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Innovation Stories

Small Groups, Big Impact

Meet Innovative Leader Sam Lim
by Timothy Bowman | December 10, 2021
Photo of Sam Lim

Sam Lim is the lead pastor of Flow Church (flowchurch.co). Flow is a brand new church plant in Melbourne, Australia and part of the Australian Christian Churches, a pentecostal denomination. He was born in Malaysia, grew up in Singapore, and moved to Australia in 2003. Sam’s calling into ministry came at quite a young age, when he had profound experiences at youth camps. He was trained as a lawyer, but quickly got into ministry afterwards. Sam has a Masters of Arts in Theology from Fuller Seminary.

Moving around a lot across the globe has shaped him profoundly. He has lived in 5 cities in 4 different countries. This leader knows what it is like to be a new person in a new place. One thing that he noticed upon moving to Australia in the early 2000s is that the level of church engagement was quite diminished. In Singapore “faith can be really intense” because  many come to faith  from non-supportive contexts. People are all-in or all-out. “Being a Christian is a big deal in Singapore,”Sam shared. So, he was surprised when he moved to Australia and saw how the level of engagement among his Malaysian and Singaporian peers had diminished. 

Sam first felt called to be a church planter around 10 years ago. He was living in Sydney and leading a small group in his church that quickly grew to 60 people in just a few months. Other  people in church would articulate that there was something different about his small group and ask to join. Despite that experience of rapid growth, for Sam, church planting is not a numbers game. It needs to be a calling, “Not everyone should go into church planting,” Sam stated. One of the primary challenges he sees in church planting is that the attractional model, while not necessarily a bad model, was predicated on very different circumstances. For example, information is no longer a scarce resource; people are much more mobile and don’t stay around long. 

Social Capital

Sam wants to create spaces where people can process the stories of faith; spaces where people can be seen and heard. “Because of technology, every opinion [may now be] supported. At the end of the day you’re more likely to trust the people who you have known your whole life,” Sam said. “Those are the people with social capital in your life, not someone who is ‘out there,” he continued. “Just because you’re from Harvard, in a certain context that could even be a strike against you.” 

Forming relationships is vital to the church planting process. Sam sees deep connections between the competencies that missionaries need to have and the competencies that all Christians need in general. “We need to be a bit like Paul, doing cultural exegesis and learning the language,” Sam stated. “Jesus only did 3 years of ministry; he lived in a community for 30 years then conducted ministry. Jesus didn’t write anything down. The word passed down through relationships,” he continued.

Sam Lim speaking to a small group outdoors.

In order to emphasize the relationality of ministry and to help build deep connections between members at Flow Church, they gather in large groups for corporate worship on the 1st and 3rd Sundays of the month. Then, they gather in small groups in people’s homes on the 2nd and 4th Sundays. 

Networking for Church Planters

Sam has also been the project manager of a directory of church planting organizations and networks (plantermatch.org). Working with the Fuller Church Planting Initiative, the goal of PlanterMatch is that “No one plants alone”. The website works by taking the choices of planters about geography, theology and methodology, and matching them with the over 100 networks, denominations and other organizations listed in the directory. They recently introduced the capacity for planters to also use the site to find a coach. The aim is to help church planters find the support they need, get resources and training, avoid burnout, and create sustainable ministries. 

When asked what difference Jesus makes in everyday life, Sam says, “That I have a hope that endures regardless of anything that is happening around me or within me. I have an unassailable hope that is an anchor for my soul.”

Prayer:

Creative God, thank you for continuing to stretch the boundaries of what it means to be your church in the world. Sustain all church planters as they do the work you have called them to. Send your Spirit to gather the church together. Give us all your creativity and wisdom so that we can continue to find new ways to be your hands and feet in the world. Amen.

Read about other church planters and innovators in Faith+Lead’s Seeds Project here.

About the Author

Timothy Bowman is an ELCA pastor serving in the Southeastern Minnesota Synod and is a member of the Seeds Project at Luther Seminary.

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