What does a Session, Presbytery, or a denomination do to change the tide of shrinking churches and non- relevant ministries? What are we doing to change the tide? Should they sit in their board rooms sketching out what needs to be done? Probably not. A groundswell needs to be created by the people themselves and not from a top down structure. In essence it cannot be created artificially but must be created organically. This is where we have gone wrong in the past as we have made decisions from the board room instead of with the community that we wish to be with.
Your probably wondering what a groundswell is? Simply it is a group of people that begin to gather for a particular purpose or not. Many times it is simply for community. Then community happens, then a movement. It was not artificially created by a demographic study, but simply happens. As our church has been looking at growing many have told us that we need to simply create a “Contemporary Service”. The problem is that our church does not have critical mass in order to sustain a new service. What must be done is that we need to begin gathering people. This is not going to happen over a new service. By adding a new service we would be hoping that people would come in our doors. This is not how ministry is often done today. We don’t even know what a “new community” would even want. This is where a groundswell comes in. By creating community, and undercurrent is created by the community. The community gets excited and determines what suits their needs. It is not a professional survey, but programming is determined by the people.
In light of this I have been fortunate to be a part of a team that is trying to create a groundswell through a growing community. What we are doing is not very traditional in many senses and even raises an eyebrow or two. Our team has created a monthly even called Wing Fest where we go to the local bar and simply have wings. At first it was pretty awkward because I am not a bar person. As the months have passed the staff some of the locals have begun to recognize us. Also running into previous members is an interesting experience. More than a few times I have been told that it was good to see me where everyday people are. That is a great compliment! I have also taken an idea from a good friend of mine where they go to the local bowling alley to hang out. Currently we are going monthly to the bowling alley for $1 shoes, $1 games, and $1 food night. It was packed with people! People to interact with and maybe want to be a part of our growing community. As we head into the summer we will go weekly. Those are only a few of our ideas, the general idea is to simply not do everything in the church but be places where you can meet people.
If I can do it, so can you. Creating groundswells and community is not hard. At first it is awkward, but isn’t God calling us to be out in the community instead of waiting for people to walk in the doors. Ministry in this new climate is vastly different than previous generations. We have all the tools to start a groundswell within our church and denomination. All it takes is a bit of creativity and willingness to go there.
Last October I was chosen as a part of a team/ committee to work on the relocation of the church that I serve. We are a newly chartered Presbyterian Church that had been sharing facility space at Westminster Presbyterian in Port Hueneme for the past four years. Our leadership felt the call to move on, but it raised a question of how and where. In the early days of meetings there were so many questions that were raised. Those were from whether to attempt to purchase property or lease, how do we afford it or can we, what the vision of our church was, and what did Word of Life look like five or ten years down the road. Were we looking for the status quo or were we to do something more. There were more than a few disagreements among the committee members on what direction we were to take. By December we finally brought about a vision to our leadership and we started to narrow down the steps in which we are to take.It all started by launching a Capital Campaign, something that has never been attempted in our church. While some churches look for hundreds of thousands in these drives, we were looking much smaller. We were looking for forty to fifty thousand dollars with definite hopes for much more. In looking at these numbers we had to take into consideration who our congregation is. There is not much if any extra income for the majority of our families. There is no such thing as disposable income. Most of our congregation fights week in and week out to pay their bills, and we as a church had to honor that. There was no way that we were going to ask our members to sacrifice their own rent or food for the sake of a new facility. It needed to be approached in a much different way. “Building God’s Legacy” was a mantra that we took from another drive put together by a church in South Carolina that we found on the Internet. Asking our members to sacrificially give what they could to being a part of God’s Legacy in Oxnard is what we did. For some it could be a thousand and others a couple of dollars, and we made sure that each was honored the same way. A dinner was done and we invited fellow churches from the Presbytery to come and share in what God has done through Word of Life and what we as a congregation saw it going into the future.Now armed with pledges and money from the Walton Grant our group was now charged with finding a new facility. Through this searching process we have learned more about church, city, and business bureaucracy than I could ever image. We have run into potential owners of property that have been shady (to say the least) and into a city political system that makes me wonder how we even operate sometimes (now I know how to vote in November). Needless to say we are on the verge. We hope to announce to our congregation in the next couple of week the launch date at our new facility. All the permits that are required, prayerfully are getting taken care of. Now to move to the next phase…getting it up and operational.These past ten months has been a learning experience that I am glad that I traveled with some good friends. Sometimes I wanted to throw my hands in the air and give up, others sitting a wanting to strangle somebody, and others of sheer victory. We can see how God has led us to where we are. Stay tuned for launch day information.Coming to a theater near you…. WORD OF LIFE PRESBYTERIAN. Oh yeah.
“The church is called to undertaking this mission even at the risk of losing its life, trusting in God alone as the author and giver of life, sharing the gospel, and doing those deeds in the world that point beyond themselves to the new reality in Christ.” Book of Order G-3.0400.
