Project: Greenhouse Network
Leader: Joel Repic
Project: Greenhouse Network
Leader: Joel Repic
The Greenhouse Network is a decentralized, released, growing family of missional leaders and outposts (non-profit organizations, social impact projects, missional communities, businesses, and church plants) that exists to provide relationship between missional outposts and church plants for sharing resources, provide support for missional leaders, provide access for emerging leaders to existing social and material capital, and provide momentum for the regional multiplication of missional outposts and church plants.
The Greenhouse Network had its beginnings in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, a distressed community northwest of Pittsburgh along the Ohio River. The disinvestment of the steel industry in the 1980s left three generations of poverty with its attendant social challenges. In 2005, a youth development organization called Aliquippa Impact was birthed out of a 100+ year old Christian and Missionary Alliance Church called The Gospel Tabernacle that had begun to experience renewal. As that organization grew, served the community, and developed young and emerging leaders, lessons were learned about joining Jesus in mission among those experiencing poverty. Over the next decade, a family of non-profit organizations, social impact projects, missional communities, businesses, and church plants began to multiply in Aliquippa and throughout the Pittsburgh region with a special focus on post-industrial river communities.
This movement remained almost entirely organic until leaders in the movement formed it into The Greenhouse Network in 2018. At this time, an incubator called the Greenhouse Lab was initiated at the relational center of the Network to provide a service platform (marketing support, financial support, coaching, and training) to support network leaders, help people imagine and start missional initiatives, and provide pathways for the poor to create their own businesses. In 2020, the pandemic accelerated and positioned the network for multiplication. More partnerships were formed with traditional churches who were looking to engage mission in the milieu of the new challenges posed by the pandemic, and the Network formed a partnership with the Western Pennsylvania District of The Christian and Missionary Alliance with the goal of exploring how denominations and existing churches might work in synergy with networks to plant more missional outposts and multiply church plants.
As mentioned, the Greenhouse Network had its beginnings in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, a former steel town experiencing its third generation of poverty. The basic story of Aliquippa is found over and over again in the river valleys of Western Pennsylvania. Towns were built by steel and coal corporations that suddenly disinvested their resources in the 1980s. Those who could relocate did, but the collapse of these industries revealed previously hidden social stratification and systemic racism that made it impossible for some families to move away. For the last 30 or so years, many of these towns have been populated by white (often 2nd or 3rd generation Eastern European immigrant families) and African-American communities left with few options and experiencing the social isolation of poverty. More recently, these populations have been joined by newer immigrant populations (Latin American, Iraqi, Syrian, Somali, Nepalese, and more) drawn to the area by the incredibly low cost of housing and living. Our focus has been joining Jesus in mission in these river communities throughout the Pittsburgh region.
In the next year, the Network (sodalic) will partner with four kinds of churches (modalic) for the purpose of piloting intentional partnerships out of which we can learn reproducible models of sodalic/modalic synergy. The Network will partner with 1) a mid-sized, established church that is already heavily engaged mission in the community, 2) a large, established church that has relied heavily on attractional models 3) a small, established church that is just beginning to engage mission in the community, and 4) a new church plant. After one year, we will summarize lessons that have been learned from these partnerships for the purpose of sharpening practices and creating materials that can be passed along to others.
The Network is now partnering with denominational leadership in The Christian and Missionary Alliance in the Western Pennsylvania District. In fact, Joel Repic, the Greenhouse Network Coordinator, is now also serving as the Church Planting Director for the District. This is creating new, exciting territory to explore the possibility of denominational- network partnership. After a year, we will summarize observations we have made and lessons that have been learned that might be helpful to other denominational or network leaders that might benefit.
Within the next year, the Greenhouse Lab will double its capacity to serve Network leaders and help missional leaders start new initiatives. In particular, this means doubling our capacity to serve leaders in coaching relationships, financial services, marketing support, and training. This capacity building is necessary to position ourselves to serve leaders better.
For many years, the Network existed squarely in the territory of sodality, but now we are partnering with churches to plant modalic expressions of the church. Within the next year, we would like to be engaged in planting three churches that experience their beginnings in the context of synergy with the Network.
In our Network, Gospel proclamation and demonstration have always existed side by side. We are a people committed to activism and justice, and we are a people committed to sharing the Good News of Jesus with our words. As the Network grows in the next year, we will provide every missional outpost in the Network with training in evangelism. We believe our Network is currently very hungry for this type of investment.
The Greenhouse Network currently includes 25 missional outposts in the Pittsburgh region. We believe this will double in the next year. It’s hard to know for sure, but we believe 600-700 people regularly gather in dispersed Network spaces for ongoing discipleship, and we think the Network is building evangelistic relationships with between 1000 and 1500 people in our region. In 2019, we think the Network was about half this size. Most of this growth has happened since the onset of the pandemic.
In 2019, the Greenhouse Lab had 3 coaches. We currently have 24 coaches serving the Network. We believe this is indicative of the Lab’s capacity to continue to scale to serve Network leaders.
In 2019 (as far as we can tell), the Network saw 30+ adults proclaim Jesus as Lord and be baptized in water. Most of these had no background in the church and often testified at baptism that no one had ever shared with them the Gospel. We find this number to be quite low given the size of the Network, and we believe it is attributable to 1) (the need for training in Gospel proclamation in a network heavy on Gospel demonstration) and 2) the very difficult contexts within which most of our missional outposts daily serve, contexts which often require heavy relational investment over many years.
While qualitative to report, our Network is rooted in fasting and prayer. In recent years, we have watched prayer gatherings and practices, worship environments, and the mobilization of prayer teams significantly grow. It feels like the temperature of prayer is rising.
One final note, in all of this, we don’t believe we are yet seeing “Level 5” Multiplication. There are dynamics of addition and reproduction at play in the Network, but not yet true multiplying movement at an overarching scale. The attempt in the above goals and outcomes to make observations and learn lessons is an attempt to understand what multiplication might look like in our context.