Without new churches we are going to soon be in some real trouble as a denomination. New Churches are needed all over the place and in this writing I am not suggesting that we not take the risk ... I do suggest we recognize this is not a walk in the park and it is very hard on everyone when we experience failure. What I am saying is don't just approach planting a new church as if you are on a picnic. As Alexander Mack said to those early Brethren, "Count Well the Cost" because there are risks.
The risk of spending our dollars on Church growth
The Church of the Brethren as a whole is not committed to planting churches. If we were, we would be doing it more. Disaster relief and peace and justice issues take the major bulk of our time, energy and money. Nothing wrong with this I guess, only when the fields are white with harvest the laborers are few, our laborers have committed all the eggs to other things. We need face the truth Church growth is not a emphasis or priority within our denomination.
The risk of associating with people who are "lost"
The Church is not really interested in reaching "new people for Christ." (I am not sure we want new people in church... it will change us.) Oh sometimes we are happy to see and welcome the nice Christian family from over at "nice church". But a family that is a single parent, on welfare, with kids who do not know how to behave in church, or the poor who has no money... frankly we are not interested in them much. (If we were, we would model Gilbert Romero's Church in Bella Vista Ca. more...) Face it we are not interested in our visitors much. Few churches have visitation teams. IF they do they are interested in middle class Chistianized America not in the "lost". If we invite people who know nothing about scripture and are hooked on rugs, they may corrupt our church family. They may molest our children.. They don't smell good. If we have homeless people come to church what will people say and think? I am afraid that we have forgotten the key of church growth ...a passion for the lost and that Jesus can and does change peoples lives... We don't even want to recognize the lostness of so many. We have forgotten that true love involves great risk...
Risk of being forgotten
Church planters are often forgotten from the local churches , districts and denomination. People from the home churches are worried about funding and older churches would rather spend funds on revitalization rather than spending those funds on new development. They are worried about survival of the their own church. Pastors often guard their territory and are afraid that they will lose people to the new churches. There is coldness and a holding off those who are church planters. There is little collegiality for new church development pastors.
Risk of rejection
New ways of reaching people is threatening. Lots of people with lots of ideas but few real workers. Who will knock on doors. Who will make phone calls. How do you do this stuff when no one is home during the day. and no one wants to be bothered at night when they are home. Ask any telemarketer what peoples reaction to them is. Rejection
Risk of time
It takes time for a church plant to grow and bloom. In a quick fix society we are not much willing to spend the needed time to help church plants survive. If in 3 to 5 years we do not see 100 people in church on Sunday mornings, especially in new churches they are not successful. Many churches close with 20 and 30 people attending. They can not support a pastor....Pastors move on, and the District leadership choose not to find a new preacher for the struggling congregation... after all, who wants to go to a struggling small church with no owned building..
Risk of hard work
Its hard work planting a church. door to door... is not fun. finding funding is not easy... there are lots of rules (some written.. some not..) about what you can not do. "Don't ask for funding outside your district." "Don't go to membership of other churches for help." City laws and codes against churches meeting in certain areas. Lots of ground work to do... Lots of experimenting and lots of things that do not work... Lots of people bringing great ideas and trying to decide what to try. Lots of keys on your key ring... tons of them but only a few will open the lock of church growth...
Risk of failure
You simply do not just shut the doors when a church fails. People get hurt badly when a church start fails. They get left behind. The starting preacher leaves them. The denomination leaves them. Communities loose benefit of the church and its leadership when a church closes. Ask any one who has been left when a church fails. I know of a couple of church failures where whole families were destroyed. Marriages failed. People left the denomination because they felt the abandonment. The attitude of most is that closing a church is no big deal.. People will get on with their lives. But the truth is...it hurts like a loss of a child. Most of us who have had a church loss will never quite be the same again.
Risk of leadership
I know a pastor who was called every thing from a liar, to a crook, to a manipulator, in his church planting experience. He was told by District Leadership "now Pastor Just trust us...": but people who he respected and loved turned their back on him when the times got rough. When he could not pay his rent and his electricity was about to be turned off, his church board said "oh my - oh my" and they then went home to their warm beds. This Pastor was like a sacrificial lamb. Planting pastors work long hours with little physical and emotional help. Ground work and follow-up are needed for planting pastors. We need to really check an area out well, before we start a church there. What studies are being done and by whom? What support systems are in place for pastors and people left behind in the vent the church fails.
Now dear brothers and sisters do not get me wrong.... I believe that church planting is vital and much worth the risk... but face the risk...be prepared for it...
Don't hide from risk. Risk is a deep part of life. My greatest concern for the church today is that we step out in faith and do what we are called to do...It is very important that we "count the cost".
