I viewed an advertisement for a church for sale the other day. It was a church much like ours. Large auditorium, mutli-media capabilities, beautiful children's areas. And it made me think, "what would ever cause us to put this new facility that we're in on the market?" (this is a horrifying thought for me after 5 years of intensive investment into this new facility!) We have tons of acreage for future expansion - so I don't forsee a space issue. The only reason to sell would be that Grace would one day die, board up the windows, close the doors, and throw in the towel (what an uplifting blog post Derek...)
A trend is already underway - in Roman Catholic Churches in Boston, Toledo, even Johnstown, PA, churches are boarding up their doors and windows, or consolidating 4 or 5 churches together into one because of dwindling numbers in the pews and dwindling financial streams. Mainline denominations are not far behind. United Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran... We at Grace are experiencing just the opposite - growth - life - vibrancy.
Now don't get me wrong, the Church - as in the universal church - will never die. Jesus promised that he would build his church and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. However, individual local churches are not automatically protected from extinction - as we can see by all the churches across America that are closing their doors every day. My prayer is that all types of churches who promote Jesus Christ would thrive and grow and be fruitful. I also believe that some churches need to die because they may be doing more damage than good for the cause of Christ. Churches whose vision does not match the vision of Jesus should just stop.
So how does Grace take steps to ensure vitality and life for many generations to come? In addition to maintaining an intense focus on our vision to reach out to those who are far from God, and to help those who are following Christ to follow him with more vigor and depth, in addition to consistently challenging people to invest their time and resources in kingdom causes, and hiring good staff members to champion the mission of Grace - we are taking an interesting step this year to insulate ourselves against extinction - or even worse than extinction - irrelavence. We feel so strongly about this - we have made it one of our 4 major church goals for the coming ministry year.
Here is the way we're phrasing the goal: "Begin the process of empowering younger generations to lead the church and influence ministry by assuring that we achieve 10% growth in the number of millenials (those born between 1980-2000) who are serving in each ministry department at Grace." One of the ways that the church can fight off extinction is to stay young and continue to reach and empower new generations to follow Jesus. We have modeled this philosophy by the way we have staffed at Grace (our last two hires are ages 20 and 29). But we need to assure that "young blood" is filtering in to each department and affecting how we do ministry.
The world is completely different for teenagers and 20-somethings than it was for this 37 year-old dinosaur and those older than me. Without compromizing the scandal of the gospel in any way- we must figure out how to reach out to them, and grow them in Christ, and connect them to the church, and empower them for ministry, and facilitate their worship to a Holy God. The way that we do these things will be different than the way we have done it up until now.
With the ministry staff that we have thinking and strategizing about this, I am confident that Grace will continue to re-invent herself for increasing effectiveness. Those in our church who are older will be called on like never before because the Scriptures command them to be involved in this process of training and investing in a new generation of Christ-followers. I'm convinced that Grace's best days are ahead.
What do you think are the most dangerous enemies to a local church's ability to survive and thrive?