The Lantern Network
Hugh Halter lives with his wife Cheryl in Alton, Illinois, having spent most of his life planting church. Hugh has authored numerous books on the missional nature of Church including The Tangible Kingdom.
He’s presently leading Lantern Network, which is a 'kingdom ecosystem' in Alton, and he helps guide a national network designed to birth and nurture kingdom ecosystems throughout the US.
I recently listened into a talk by Hugh to discover more about the Lantern Network and 'kingdom ecosystems'. Here's a abridged version:
I want to talk about some emerging church trends. Due to Covid, churches stopped gathering. None of us saw that coming, but a lot of us have been thinking about the future of the church. There's been this reckoning that every denomination is on the decline and hopefully trying to figure out what do we do to give some alternative forms of church to people other than the Sunday centric deal that we've been doing that we just know is not reflective of the fullness or maturity of God's church in the world.
I want to give you a picture of viewing church more as a city that you build within a city. Another way that we say this is building kingdom ecosystems. You might remember the Benedictines who are the only order that did not beg for money. They were the enterprisal order, their motto was 'ora et labora', or the 'prayer is the work and the work is the prayer'. People say that the gospel got to us because of the enterprise of these cloistered communities that would go into main streets and would try to figure out what would be good news to the people. And then they would create that and be self-sustaining through making money.
We see this throughout the centuries in other examples. About 150 years ago, there was a African-American man, who started a refuge for slaves escaping the South in Ontario, Canada. As they would come into this community, they were taught a trade and many, many businesses were started. A school was started and it eventually was the church in the entire community for these people.
What we've found all over the country in different places of the world is that people have been reframing and rebuilding these kingdom ecosystems as a new ecclesial form for quite a while. Some different versions are Underground Network out of Tampa Florida, Common Thread out of Birmingham Alabama, Love City out of Louisville Kentucky, or just this little startup called Lantern Network in Alton, where we're just about three years in.
You see that we view church as an ecosystem. Not just something that you do on Sunday or that a few people attend recreationally on the weekends, but we find friends and we begin to build out businesses. Birmingham built out 21 businesses, bought up many, many homes in the poorest parts of Birmingham. And then obviously the discipleship and the spiritual renewal of those areas and of those people happen. And so very simple ecclesial forms are added. When you ask those people, what is church for you? They always say, "This whole thing is church."
When we moved to Alton, Illinois, we had no idea what we were going to do. We knew that God has sent us here. My entire family came and we all bought homes in downtown, but we just began to walk and pray. Eventually, without us knowing it, God was speaking to a gentleman to give us a building - an old federal post office that is 12,000 square feet. We turned it into the living room for our town, almost like an apostolic hub where all the business and relational connection would happen all in one spot.
We then knew that as an organisation, as a nonprofit, that we would incubate good work. So anything could be a good work. It could be to start a microchurch neighbourhood community out of a house. It can be to help a girl named Sarah who came in. She was not a believer, actually an atheist who said she wanted to have a commercial bakery and heard that we could help her. And so, we asked her what she wanted and she just said, "I just need a commercial kitchen to work out of." So, we worked a deal with her and took only 10% of her earnings just to cover sales tax. She had no idea why we would help her that much, but she made a comment the other day that we're making it very hard for her not to believe.
In Birmingham, Alabama, Taylor and Lindsay McCall, who started that, said that the mayor has come to them and said that if your movement were to ever move out of Birmingham, we would have to raise taxes to handle all the good that your people are doing.
See, these are little snippets or pictures of what we believe the church is actually to be in that in a time when our street cred has never been worse as a movement and is tied to politics and political leaders and all sorts of weird factions. What if we are known like we used to be known for the people that brought prosperity to a city as Proverbs 11:10 says, "Where the righteous prosper, the cities rejoice.".
That's a very unique idea. So when you begin to build a kingdom ecosystem, you're building a city within a city - like Jesus says, that you're salt and your light and you're like a city on a hill. That's what we think building the church actually is today. And so when we think about ecosystems, the disciples leverage their resources and their income and they create more income and enterprise, not only to employ other people, but to sustain their livelihoods. So they never have to charge for what they do. Can you imagine that, if church was completely free?
We actually believe historically that it was. The gifts of the spirit were given, little substructures of church, house churches, and micro churches. They're free environments. Almost everything you do related to the ministry of the church can be free. And so then the monies that we use, they don't just have to go into paying for one person to preach on the weekends. The monies that we give can actually go to build and develop other businesses that will and then in turn fund our missionary.
So imagine that, just a bunch of your friends got together and you began to build out an ecosystem of neighbourhood micro churches, little micro businesses, not only to sustain your livelihood, but to engage the culture and to bless it. And then maybe someday they would look at us and go, "You're making it hard not to believe."
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