Brandon Bailey, organizing pastor of Tidelands Church here, had been working as a youth pastor at Mountain View Presbyterian Church in Marysville, Wash., for more than a decade as he attended seminary and made his way through the call process. 

One day, he was approached by leaders in North Puget Sound Presbytery about the need for a worshiping community in the Stanwood and Camano Island area. The area’s last attempt at a fellowship had crumbled in 2008.

“But there was still this need in Stanwood, and they said that the Holy Spirit gave them an ‘aha’ moment,” Bailey said. 

That moment led to a contact with Mountain View Presbyterian, which is within commuting distance, but culturally, is worlds away. 

“They decided to contact Mountain View about the possibility of being the parent church for something and for me to be the potential organizing pastor,” Bailey said. “This was well before the 1001 (new worshiping communities movement) thing was even on our radar screen, but the Spirit was obviously moving at the same time.”

His first response was interest. But he wondered, “Is this because I think it sounds fun, or am I really the right person to do it?” 

“I just assumed that anyone would want to do a church plant,” Bailey said. “I thought it was kind of the dream — to start from scratch and do new things.” 

So he, along the with presbytery leadership and the leadership of Mt View entered into a process of discernment including the PC(USA)’s Discerning Missional Leadership Assessments and the Starting New Worshipping Communities training. They came up with a missional plan, a foundational statement and a budget. They applied for a starting new churches grant and secured funding through Mountain View and the presbytery.  

But as important as all of the planning and strategizing was, organizers listened and moved. At least Bailey and his wife, Kristina, did. 

“During the process, my wife and I realized that the only way this was going to work was to move into the community,” Bailey said. 

In listening to the community, talking to people, learning more about the area and praying, they realized how vastly different this community was from the one they were living in, even though they were only 25 miles away. 

“Stanwood is fiercely a small town with a small town loyalty,” Bailey said, adding that the absence of big-box stores is evidence of a community dedicated to its small-town atmosphere.

Stanwood is connected to Camano Island by a land bridge. Camano Island is also a small town, with an added island vibe that slows down the pace of life even more. 

“We felt strongly called to reach people who are busy on Sunday — those who have to work, but also those for whom a Sunday morning worship service would never even be on their radar,” said Bailey. 

He was reminded of this reality while coaching his son’s soccer team. One of the young kids asked him what he did. When the child found out that Bailey was a pastor, his response was, “What’s that?” 

“We could throw all kinds of ads and invitations at these folks but that is not even a thought in their mind,” said Bailey. “That is a model that might work in the context of church people, but we can’t expect to reach the people we want by using that as our model.” 

Instead, missional communities provide a way of living life together. This does include meeting, sharing a meal and studying scripture together; the community has begun meeting weekly for worship. But it also includes an outward focus.

For Tidelands, this focus is a local elementary school on Camano Island. The group has gotten involved with the PTA and a program that encourages fathers to participate in their childrens’ schooling. It is also involved with a local food bank that provides meals to some students. 

“The only way we are going to reach these people who need to hear about the gospel and who are not going to come to a worship service is that we have to be in their lives, engaged in their lives,” said Bailey. 

Erin Dunigan is a freelance writer, photographer and pastor who lives in a small coastal community in Baja California, Mexico when she is not following her wanderlust out into the world.