Does it look like the neighborhood?
1 Peter 2:4-10
4 As you come to him, a living stone [n] rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 [o]you yourselves like living stones are being built up as [p] a spiritual house, to be [q] a holy priesthood, [r] to offer spiritual sacrifices [s] acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture:[t] “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,a cornerstone chosen and recious,[u] and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”7 So the honor is for you who [v] believe, but for those who [v] do not believe,[w] “The stone that the builders rejectedhas become the cornerstone,”
8 and[x] “A stone of stumbling,and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, [y] as they were destined to do.9 But you are [z] a chosen race, [a] a royal [b] priesthood, [c] a holy nation, [d] a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you [e] out of darkness into [f] his marvelous light. 10 [g] Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
This passage points out that Jesus fulfilled OT prophecy, in order to give us a restored relationship with our creator. But even more, we have direct access to Him. In theological circles this is called “priesthood of the believer”. Meaning we do not have to go through a priest to communicate with God.
Peter brings out these prophecies are about Jesus. He has called us to be a chosen people to bring others to Him. This is going be a “stumbling block to many”. This is because as humans we don’t like to be told what we can and can’t do. We often think we all have it figured out. Need proof? Tell a teenage boy he can’t physically do something, he will immediately try it. We as humans think we are basically good. The Gospel tells us we are broken in need of a savior, who is Jesus.
Our community needs to know and experience this. In our next installment of “This is NOT DiY” we are going to ask the question, “Does it look like the neighborhood?
Many of the churches in our small and rural towns have been a part of the community for a very long time. This church definitely fits that description. Do many in our community know more about your church than what’s on the sign as they drive by?
In the last couple months, I have been privileged to have found some very detailed historical documents in an online portion of the Indiana State University library called the Wabash Valley Visions and Voices Digital Memory Project. There are several works from the 1930’s by an area resident Named Emily Hobson that worked to pass the history of the area onto later generations, including some history surrounding local churches.
Any time that we looked at a homes in small communities in the Midwest, there was always “that one house”… It didn’t seem to “fit the neighborhood”. It could be the best looking house in a really bad neighborhood, or a kind of run down house in a really nice neighborhood. The values of homes like “that one house” are affected by what it is around. It could be that the neighborhood changed after the house was built.
What does the neighborhood look like?
In Missouri, we lived in a neighborhood that grew at different times. You see in the 1940’s it was cow pasture surrounding one house at the top of this huge hill. Then in the early 1970’s a few houses were built near the top of the hill, and it was open space all the way to the bottom, a block from the park. Then in the 1990’s there were houses and duplexes that filled in all the open space. We bought one of the 1970’s houses. The 1990’s houses (and a housing bubble…) made it more expensive to buy that house than it would have been in a neighborhood of 70’s houses…
In time, communities change. A church that doesn’t fit is going to affect how you can minister to the community. What do you do in a church whose community has changed around it while it hasn’t Does the makeup of your congregation look like the surrounding community? How do you minister then?
Ron Edmonson is a pastor that coaches other churches and pastors. He gives an answer to the question, What can we do?
Ron gives three options for a church in a demographically changed community:
Become like the community. – You can strive to represent your community again. This may require staffing and programming changes.
Leave the community. – You can relocate. You can relocate to a demographic that better represents who the church is now.
Slowly die in the community. – This is an option. It wouldn’t be my favorite, but it is an option. It could actually be a viable option if at the end of your time you realize your building is going to be better used by a church that does represent the community. You could begin to share your facility with a church like that now and coexist for the forseeable future, then when your church officially closes its doors the new church inherits the building.
Those are the three options. How are you going to proceed as a congregation?
This is where we are going. We are going to look at us, a look at the area around us, and what we can pray towards in reaching our surrounding area.
Long Point Baptist church, which is now part of First Baptist Houston used to be in a predominately white middle class neighborhood 40 years ago. The population shifted, and now the neighborhood is primarily Hispanic. How they continued was they merged with FBC Houston, a much larger church and re-staffed, and shifted their ministries in such a way that they were designed to reach the new population surrounding them. One of those programs is that they bring in college interns every summer to train in immersive urban ministries. A former youth student of mine from Missouri spent two summers there. He is now a missionary at an orphanage in Baja Mexico.
