best way to reach the region of southeast Kansas, where we exist, with the Gospel message. By forming easily-reproduceable faith groups highly focused on the importance of joining God on mission, we believe God will begin a movement that cannot be contained. Our goal is to one day see 2,000 Watersheds meeting all over southeast Kansas reaching 24,000 people. In order for our collective to succeed at continuing to advance God’s mission and extend His Kingdom, we have created a leadership strategy that will provide structure and guidelines on how to best see our vision become reality.
One of our desires is to encourage everyone who happens to come into our sphere of influence to realize his/her leadership potential, especially as it pertains to living in the Kingdom of God as disciples. If we are going to realize the vision of 2,000 churches reaching 24,000 people, it is going to require more than just a few staff, board members, and volunteers. In fact, it will require as many Christ-followers as possible to become mobilized, empowered, and equipped to lead by influencing others to activate, develop, and utilize their God-given gifts to reach the unreached in their local communities. This means the people of the Watershed must become active, leading disciples (sounds funny when a disciple is a follower), by moving beyond the mindset of being a consuming attender of a church service toward becoming a vital, participating member of the body of Christ.
To achieve this at the Watershed, our goal is to create a two-year teaching cycle for our Watershed communities that includes the expectation and preparation for members to become involved in being the church on mission by the end of the cycle. This involves helping people find their gifts and talents, bring to the surface their passions for seeking Kingdom justice, realize their unique missional situation, and plan how they will involve themselves and others to join God on mission in their local communities by fulfilling their own, unique calling.
Raising up leaders who successfully influence others to join God on mission, means their development will include embracing the mission and vision of the Watershed for southeast Kansas, specifically as it pertains to the unique challenges the rural communities of this region are facing. We cannot afford leaders who wish to pursue their own personal “success” in ministry as it is currently largely defined in many contexts throughout America. Megachurch, mega influence, and mega book deals have been the mega plumb line used to judge the success of churches and pastors, and it is unhealthy. Our culture’s current obsession with fame and worldly success has infiltrated what the church at large values as we emerge out of the church growth movement. We have bought and sold the lie that bigger and glamorous is better. As the urban centers of our nation swell and bloat with people clamoring to find their place among the crowd, rural America is shrinking. Opportunity is fleeing from our small towns, and along with it much of the hope of the people who cannot afford to move from these towns or live in them. Rural America is hurting. Of the ten worst towns to live in Kansas, six of them are in the Southeast Kansas region. Drug abuse, poverty, broken homes, and lack of access to proper medical and mental health care are significant, growing problems. Sadly, those who are most burdened by these issues have often not experienced the help and care they so desperately need from those who claim to have the hope of Christ.
We are in need of a major paradigm shift that redefines success as church and what it means to be the church. We need more leaders who are willing to experiment with methodology, recognizing that our God is a creative God whose mission doesn’t change but whose methods often do. God never called His people back to Egypt or Mount Sinai, and when Elijah fled to Mount Sinai, God asked him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9). I think He would ask the same of us today. “What are you doing here, Church?”
“The local church has begun to see herself as her own reason to be. She, herself, has become the object for self-sacrifice. She is the pearl of great price and the treasure hidden in the field.” – Ralph Moore
We cannot continue on the same track and expect to win back the culture to Christ. We need leaders who are more interested in the expansion of the Kingdom of God, even at great cost to self, than they are in the expansion of their influence in the larger culture. We also need leaders who care about the small and insignificant. In order to reach southeast Kansas effectively, we cannot allow our mission and vision to drift away from genuinely caring for the unique challenges and needs of the people we are seeking to reach in our small communities, and that means valueing those communities and learning to love living there while helping others do the same.
In order to fulfill our mission to love God and others by making disciples who make disciples and to see our vision of 2,000 Watersheds reaching 24,000 people, we need to be able to rethink what it looks like to gather as the people of God. Most churches in our small communities are dead or dying. There are little to no life-giving communities of God reaching the increasingly unreached and disillusioned populations of young people. Reaching the “nones” in our communities successfully is going to require a reimagining of what we think of when we think of the church. The funds that would be required to traditionally plant the number of churches that would be needed to reach the number of people in our region who do not know what it means to follow Christ, would be far more than what is available. These communities have limited resources. Their schools are barely surviving. They do not have the extra resources or stomach to fund more church buildings. This reality is why we believe we can reach people faster by keeping our faith communities small and low-cost. We want our Watershed gatherings to be easily reproduceable, which is why we want to model for people what it looks like to live as parents with jobs and still invest in God’s Kingdom. Through our two-year cycle of teaching, we pray that God will inspire new leaders who are willing to follow Jesus into the mission field in the midst of the places in which they already live and work.
