PK recently published a blog called What If We Re-Think Church. As I posted my reply, I realized that in itself could quickly turn into a blog. So after posting the condensed version, the very condensed version, I'm elaborating on my thoughts here.
I would first like to make a disclaimer. Often when someone presents something they believe is is working well, people immediately begin to examine it in order to find out what is wrong with it. It's just the way we are. We want everything to be perfect and some of us can find out what is wrong...or what could go wrong pretty fast, myself included.
Please know that I am just sharing my own experience with my local church. If you were to visit it, you might absolutely hate it and think that it's a terrible place. I am only sharing with you what we are doing and how it seems to be impacting us as well as the world around us.
We're not perfect by any means. Only about 13% of the attendees are actual members. Part of that is because attendance has increased by 83% this past year (yes, we nearly doubled in size from an average of about 1,200 attendees to an average of 2,200 over the past few months). Like everyone else, we have do have people who simply come every Sunday (or Saturday) and that's that. However, we have a strong community of people who truly desire to do life with one another as they do life with God.
This church started out about 13 years ago with nine people. After the first service, one couple said they weren't coming back. It wasn't a promising start. By the time my husband and I started attending there about 2 1/2 years ago, they had purchased the warehouse where they were meeting and running about 1,200 people (a bunch of people had just joined from another church which had split and over the next few months things settled at about 950 attendees).
It was an interesting experience for us in that we came to this church knowing no one. We had recently moved to our community and while we were still within driving distance to our old church (average attendance 45), we really felt that God wanted us to get connected with the community we had moved into. As I was praying about this, I received a welcome packet with a DVD in the mail from the church. I liked what I heard, checked out their website, saw they were just down the road from us and the rest was history.
I expected to get lost in the crowd. That did not happen. Greeters met us, people introduced themselves and we just liked the feel of things. We liked the vision and enthusiasm. Oh and one other thing we really noticed. There were a lot of men. I mean, you really, really noticed this. There seemed to be men everywhere. I was used to the women far outnumbering the men. That didn't seem to be the case here. I took notice of that because I truly do believe it makes a difference.
Our sanctuary held 500 people. So, we had three services. A little over a year ago, one of the tenants moved out and we expanded it to hold 1,000. You would have thought they would have went to two services. Of course not! How will you grow if you don't make plenty of room for people? A year later, they've decided things are getting too crowded again so we will be moving to four services soon. You have to have a vision for growth.
You have to show the community you are there for them. We try to be of service to our community. We purchased three defibrillators for our town. We hosted blood drives. We get involved with community events and try to provide support for our community in a variety of ways.
Recently, the technical college in our community opened its doors to help those facing economic crisis. In addition to providing help with resumes, job searches, internet service, etc, the idea of providing spiritual support for people in crisis came up at the joint meeting between the city council and the technical college. One of the city council members, who does not attend our church, knew our senior pastor from Rotary. She recommended that they talked to him. After talking to him, our church was selected to be the church to provide spiritual support to those who were seeking it. This is just another way to "do life with our community as we do life with God."
We extend ourselves out into our state by pushing beyond our borders and heading into the inner-city. There are already established ministries there. Rather than start our own, we sought out a ministry we could partner with as many of these are in dire need of resources, both financial and also in the form of manpower. We work to provide that. We extend ourselves in the same manner globally through partnering with existing ministries, supporting missionaries, sponsoring mission trips, etc. I could go on and on but you get the idea.
Giving is important to our church as we believe God gives to us so we may give to others. We don't have a building program at our church. Instead we started something called Kingdom Builders two years ago. These are people who have said, we want to give additionally beyond our regular tithes and offerings to build and empower the Kingdom of God. We contributed the monies for the expansion. We paid for every high school junior and senior to go on a mission trip last year. We are currently working on raising funds to help a church in Russia purchase land and build a youth center for orphans who are leaving the orphanages and entering the "real world". The average life-expectancy for a Russian orphan is 30 years. It's rough out there when they lived in an institution all of their lives and are basically abandoned with no support. We're doing the same thing for an inner-city ministry and then we will do the same thing for our church. Notice the order of things. The world and community take precedence over us. The youth are important to us.
In February of last year, while in the midst of expanding our sanctuary and doing other necessary remodeling, our pastor got to stand before the congregation on three separate occasions to inform us the business manager had mismanaged funds and juggled the books to hide it while he tried to "fix" things. That previous Thursday, the business manager had come to see the pastor to confess what had happened. The church was completely broke. Then he invited everyone who wanted to know more details. A lot of people could have walked out that day. Perhaps some did but, the offerings that weekend tripled. An investigation by an outside firm later revealed it was due to overspending and poor management rather than theft but we still had a major problem.
Gifts from other ministries we had helped over the years poured in. We were offered interest-free loans from within the community and our denomination to help us get back on our feet. The Hispanic congregation we allow to use our facility rent free volunteered to pay our utilities for one year and decided they wanted to provide free janitorial services from then on as a way to show their thanks to us. That decreased our operating budget a bit.
One year later, all loans have been paid in full. All obligations have been met. The projects laid on our pastor's heart for the year were completed. God blessed and we ended the year in the black. The people had a heart for giving...and it flowed through our church, out into our community and out into the world.
I realize this is not the case in so many, many churches across America. However, I am writing this in order to paint a picture of how I believe church is supposed to be and let people know they are out there. They may be hard to find but they are there. We are not just here as a gathering place for people to worship, pray and learn. We are also supposed to be here to be the hands and feet of Christ in our world. We are here to be servants just as Christ came to serve.
May we all find a place where we can serve!