There has been change in the county where I live. Many locals have seen it over the past several years. I’ve looked at demographics of this area a lot since I moved here in 2009. There are two major ones that stand out to me.
- In 2008, The percentage of the non-agriculture workforce that leaves this county for their employment was 86%
- In the 2010 census, on question of Religious Adherence was NONE at 65.4%
One of these stats tells me that we have much work to do. The other says that we do not have a lot of time to do it in.
People are on the road longer, they do not have as much time at home, while still fitting in activities for children and grandchildren. Church schedules can easily become “just another thing on the calendar” if even thought of at all. Hold that thought, We will revisit this one in a little while.
In the Book “Autopsy of a Deceased Church”, Thom Rainer shares characteristics of a church that he was called to be a consultant for in 2003. They had decreased from 750 on Sunday mornings in the 1970s to 83 in 2003. Here are some of the things he found:
- The church refused to look like the community. The community began a transition toward a lower socioeconomic class thirty years ago, but the church members had no desire to reach the new residents. The congregation thus became an island of middle-class members in a sea of lower-class residents.
- The church had no community-focused ministries. This part of the autopsy may seem to be stating the obvious, but I wanted to be certain. My friend affirmed my suspicions. There was no attempt to reach the community.
- Members became more focused on memorials. Do not hear my statement as a criticism of memorials. Indeed, I recently funded a memorial in memory of my late grandson. The memorials at the church were chairs, tables, rooms, and other places where a neat plaque could be placed. The point is that the memorials became an obsession at the church. More and more emphasis was placed on the past.
- There were no evangelistic emphases. When a church loses its passion to reach the lost, the congregation begins to die.
- With few exceptions, pastoral tenure grew shorter and shorter. The church had seven pastors in its final ten years. The last three pastors were bi-vocational. All of the seven pastors left discouraged.
- The church rarely prayed together. In its last eight years, the only time of corporate prayer was a three-minute period in the Sunday worship service. Prayers were always limited to members, their friends and families, and their physical needs.
- The church had no clarity as to why it existed. There was no vision, no mission, and no purpose.
- The members idolized another era. All of the active members were over the age of 67 the last six years of the church. And they all remembered fondly, to the point of idolatry, was the era of the 1970s. They saw their future to be returning to the past.
When he left his time in 2003, he said the church would be closed in 5 years, It held on for 10, closing in 2013.
As believers, we look different and act different that the community around us. That has not changed for 2000 years. In 1st Peter, we are called to be a chosen people. Later in the same book, in chapter 3, he gives us an encouragement to always be ready to share the hope that we have.
What does that look like today though?
How can we bring a message of hope to the community around us?
How do we make involvement in a church community more than just another thing in the calendar?
What is our Vision for reaching this community?
We have to have a strong vision for reaching this community.
Remember that 65% statistic I said earlier? That is not where most of the “growth” in our churches today occur. In most small and rural towns, it’s the 30ish% that claim to go to church, ride the “church carousel” leading to “transfer growth”. I do not call that church growth at all. Let’s encourage those that are in other churches to build the Kingdom from where they are and reach the 65% together. There are more than enough that are unchurched or have walked away from church to fill all the churches in Parke county at that rate.
Can you imagine what your county would look like then?
Is that a vision too big? I don’t think so. If it’s something we can do on our own is it a God sized vision?
Here is an example of what God can do.
A young man named Craig Groschel Left the pastoral training in the Methodist church to become an independent church planter in 1996. Him and his wife started what became LifeChurch in a 2 car garage with 40 people and a borrowed overhead projector in Oklahoma.
Fast forward 21 years, they are a church with 27 churches in 8 states with total weekly attendance of almost 100,000 people. There is also a nationwide network of churches they provide resources to for free each week. They also have an online campus with almost 200,000 many visitors per week for services. The top countries served by Church online in order is Pakistan, India, and the US.