In order to grow small, we must work hard to maintain a small group environment by continually reproducing new groups, especially when existing Watersheds have become too large to foster the type of Christian community we wish to encourage. For this reason, we like the two-year teaching cycle. It gives us a sense of urgency to look for and disciple new leaders who can start faith communities of their own by following the two-year teaching plan and making it their own. We don’t wish to create cookie cutter Watersheds as each faith family will be different and have their own needs. The two-year teaching plan is simply meant to offer a guide to help leaders grow their groups toward greater Kingdom-mindedness and to release emerging leaders to create new groups. Some might criticize us at this point by saying that small towns don’t need more churches. This is the mindset that drives much of the bitterness people in rural communities feel toward the multiple large church buildings littered throughout their towns. However, the Watershed is interested in creating more small faith families, not building more church buildings.
If people really do learn best in small groups of 12-20, which is what educational research would suggest, (Kieschnick, Weston, “Does Class Size Matter?” March 2, 2018), then if we take the population of Iola, 5,459, and with generosity, divide it by forty, Iola needs at least 136 churches to reach its population well. There are currently twenty-two existing churches.
Southeast Kansas is in desperate need of more life-giving faith communities with a missional mindset that care about these rural places. For this reason, we have chosen to organize ourselves into a collective of small, home-based communities rather than launch large. The various Watersheds that emerge as we grow will be connected to one another by the spirit of our mission and vision. Stage one involves establishing at least ten Watershed gatherings with a core leadership team that holds one another accountable, meeting monthly for encouragement and prayer. When the Watershed reaches 60-80 regular adults attending a faith community, we will begin monthly celebration services at a local building that has offered us the use of their facilities when needed. Stage two involves establishing at least thirty Watershed gatherings with regional leadership teams who meet monthly. The leaders overseeing those teams will meet bi-monthly for encouragement and accountability. Once we reach this stage, we hope to purchase a building to be utilized as a community building that serves the needs of the community, such as tutoring for struggling students, music lessons, a safe hang-out for youth and young adults, etc. So far, these are the benchmarks we have set for two stages of growth. It’s based on an understanding of the culture of these small places fighting for survival that cannot afford to see another local business or community hang-out be turned into yet another church building that invests little of its resources back into the community.
Through our research of and experience in Iola and southeast Kansas, we have discovered that the largest unreached people group are those between the ages of 18-35. There are very few thriving youth ministries in the region, and there is no college ministry in the small community colleges. Young adults who have gone straight from high school to the work force are struggling to make ends meet and are usually not attending a local church. There is little to nothing to do for entertainment. Many young adults and students come from broken families and have not experienced what it means to live in a safe, close-knit community. They are often both financially and spiritually impoverished. They have never experienced discipleship, and they are in need of safe places to hang out where substance abuse isn’t an issue.
The Watershed is committed to providing small group gatherings where young adults and unreached people can learn what it means to follow Jesus. This meets both the needs of developing close-knit community and helping them to grow spiritually. As group members mature in their walk with God, we will give them opportunities to lead and learn what it might look like to fascilitate their own Watershed group one day.
We at the Watershed, are optimistic about the future of the church in America. We believe that, while all forms and models of church are necessary to reach our lost culture, the one outlined here, has great potential for reaching the younger generations in our rural settings. It is cost-effective. It seeks to engage as many people as possible in participating in the mission of God in the world, and it has the potential to spread rapidly and reach a large number of people. We believe discipleship is the key in order for the church to remain relevant in today’s cultural climate. Younger generations are longing for it. They want to be encouraged by hearing they have a valuable part to play in God’s Kingdom. They want leaders to personally engage them and care about who they are by giving them a voice and valuing their input. They want leaders to have something exciting to share with them. They are tired of church being a spectator sport. They want to be involved in God’s work, actively. They want to make a difference in the world! We believe that gathering around small communities of believers who share their faith intimately with one another and hold one another accountable can have a ripple effect that will create an earth-shaking movement. We believe that what happened in the early church in Acts can happen now. We believe the miracle of 2,000 Watersheds reaching 24,000 people can and will happen one day.