Getting real about where we are at

10 02 2009

The loss so many of us have suffered (directly or indirectly) as a result of the dramatic downturn in our economy has been both very real and very painful. As a result there has been a contraction that is not only felt in the economy but in our ability to see the magnificent opportunity we have at such a time like this. We know the facts: 1) God is good – He cares about me and my family; 2) Our relationship with Christ is strengthened during times of suffering; 3) There are others with greater needs then us; 4) The gospel is for exactly such a time as this; and 5) We are the ones blessed and now called to bring Christ’s redemption to those around us.

What we don’t know so well (because so many of us have never experienced times like this before) is the opportunity. What if the vision to build bridges to our community was for such a time as this? What if that vision was manifest primarily by reaching people in real need? What if living that vision started now – completely disassociated with any relocation plans? What if we trusted God with our future and focused on the needs at hand?

Some of us have answers to these questions: 1) It’s not that bad in Tallahassee; 2) Give it a year or two and things will be getting back to normal; 3) We are already serving the community – look at what OFS does each week.

Let’s say for argument these answers prove to be true – can we say we have acted like Christ by just maintaining the status quo? What if it takes five years to “get back to normal?” What if things get worse?

Here’s a course of action that needs our serious consideration (pertaining to Wildwood Church):

1) Admit that the relocation project is stalled.
2) Admit that leadership has been detached from one another and in disunity for some time and that only recently have steps begun to correct this problem.
3) Admit that our finances are in decline – presumptively because of the economy.
4) Admit that we are not sure when we will move forward with relocation plans but to do so now would be not only imprudent but an unethical use of resources with the increasing needs in our church and community due to the state of the economy.
5) Offer to return funds to people who gave to the relocation project who are experiencing financial hardship or who are dissatisfied with the lack of progress with the relocation plans.
6) Get permission to use the funds given to the relocation project to meet extraordinary needs of individuals and families in our community who have been affected by the economy.
7) Implement a church-wide collaborative form of communication to identify those extraordinary needs and solutions for those needs.

Risky? Without a doubt. What if people take us up on the offer to get their relocation contributions back and we give the rest away to people with extraordinary needs (and we do all that with a diminishing general fund)? But then think about the risk if we don’t act. What value is a vision to reach our community that we largely ignored during a time of crisis?

Perhaps it is premature to sound the alarm – perhaps this recession will not get much worse and be over sooner than expected. I am not a pessimist by nature but these are truly uncertain times – we have never tried to come out of a recession when the rest of the world was in it with us and the financial system had experienced such widespread failure.

No one knows the rules of how this game gets played out. Hoping for a soft landing and a speedy recovery is not a bad thing but I also don’t think it is a bad thing to discern what God would have us be about. Could it be that these uncertain times are the very windows of opportunity to advance God’s kingdom in our community? I think that this may be the real – the reality of what God is up to – that we need to be about.

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What does a bridge cost?

18 09 2008





Missional renaissance

9 09 2008

I just received an email from Leadership Network featuring four churches who have decided to move in a more missional direction.  I found the brief summaries of their stories both encouraging and motivating.  Change is not only possible but it can also bring more life to the congregation and the community:

Some strange and wonderful things are happening at Rivertree Christian Church.

After praying for 12 years about purchasing a local 85-acre farm and finally coming to a point in the congregation’s history where leaders thought they could pull it off, the church took a different direction.

Greg Nettle, senior pastor for the Massillon, OH church, explains: “When we announced that we’re not going to put up a $40 million campus…that we’re going to be committed to being generous as a church and give money away…people cheered in every service,” Greg says.

The announcement and the congregation’s response were unusual because such a turn of events is counterintuitive to most pastors’ dreams of growing a church, buying land, attracting even more attenders and seeing new Christians invite friends to help the church grow even larger.

Instead, some churches today are pursuing a different course that takes them out of the four walls of their church buildings and into surrounding communities. This adventuresome spirit is sometimes even taking them to other continents.

This shift toward first motivating church members to serve in their communities, rather than initially inviting community members into the church buildings is what some ministry leaders around the country are calling a missional impulse. And because this is not a new desire, but the revival of an old one, this ongoing transition is being called a missional renaissance.

The motivations leading today’s missional churches to adopt a more incarnational approach vary. And the leaders of these churches are motivated by a variety of influences – both internal and external – including Scripture, books, the example of other Christian leaders, or the success of a particular ministry within their own church.

Tim Senff, director of ReachOut , a ministry of Crossroads Community Church (Cincinnati, OH), identifies 2004 as the year his church began a serious movement toward more missional involvement with its local and extended communities.

The catalyst for the change was a building campaign in which church leaders decided to dedicate a percentage of the money raised toward practical assistance for others. Most of these designated funds helped the church build an AIDS hospice in Mamelodi, South Africa. Brian Tome, Crossroad’s senior pastor, had visited South Africa in 2003, and brought his passion for the project back to Cincinnati.

Crossroad’s leadership was surprised at the people’s response to the challenge and it began a season of change in the ministry emphasis of the church. Tim Senff reports that the congregation’s “Go Mamelodi” trips have “rocked the church” and “helped them to see the power of what the local church can do when they come together as a team.” Read the rest of this entry »





Church buildings and connecting

3 06 2008

People who don’t go to church may be turned off by utilitarian church buildings. By a nearly 2-to-1 ratio over any other option, unchurched Americans prefer churches that look more like a medieval cathedral than what most think of as a more contemporary church building.

The findings come from a survey released in April 2008 conducted by LifeWay Research for the Cornerstone Knowledge Network (CKN), a group of church-focused facilities development firms. The online survey included 1,684 unchurched adults — defined as those who had not attended a church, mosque or synagogue in the past six months except for religious holidays or special events.  Here is a link to the Lifeway site and survey results.

While I find these results interesting I thought another part of the survey was more insightful – “Places for the unchurched to connect:”

“Finally, the survey looked into what sociologists call ‘third place’ gathering spots. First place gatherings are where a person lives. Second place gatherings are where a person works. Third place gatherings are where a person comes “to hang out,” according to Stetzer.

“‘In the last few years churches have begun creating third place environments where the lost can come and just hang out,’ Stetzer said. ‘This study asked the question, what kind of places do the unchurched like to come to do this?’

“More than three times as many people chose a sit-down restaurant (47 percent) rather than any other single response. Other locations that topped the list include: a bar or nightclub (15 percent), a local coffee shop (13 percent), and a sporting event or recreational activity (5 percent).

“According to the survey, the reasons they meet with friends where they do is because these places are relaxing (62 percent), casual (55 percent), and fun (29 percent). When asked to describe in their own words design features of the kind of place they’d like to meet a friend, 16 percent of respondents referred to a quiet environment. Another 14 percent mentioned comfortable seating as a factor, and 12 percent said that the spaciousness and openness of the setting was important.

“‘CKN wanted to give churches another tool for churched and unchurched people to connect well to each other,’ Stetzer concluded. ‘One of the things this study revealed is the importance of space in relationships. Insights into these preferences enable churches to include space in which community can be built.'”