It it is not often that one quotes from the Presbyterian Book of Order in ones sermon. Yesterday was one of those days. I was preaching in the morning about how we (the church) are the living embodiment of the Kingdom of Heaven, but not totally revealed (a whole another subject in itself). As as church we are called to be ones of unity, living out the embodiment of Christ, and are to be sent (John 17:20-26). Blah, blah,blah… I could just keep writing on what I preached on, but I won’t (because you can buy the CD, actually you can’t, we are not that high tech). But the point is that we, as our congregation are to shed our labels. No longer do we want to be the know as the Hispanic New Church Development or the poster-child of Hearts and Hands in our Presbytery, but point to Christ in all things that we do.
It could be quite easy to do the status quo and make our way through ministry, but is that what we as a church is called to? The Book of Order says that we need to fulfill the mission of the church, otherwise known as evangelism, to the point of its own life. That is a radical thought! How many churches can say that they do that or even willing to consider that: put the risk of closing the church doors on the line for the sake of the mission of the church.
And Trusting in God Alone…uh.. smart elders would want to have everything nice and structured and organized. Maybe a nice pie chart and everything else, maybe a plan b or c. In order that we can be best assured of success. That is not what this is saying. It is saying “JUMP! and I’ll catch You”. Trust in God, and not to what you can see, make logic of, or touch. Put full faith in God. Remembering that God is the author of life or in charge of everything… That’s right God is in control and not me.
Doing those deeds in the world that point beyond themselves to the new reality in Christ. Going beyond ourselves, huh? What does that look like? A new service or maybe two? Outreach to the underprivileged? Stretching the congregation to areas that they have never even dreamed that they are capable of? THAT IS WHAT IT MEANS!!!! It is not about what we are comfortable in doing or even willing to do, but beyond that. I loved having a fifty year old former elder who worked for NASA come and be present with wild and reckless Junior Highers. That was beyond himself and it made a difference in the kids lives. And in it all transforming themselves and others in fuller knowledge and depth in their own relationship with God.
In other words: GAME ON!!!
Don’t you hate it when all logic tells you that you should not do something, but faith and urging of the Spirit tells you quite the contrary. Yesterday our Session sat and pondered our future as a church. We could continue along and be satisfied with the status quo. Logic tells us that we can get by as a church that way, there is nothing wrong with our little niche we have created in Ventura County. Or we can feel the prompting of the Spirit and acknowledge the doors that are opening before us. It came back to a simple theme: Go Big or Go Home. That theme puts us in a scary place one that may put our very survival as a church at risk, but we are doing what we are called to. How many churches actually get to that point where their survival is on the line in doing the work of Jesus? I can say honestly not many… or at least in the PCUSA. While many non-denominational churches come and go… where they do leave it on the line, in the Presbyterian Church I would say that it is a rarity.As we plan to go big or go home, please keep us in your prayers. A verse has been circulating among the elders today that says: “They will know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.” Exodus 29:46 (NIV)While many can consider us to be stupid or reckless, isn’t that what God calls for us to be in response? Far too often we get rocked into a sense of being complacent and we do not become what we are called to be. That is agents of change and reconciliation in the world. I actually quoted our esteemed moderatorat the Session meeting (and it shows I am a geek). “Nothing is too hard or too wondrous for God.” This definitely going to be a time where we discover who we are. I am excited to tell the story of our church in a couple of years, how God moved this congregation and not us.Pray for us on this journey that we are about to undertake. It is exciting, no doubt about it.
Out of God’s will?
Lack of loyalty?
Is Ed Young talking about me or others like me? This video piece irked me. While I do see where he is coming from the way and wording that he uses bothers me. I have one that has been involved in a New Church Development within the PCUSA. Ed is concerned about members of staffs at some time developing new “church plants” (If you watch the video he uses air quotes, nice). While there does tend to be a vacuum of people that would go with this person, would the term “church pirate” be appropriate. After all the member of one particular church is a member of the kingdom of God rather the 8th Presbyterian Church. That person’s gifts may be valuable to that new church start. A leader cannot merely lick everyone and claim them as theirs. What type of theology is that? I do not know one NCD pastor whose goal it is to take members from churches around them to start another. The desire and passion is ALWAYS for those that are on the outside. It is called having a missional mindset. One that believes that we are to be constantly sent to be part of God’s redemption for the world. We are called, gathered, and SENT. Churches are not holding tanks for people rather a place to equip people to ministry throughout the world that is the basis of trinitarian theology.
Who Ed Young is describing is me in many ways. A staff member that left to be a part of a New Church Development down the road. Was there an initial vacuum to be with me? Of course. Was there enticements for people to join me? NO. Three years down the road how many are still with me? 3. Why? The initial reasons for their leaving was more than my departure. More than that most of those are NOT attending ANY church, and that pains me more.
In the end… I am dissapointed in the words by Ed Young and feeling a little hate about church planting from him. An article that was written in response to this said that Young like church planting… just over there. And that is so true, plant a church as long as it does not effect me or my congregation. What happened to kingdom building?