I wanted to address the next reason why most churches fail to plant new churches:
Failure to understand and connect with their community
This happens to most organizations who have been around for a while. They’ve become “successful” to a certain degree. Their bills are being paid, and their customers/constituents/members are relatively happy with the way things are. Changes are made occasionally – a fresh coat of paint here and there, a new program or two – but the “innards” and ethos of the church remain the same.
What organizations and churches fail to realize is that once they reach critical mass, they spend much more time taking care of who’s there than they do in strategically organizing themselves to reach who’s not. Literally, every spare moment becomes wrapped up in keeping things running and in tending the existing membership. No one can step outside long enough to get perspective and realize that… the community is changing, hurting, and needful of your church’s desperate attention.
Churches fail to understand their community. The plethora of church activities into which church members dive with both feet totally consume their schedule. They don’t have time for community volunteerism or involvement because their Daytimers are waterlogged with church service and involvement. Churches have essentially, in many places, created Christian subcommunities in which their members can be born, live, and die without ever coming into meaningful contact with the broader community at large.
Churches have Family Life Centers with gyms, work-out rooms, craft rooms, daycares, etc. Why go anywhere else? The philosophy for such facilities is for the church members to bring their lost friends, co-workers and family members to this great place, with such great people, and their lives will be changed by it all. However, what happens too often is an initial excitement and magnetism that perhaps reaches a few, but eventually the facilities become “church buildings,” and most folks in town have never stepped inside them, nor would they dream of doing so. It’s not part of their routine.
So, rather than the church being out there – involved with the community in what the community is doing – we’re too often inside our own walls or homes, our lives too busy with church activity to rationally think about anything other than “getting by.” We must connect with our community.
A church doesn’t connect with its community by holding special events, whether evangelistic or otherwise and inviting everyone in the community to come to them. A church can only truly connect with its community when it is serving it. Jesus said that even He did not come “to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10.45)
He also told His disciples, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5.14-16)
So many others have commented about how these two verses can help us connect with our communities that I will try not to do so at length. Yet, it’s vitally important for us to see the nature of our connection: loving service; the nearness of our connection: “before men;” and the necessity of our connection: “a city on a hill cannot be hidden.”
A primary way that existing churches can experience renewal of their own mission and identity is by planting new churches or groups. As we’ve seen in the previous entries to this article, new churches and groups typically reach new people faster than existing ones. Not all the time, but most of the time.
I would heartily encourage any church to prayerfully and strategically consider planting a new church if they have not done so in the last 10 years. It would be an interesting model to consider planting one new church outside your existing community every 10 years and one new church inside your own community every 15 years. (I actually think this is too long, but it’s a good start.) If your church is more than 50 years old, then you might try making up for lost time. 😉
Only when we truly seek to understand and connect with our communities can we claim to be following in the footsteps of Christ. For He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing. He took on earthly flesh and became obedient – even to the extent of dying, so that we might enjoy the life we were meant to have in Him. (See Philippians 2.5-11) Let us follow in His footsteps, adopting the same ministry pattern and humility that He did in order for our communities to discover the life He freely offers.