Doesn’t mean you should…
Recently, I’ve been thinking about how church growth strategies rip the roots right out of the church. Let me explain. My husband and I lead The Nehemiah Collaborative, a non-profits who’s mission is to connect churches to the community through community development and economic development; this idea that the church is at the front lines of community transformation not just heart transformation. We work with churches and faith-based organizations to move from outreach to development. When churches identify with their brand over their call to a community, they disconnect from the needs that exist within their footprint. This might not be new information to anyone paying attention to the missional church movement. However, what I do think may be new is how we address this problem that’s perpetuated a “grow the church” movement instead answering the call to redemptive community. The early church was rooted in a community. We see the Apostle Paul writing letters to The Church of Corinth, Ephesus, Galicia and so on. There is a profound reason why a church is OF, AT and IN a place. Place gives us permission to create change. Otherwise, we are saying we know better than those who live there.
Before I get into more hot water, let me be very clear. I believe it takes all kinds of churches, growing and thriving, to meet the needs in our world today. I am not disrespecting any one model. What I am doing is bringing front and center our motives and our methods..
Your church brand is not your call to a community.
Churches that cultivate experience alone are missing out on the struggle and the celebration that’s found in linking arms with your community. It can’t be one church multiple locations. That’s a great tag line (with deep regret I’ve waved that flag myself with good intension) but it lacks a place to call home. This matters a great deal. Where we live is a part of who we are. It’s not our entire identity but it is our context. Pastors who are passionate about where they live will invest differently than a pastor who commutes to church. THIS MATTERS. The same is true for a church that “plants” campuses in places where they want to be verses where they are called.
So how do you know the difference? Are you willing to live there? Are you willing to invest there? Are you willing to raise up leaders no matter what it takes to make sure lives are changed for decades to come? Are you willing to stand in the front lines against injustice? Do you care about the mayor or city counsel members who are making decisions that impact the community? Does it bother you to have more commuters than residents and want to wrestle through the reasons why? Do you want to know the names and stories of the business owners? Do you know the people who live on the streets and pan handle for their next meal? Do you care about the cost of housing? Do you know the function and dysfunctions of the education system? Can working families provide for their family and does this matter to you? Pastors who live where they serve, live and serve differently. Privileged or not, where we live impacts our influence. It’s kind of like we would not elect a mayor who was not willing to live in the city they intend to serve. Why does this not apply to pastors and church planting?
Anyone can plant an organization in a location and market the crap out of it. That’s NOT the church. The church is an organism, rooted in a place with people who live there and matter to God. Instead of planting a campus, could we ask a better question? Who has God called to lead transformation in the community? No one comes into your back yard and just starts digging a pool without your knowledge or permission. Why does this thinking not apply to where we plant churches. I believe it’s because we no longer tell pastors that their success as a pastor is directly linked to their churches contribution to creating healthy whole communities. Just read the Epistles if you don’t believe me. The success or failure of the early church was rooted in a place and Paul spoke very clearly about these course corrections. Imagine how this would change our strategies and our methods. It’s no longer just about the weekend experience, tithe dollars, numbers or salvations; but it’s also about showing up at the city counsel meeting. It’s about pulling the business leaders together within the church and asking them to help create businesses to address community problems with or without the churches name on it. It’s about how many other pastors they work with to cultivate thriving communities. It’s about being “in the know” on what ills the community the most. How would this change what we do? We measure what matters and what matters most is what is getting done and gets funded in the church budget.
One of the communities, where I currently serve, is beginning this new way ministry. They’re engaging with the local government authorities at their request and connecting with pastors. They’re launching a work force development ministry and dreaming about starting two new businesses. They’re also raising up the next generation of entrepreneurs through the mid-week kids ministry which is focused on the trades and the arts. They’re seeing their large sprawling campus as a possible site for affordable housing among other community needs. It’s not perfect but it’s a start. Instead of going multi-site and building a larger facility, they are dreaming about widening their reach and deepening their roots. They could have done something else but they thought deeper verse broader. They’re thinking about lasting verse right now. It’s a start and it’s unfolding.
So, ask a better question. Set aside the fact that you can and ask if you should? Ask why and who not just how. Measure differently. Think deeper and slower. Rethink growth. Instead of planting and start cultivating.