I want to spend several weeks exploring the idea of where we are right now in the CGGC, particularly as we anticipate looking forward into the future and discerning where the Lord wants us to go and what He wants us to do as His people. Some of what I share will be from a broader view – where the CGGC reflects what’s going on across the larger evangelical church in North America. At other times, the sense will be much more specific to the CGGC and where we find ourselves in this critical moment.
After a three week hiatus, it’s good to get back to looking at where are we now. In Part 1 we looked at the reality of living in a society that’s become increasingly pluralistic. In Part 2 we did the difficult work of naming or owning the fear that a lot of us are living with during these times of upheaval and change. In Part 3 we faced the reality that our leadership is growing older, and dieing in greater numbers than the larger church as a whole.
As we consider where we are in this moment, particularly as we look forward to where God is leading us in the years ahead, we must do some honest evaluation about whether or not we’re reaching the people God calls us to reach. Recent studies show that 85% of U.S. churches are either plateaued or in decline. In this respect, I believe we see very similar trends in the CGGC.
Think about your own congregation for a moment. Who has your congregation reached in the past year or two? Who is relatively new to your fellowship? In some of our churches, it may be difficult to identify anyone who is new. It may be even more difficult to identify anyone who has come to follow Jesus in the past year or two. For those of you who can identify some new individuals or families in your church, I have another question for you. Do you know where they came from? Here’s my hunch: oftentimes the new people in our congregations are coming from other congregations. We’re not necessarily reaching people, we’re just shuffling sheep. The Baptist church in town had some problems and several “new” families came to your church. The new preacher at the Presbyterian Church hasn’t connected well with his own congregation so several folks have found their way to your fellowship.
I don’t know of many congregations that are growing who are doing so by reaching large numbers of folks who weren’t previously attending another congregation. I know it’s dangerous to make such sweeping generalizations, but there aren’t many of our churches who are growing because they’re reaching previously unreached people. Are we reaching some, yes, but a lot of our growth (where we have growth) is simply transfer growth.
Here’s the catch. We’re not set up well to reach the unreached in our culture. We think like church people in Christendom instead of missionaries on the mission field. We’re set up to faithfully hold church “services” as if most our culture is looking for a church service to be a part of these days. We’ve built it but most of the time, they’re not coming.
We’re going to have to think differently and act differently in order to reach the people that God is calling us to reach and it’s probably going to require something different than what we’ve been doing for the past 20, or 50 or 75 years and that’s where the discomfort and unease set in. This will require something different from us as the followers of Jesus.
The people we are called to reach are not coming to us. They’re not interested in our worship services. They don’t even consider us all that relevant anymore. They’re not interested in bait and switch methods and they see through such gimmicks fairly quickly. If we’re going to reach them with the love of Jesus, it’s going to require a different type of effort than what we’ve been accustomed to in the past.
So I’m curious. Does this resonate with what you’re seeing in your local context or do you see something different. I’d love to hear some interaction on this one.
CGGC eNews—Vol. 13, No. 9