Face the fact that Church planting will cost people something.... often it involves time, dollars, and most of all picking up a Cross. It is a risky thing... Not something for the weak or with little experience. It's for the brave...very brave... It involves faith and lots of work....Yes we need to plant new churches and find church planters who are willing to risk. Just recognize the risk?
How often we use the term.... "Itís Those people". A street lady recently said to me... "I think its kind of funny when we are referred to as Those people...Who are those people? They are those who are outside of us people..."
I recently read how the Pharisees looked at people who were outside of the good Jewish community. They to referred to them as "Those People" This meant that they were illiterate and unlearned. IT also meant that they were lost. The Sad thing is that those religious folks were glad Those people were lost. Not just happy.... They were joyful about this.
It meant that Those People would be cast out and away from God. It meant that a good Jew did not have to deal with them... Those people were non-people in the Jewish world. It meant that you had no business dealings with them.. it meant that you didn't talk with them, or eat with them. It meant that you would rather your children were dead than be married to them.
It was into this mentality Jesus came... He had a different view... He believed that all people had value...He said, I came to save the lost. Those who are already found do not need a Savior.
I wonder what he meant by that...? I wonder how that applies to all those who believe they are found in the church today?
More and more I believe we need to come down and associate ourselves with those on the lost side... Maybe Jesus can find us too... What I would do different
I was with the Moreno Valley Congregation in Southern California. I suspect there were a lot of reasons for our failure there.
- I was a Country preacher in big city..... Maybe...I had lots of ideas
about personal one on one evangelism...
relational evangelism... but never really made impact on community.
- Because of long commute of people to and from work...we were not able
to really reach them.... they were never home
and when they were they were exhausted.. That may change as business and
industry move to that area...
- The City was not really church friendly... lots of blockage to use of buildings and lots of costs.
- Possibly need for more pre-ground work as to need with in community.
- I was really kind of lost as to what was needed there...still am....We tried a lot of things but few worked ... I doubt we prayed enough ... Major need in church planting.
- I ran out of energy in the end... discouragement was an issue as was encouragement... numbers seemed important... (today I believe they were not...)
- Ran out of money...
- Depended on traditional styles of church.
- Everyone lost their nerve.. especially me...faith kind of went out the door...
- One to many person told me it wasn't going to work and I believed them... I was amazed at how many people told me, in the end, they knew it couldn't be done... If all those folks knew that, then why did I get a call to come do it...
Doing it again. If we had it to do again... I think we would held more church in the park... We would have gathered all the people we could, and probably would have held prayer/worship service; lots of singing...and then went out and cleaned a vacant lot or painted someone's house. We would have had a soup kitchen in the park every Sunday... We would have held an anointing service every Sunday as well.... We would have forgot most of the rules about holding church... We would have had more fun...We would have given every one who came to our services a t-shirt that said "Continuing the work of Jesus" and we would have worn them whenever we would meet.... lots of balloons... lots of celebration...
We would not pass a collection plate for an offering.....at least for the first three or four years. If people wanted to give $ to the churches support they could send a check to the District office.... We would have written letters to everyone wee knew asking them to support our church with prayers and if they really believed in what we were doing ...send funding.... I would have broken more rules...and challenged the establish church more. We would have had no board structure.... we would function by agreement of the whole. We would have rented no building... no office... We would use a cell phone and held office hours in the park or a local hangout.
I would have spent more time with homeless people and people from the wrong part of town. We would take the money that we spent on advertising and thrown it into the street... (we would have attracted more attention than we ever did on a newspaper ad or "Phones for You".) We would have not used hymnbooks. We would have advertised for volunteer musicians in the classified ads...Music music.. Lots of good lively fun music... music my children would enjoy. We would have spent more time with preachers from other cultures and ethnic back grounds...We probably would have tried to have them join us in a team type ministry...and been less concerned about denominational banners.
Many in our church denomination are singing the blues and not understanding that This Church is not doomed for failure. "Paul in Romans asked us that "IF God is for us , who can be against us?" We have a great doctrine to preach and teach...This New Testament and Jesus is a wonderful Creed.
For many years I have heard of the great leadership of the past. A. Mack, Dan West, M.R. Zigler, etc.
I am told that we have few great leaders in the church today. This is simply not true. We have some really great leadership. We also have a lot of could-be leadership, who are not leading. They are waiting for others or are afraid to lead.
When I came to Mt. View in Boise, I found that we had an almost unreadable budget. We honestly did not know where the money was, or how much we did or didn't have. We have a retired bank executive who taught banking.. The problem was not lack of leadership... the problem was leadership who was not leading. No one was willing to take the bull by the horns and design a budget that would work. "After all we don't want to offend anyone or interfere". With some encouragement, my "Banking Brother in Christ" and some others, put together a great budget format that allows us to have a clear financial statement. Leadership must be allowed to lead.
