Congregations seeking to be vital and vibrant ten years from now are congregations seeking to impact tomorrow. Congregations hoping tomorrow will bring a return of the past are seeking to praise yesterday. Too few congregations are in the former category. Too many are in the latter category.
The Truth About the Past?
Traditional congregations praising the past have convinced themselves that certain things are true. First, their quality of worship, discipleship, and fellowship is so rich that they do not need to change it. They have arrived in terms of unity of worship style and meaningful fellowship among long-term members. Second, they have finally arrived at theological clarity, and even if it is not resulting in increased vitality and vibrancy—much less numerical growth—it is still the right pathway for their congregation.
Third, their commitment to mission action and community projects is so meaningful that even if their activities stop short of actually helping the people wrestle with what is spiritual, of faith, and about Christ, they are still doing the right things. In fact, they may even claim the term “missional” as their characteristic when they have an incomplete journey that does not approach the full Missio Dei.
Fourth, “evangelism” is a dirty word so they do not need to feel guilty about being an overly churched culture congregation who does not intentionally reach out to preChristians. They want any children around the congregation—particularly their grandchildren—to have an encounter with Christ at an appropriate time, but the thought that many adults would come into the congregation as new Christians makes them nervous.
Fifth, the era of the type of traditional church they have been may be over. Their goal, therefore, is to be faithful to the church as they have known it for as long as it can last. Or, they may see that their goal should be to help people rediscover the traditional church as they have known it. Tomorrow will indeed bring about a return of the 1950s.
The Truth About the Future?
Traditional congregations embracing the future have also convinced themselves that certain things are true. First, no matter how good their quality of worship, discipleship, and fellowship may be, continual incremental transition and change that acknowledges their past while simultaneously impacting tomorrow is the right pathway for their congregation.
Second, theological clarity is a call to action, and not a call to build three tabernacles and glory in their achievement. They must live into their theology and not boast in their theology.
Third, it is important to discover preChristian, unchurched, underchurched, and dechurched persons with whom they have the gifts, skills, and preferences to connect. A holistic ministry to these people that fully exemplifies the Missio Dei is imperative and not an option among many choices.
Fourth, evangelism is a core part of their ministry. They are not characterized by confrontational tactics, but by authentic and genuine approaches that understand persons who are the object of their efforts to be persons of worth created in the image of God to live and to love.
Fifth, the era of the traditional church is not over. They are in an era of traditional churches finding their future in God’s story. Discernment of this story and living into this story is their mission.
Oakmont and Others Are Impacting Tomorrow?
One congregation effectively impacting tomorrow is Oakmont Baptist Church in Greenville, NC. Check out their story at www.Oakmont50.com. On the occasion of their 50th anniversary as a congregation they want to share their story of impacting tomorrow. I plan to spend the weekend of May 16th and 17th with them to learn their story and to share it with other congregations. If you want to experience their story first-hand and on-site go to www.ImpactingTomorrow.info.
If your congregation is a traditional church that is impacting tomorrow, tell me about your story at GBullard@TheColumbiaPartnership.org.
Ask yourself these questions. First, are you committed to incrementally transitioning and changing the quality of your worship, discipleship, and fellowship? Second, does your passion around your theology motivate you to action? Third, do you have a holistic approach to the Missio Dei? Fourth, is evangelism a core part of your ministry? Fifth, are you on a journey to discern and discover God future story and to live into this story?