A friend of mine made a comment the other day that has stuck in my mind. He pointed out that so frequently we pray for revival and for persons in our communities, cities, and nation, to come to know the saving and healing love of Christ. We encourage our pastors and our church members to take the work of evangelization seriously, we run outreaches to the young people in our schools, we prepare and plan Alpha courses for the adults, yet somehow we don't truly believe that these would be of any effect...
That may sound shocking to you - certainly shocked me when I first thought about it! We plan for failure!
Do we really plan our Churches for failure?
Well, let me ask you a few questions that may help you to clarify this shocking thought...
1. Let's start small - how often do you encourage ALL of the members of your Church to get involved in service activities in your Church? If you don't do it often, that could already be a problem!
2. However, let's say you do it fairly frequently, let me ask you what would you do if EVERY member in your Church turned up to serve in some ministry or another one Monday morning!? Would you have enough work for them to do? Honestly, would your Church's 'volunteer' systems cope with every person turning up to serve? Would you have adequate systems to match people's gifts to the needs of your community? In fact, do you even know what your members' gifts are, and do most of our Churches really know what the felt needs, and real needs, of our communities (cities, towns, schools, businesses, local governments etc.) are!?
... I would have to be honest and say 'no' to both of the questions above, I never TRULY mean that I want EVERY member in service, after all if I did I would challenge EVERY member, at EVERY opportunity, and I would have systems in place for them to be able to serve IN THEIR AREA of gifting and expertise...
But, let's say that some of you out there were able to answer 'YES' to both questions above... let me ask a few more questions.
3. What would you do if EVERY PERSON in you city did come to know Christ!? Would you even be able to have all of them in worship services in the churches in your city / town (let alone have enough human and physical resources to disciple them!)
Our research in South Africa (with the many towns that our Global Day of Prayer coordinators visit) has shown the following:
- Even in a country that indicates that 78.9% of all persons in each town are Christian, the seating capacity of Churches in each town is only about 5% of the population (on average). This is something simple to work out, simply check how many people live in your city or town. Then check how many Churches there are and either check their exact seating capacity (which we have done in quite a few towns and cities), or work out an average (it would seem that in South Africa the average seating capacity of our Churches ranges between 200 - 350 seats). You'll be shocked to discover that the average seating capacity of the churches in your town or city is only about 5% of the population!
Now of course seating in the Church is not everything! But it certainly does count for something - my point is simply this, we speak and preach, and think about the total transformation and renewal of communities, towns, cities, provinces, and nations - yet we don't plan for them! It's as if we don't believe that it is possible!
So, here's what I'm thinking, and let me say I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter as well, but I'm thinking:
1. We need to become much more strategic, co-operative, and united in our ministry endeavors in our communities and towns. Working in the corporate world is teaching me quite a few things about strategic planning, goal setting, and resource management. We contracted the Stellenbosch University department of theology to do some GPS mapping for our organization some time ago - they got students and volunteers to ride through hundreds of towns, cities (and even some rural areas) plotting and mapping the various facilities, and problem areas, in each region. So, we were able to supply accurate data to pastors, elected officials, business people, on their region. For example, how many Churches are there in a region, what is seating capacity, how many of them run child care programs, how many of them have feeding schemes, how many of them have free clinics etc. In this was the regional pastors gatherings and local government could work together to pinpoint where development and investment could take place in order to have the maximum impact on that area. The maps also showed where there were 'hotspot' activities, such as illegal pubs (shabeens), brothels, drug houses, prostitution rings etc. These areas could then be prayed for, churches and social services in the area could then be targeted towards helping to turn around the pain, struggle and brokenness that is either the cause of the problem, or the outcome and effect of it. In short, knowledge is power, and when this knowledge is used strategically one can actually begin to bring about God intended change in a community, BUT it takes cooperation!
2. This leads me to my second point - namely that there needs to be a far greater strategic alliance between pulpit ministers (those who serve Christ primarily within the pastoral function of the Church) and marketplace ministers (those who serve Christ in places such as banks, schools, companies, government, health care etc.) This alliance is necessary for two reasons, first, if you're planning to transform your WHOLE community you had better start thinking of BETTER models of Church than the models we currently have! We simply cannot (and should not) build enough Church buildings and pews to fit everyone into 'conventional' church settings in our communities! Rather, we need find ways to create fellowship, worship, discipleship, ministry and service opportunities, communities of care and grace WITHIN the marketplace! That way, when a person comes to know Christ, they can be care for and discipled within their workplace! The second reason why this strategic alliance is necessary is because we need a variety of approaches, skills, and resources if we are truly serious about working towards significant and real Christ directed renewal and transformation in our communities!
We need Christian bankers to reform the economic system of our nation, we need Christian teachers to facilitate the development of Christian character in our children, we need Christian doctors and nurses to offer more than physical wellness as a solution, we need every person to live every part of their lives for the Kingdom of God to be realised and established in society... This is not something that can only be achieved by Pastors, Priests and ministers....
So, what's your thought? Do we plan for failure?
Next year I shall be delivering the Hugh Price Hughes lectures at Hinde Street in London (March 9-11, 2009) - I shall be speaking about notions such as this. The theme of the conference (at which Walter Brueggemann shall also be speaking http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Brueggemann
)is Refreshing Church.
I shall be talking about the emerging Church and finding fresh and creative expressions of being Church in our current context. Any insights, suggestions, and ideas would be very much appreciated!