It is my belief that to many preachers are afraid to lead. We need to become more prophetic in our preaching...We allow ourselves to get self satisfied... at times afraid...We take the safe ground.
Congregations need to face the fact that they have the tools to grow... We have the tools to plant churches. We just need to use them. We must become concerned and active in reaching people again. We need to really love them and care. We must stop looking at the lost as "Those People" and recognize they are like us....OFTEN we are the lost.
I hear all the time that no one knows who the Brethren are. The problem could be solved if we really want to solve it. We need to become bold....do something different. Lets get excited about what we are doing.... as a church family... we need to tell our story more.
Ask the Mormons... a few years back no one knew who they were either.. They risked a lot on a nationwide ad campaign. They talked about Family and Family Values. It did not take long before many people realized that the Mormons believe in family. Today few have not heard of the Mormons. They also have a two year serve program.for their people. Most Mormons go on a mission. They preach their word. (B.V.S. could be a great evangelism tool with some advertising to have people come and join us )
The Brethren have a great track record from the past. But M.R. Zigler, and Dan West died a number of years ago. Leadership need to lead as they did. I am told they were seen as radicals in the denomination.
Here is one for you to consider: HOW ABOUT, WE TOO, DO AN AD CAMPAIGN...Letís recognize that we need some rebuilding years for the church as a whole. Lets set a portion of resources aside in our district and national budgets and tell the world who the Brethren are. It is difficult for local churches to have the resources to use for this. But it could be a denominational thing we could all do together.
We all know that we have a good message... Let's get creative. The ads could be inviting as well as teaching about who the Brethren are. Lets go out and seek new Christians.... lets teach them what we believe, and that we think we have something that's a little different. Letís become a peculiar people again. Not necessarily in dress but in that we really care for people.
We are humble. We don't want to brag. There is nothing wrong with humility... but the truth is we are stuck with a false humility that is giving us an excuse to not talk about our faith.
This denomination is a great Church Family. We have been on the cutting edge of the Christian Movement. Heifer Project, CROP, Brethren Volunteer Service, SERRV, Disaster Response, Peace Citizenship Studies, Our many Colleges, and Retirement Homes... ... all are proof of our creativity and message. There is so much we can show others about and enlist them to come help us.... "do this work of Jesus"
These ARE Building years... Years of Renewal. There are a lot of "NEW BRETHREN " wanta-bees out there... they just need to get to know us. New Church Plants and Church Growth go hand in hand.
When we move away from fear, that we are a dying church, and recognize that Jesus through the COB has something to offer people, then we will grow and also build churches.
There are a lot of great things happening in our churches. But we focus on the negatives a lot... I am concerned that some of what I have written about new church development may focus on negatives too. (Still I believe we need to address some of those issues)
We need to move on to the positives. A Big Question is, how do we do the work of Jesus? I believe we need to ask that question over and over... We need consider how we really help people, who need our help. The Great Commission said preach and teach.
There are a lot of people out there who are hungry for the message of Jesus; who need the touch of Jesus. I am finding more and more that people on the street and community need our love.... I believe that Jesus empowers us to reach hungry people. Often the Only Jesus others meet is the one they see in me. The question then becomes what does Jesus look like in me and also in the church? Lets find needs and meet them... "Continuing the work of Jesus Simply, Peacefully, Together.." It's an interesting tag line isn't it?
As Jeff Newman Lee recently stated: "When the Brethren Church is brought into an area the people will need it. It will be an agent used by God to bring life to those people. Their lives, their marriages, their children, their community will all be stronger because we believed enough in Jesus and his call for our lives to bring them the church. God gives us power to build community. Who knows better how to be community than we Brethren? ....But we need to be community right where we are now. 1) Learn how to bring people to Christ. 2) Learn how to teach them to be disciples. When we forget these two points, well we might as well close shop. Building new churches is an incredible way of keeping our Good News fresh."
Rev. David McKellip, Pastor
Mountain View Church of the Brethren
About the author
David McKellip attended McPherson College and Boise State University and began his ministry at Bowmont Church of the Brethren south of Nampa, Idaho, at the age of 24. He served 8 years at Boise Valley Church of the Brethren, 9 years at Salkum Church of the Brethren in western Washington. While in Washington he completed training as an Emergency Medical Technician and was Chaplain for the fire department. In 1991, he was called as New Church Development Pastor, in the new city of Moreno Valley, (Population 145,000) California. He served Pacific Southwest District as District Youth Minister for 4 years. While in Moreno Valley he also served as senior Chaplain for Moreno Valley Community Hospital. On December 17, 1996, the City of Moreno Valley honored him with a City Proclamation as Valued Citizen. Currently he is serving as Moderator of the District of Idaho.