And they developed the Youversion Bible app that has been downloaded over 284 million times globally on many smartphone, tablet, and computer platforms.
The stat that really matters is this: In 2017, 13,000 people made a decision to follow Christ as a result of the ministries of LifeChurch. Wow.
“If your vision doesn’t compel, move or stir people, your vision is too small.” ~Craig Groeschel
I posted this information on Facebook, and Brian, a friend of mine in Northern Kansas who is a rural youth worker responded that he is on one of the LifeChurch online teams. One of his team members is from the Phillipines and another is a church leader from Indonesia. They get to work with people from all over the world. He gets to personally see 10-20 people per week come to Christ through the teaching online. He stated Pakistan as one of the top countries in participation each week.
Brian also works with a ministry that does global outreach to countries that are closed to missionaries. He has been able to reach 850 people in 60 countries, from his living room in Kansas. The site witnesstoall.com shows real-time numbers each day of people all over the world that are being reached in their language with a Gospel presentation and shows the number indicating a decision and follow-up discipleship efforts. Thousands per day from this one ministry. Wow.
That’s a God-sized vision. Do we have that? Can we do something like that? Well. There IS Wifi in the Fellowship room…
Do we know the people in the community?
Once we have the God-sized vision, now we need to know our community. You cannot know a community that you are not part of. Do you know your neighbors? Jared Markle, producer of the SOTG Podcast pointed out this week, ”it’s easy now with the Internet to help people in another state and send money when something like Harvey happens, but do you know your next door neighbor well enough now to be able to work with them and help them if there was a local emergency tomorrow? “
Are we as a church able and prepared to help those in our community in cases of local emergencies?
Do you know the county leadership? Do you know people in the schools? Do you know first responders such as Fire/EMT/and police? These are all people that can give us insight to the issues that face the families in our community.
Next, are you praying in your community? Are you praying for the other kingdom workers such as pastors and youth workers in our community?
Next, do you know the people in the neighborhood around the church? Do you know their hurts and needs? Can we be a beacon of hope and encouragement in their lives through relatively simple blessings?
Is there a neighborhood that you can regularly and intentionally serve, regularly pray for, work to build relationships with for the sake of the Kingdom? I will warn you that it will not be a sterile environment like many of our churches today. We would get to partner with any believers already there and encourage them to reach out to their neighbors with the love of Christ and build the kingdom side-by-side. That’s the kind of unity from the book of John that I spoke about last week.
It may be messy, they may not understand we would be doing this out of the love of Christ. But we will be called there to bring hope.
Pastor Jim Cymbala went to New York with no pastoral training and no experience. He had 20 people and an old run-down church. All these years later the Brooklyn Tabernacle has an average Tuesday Night Prayer meeting attendance of about 3500. Pastor Mark Buchanan in the book “Messy Dirty Ministry” describes the prayer meetings “felt like skydiving into a tornado, exhausting and exhilarating all at once”. Have you ever had prayer like that? Maybe we need to…
It all comes from Jims Cymbala’s heart of Prayer.
“The number one sin of the church in America is that its pastors and leaders are not on their knees crying out to God, ‘Bring us the drug-addicted, bring us the prostitutes, bring us the destitute, bring us the gang leaders, bring us those with AIDS, bring us the people nobody else wants, whom only you can heal, and let us love them in your name until they are whole.’” (Mark Buchanan, Messy, Costly, Dirty Ministry, Leadershipjournal.net
Do we have this level of love for our community?
These are all things that we must be intentional about. Looking at ways our ministries can serve those outside this building. Questioning the ministries that no longer serve in the way they once did. Maybe the reach of where God is calling us to reach with the Gospel is a little farther out than your town Maybe Beyond your state. As you pray for God’s will in what He is doing next, I encourage you not to be afraid of what God may be calling you to do GLOBALLY for His kingdom. It may or may not even be outside of your neighborhood.
As you determine where God is leading your ministry, marinate on the following questions:
- Is our vision for this congregation man sized or God-sized?
- Are we able and willing to reach the community around us?
- Is God showing me a neighborhood He’s calling us to reach?