200 New Churches in the Next Year?

Yesterday I stood in front of a television camera and recorded this announcement to go out with our Sunday broadcast from Richmond’s First Baptist Church:

Often when I’m out and about I bump into someone who says they watch our worship services on TV.  Sometimes they tell me that they go to the early service at their own church and then hurry home to watch, and although I’m honored, I secretly wonder if that’s not overdoing it a little (smile).  But sometimes they tell me First Baptist is their only church, and although they never actually come to our building, they watch every week.  If you are one of those people, then this message is for you.

I want to invite you to take part in something we’re calling “Microchurch,” a bold new initiative of Richmond’s First Baptist Church.  Here’s how it works.  Before next Sunday, think of one or two friends who might be able to come watch the broadcast with you.  Invite them to bring food—something simple and easy—so that after the service is over you can sit down and eat Sunday lunch together.  After lunch take time to share your concerns with one another, and then ask someone to lift those concerns up to God in prayer.  Finally, take up an offering, and talk about how you might use it to put God’s love into action right where you are—in your subdivision, your retirement center, your apartment complex, or your neighborhood.  If you need suggestions, give us a call at 355-8637, ext. 203, and when you do maybe you can tell us how it went for you.  If it works, try it again the next week, and then the week after that.  Make it a regular habit.  Give it a name.  And remember, it doesn’t have to be big to be church.  Jesus said, “Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am also” (Mt. 18:20).

Our hope is to start 200 new Microchurches in the next year, and I’d like to ask for your help.  I’m not asking for your money, just your participation.  I believe that when Jesus asked his disciples to pray that God’s kingdom would come, and that his will would be done, on earth as it is in heaven, he really meant it.  But it’s going to take all of us to bring heaven to earth, and not just the people who come to worship in our building.  I understand that some 20,000 people watch our services on Sunday morning.  If only one percent of those people would accept this challenge we would have those 200 Microchurches I’m talking about, and we might have them not by next year, but by next week.  As those churches start working with us to put God’s love into action I believe heaven will come a little closer to earth, and that those of you who join us in our mission will become part of the answer to the Lord’s prayer. 

How about it?  Think of one or two people you could invite to your home next Sunday, ask them to bring some food, something simple and easy, watch the service together and talk about it over lunch, share your concerns with one another and say a prayer, and then take up an offering and talk about how you might use it to put God’s love into action.  Again, if you need suggestions, call 355-8637, ext. 203, and when you do tell us how it went.  It may seem like a small thing to you—your Microchurch—but it could be the start of something big.  

Really big.

What is “Church”?

I’ve been asking the staff of First Baptist, Richmond, to answer the question: “What is Church?”  Here are some of the answers I’ve received so far.

Phil Mitchell says: “For the biggest portion of my life, I thought of the church as a place where Christians went to worship, fellowship, be resourced and trained, mobilize to do and give to missions, and find personal support. Though I don’t believe any of that is untrue, I believe it is less true. I now believe church is a movement of the Body of Christ to make earth look like and function more like heaven, that place where God’s reign is clear and evident. As the church embodies the mission of God, its heart is changed. As the church changes its heart, the mission of God becomes increasingly real and present. So, the church is about changing the world and its heart for God’s sake.”

Lynn Turner says: “Having just returned from the BWA Congress, I am reminded once again that church is so much more than our little corner of the world in Richmond Virginia.  The church as Christ intended it to be, is the living, breathing, moving, presence of the Holy Spirit that sees the needs of people through the eyes of every believer and causes us to do something that will have an eternal impact in the life of another. With Christ as her foundation, the Holy Spirit as her power, the church of Jesus Christ has no limits of sharing the love of God in a world that desperately needs hands of compassion and a message of hope! Now that is something I can get excited about!”

David Powers says: “My thinking and feeling about church have been heavily influenced in recent months by Eugene Peterson’s newest book Practice Resurrection. It is essentially a study of Ephesians. In his translation of 1:23, Peterson has Paul saying, “The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.” Our function, as members of Christ’s body, is to help one another to grow up into mature disciples (4:14-16). That sums up what church means to me. I am part of God’s body, his family. As such, I am responsible for contributing to the nurture of other members of the family. And I strive to remain open to and responsive to the nurture provided to me. Together, we hear Christ speak and see him act. This mutual feeding and being fed leads to deep love and respect among the family. The result is that we begin to mimic what we see Jesus saying and doing among us: we act out Christ’s love in the world – we become his voice, hands and feet.”

What about you?  What do you think “church” is?  How big does it have to be?  Does it have to happen in a building?  Do you need a preacher and a choir?  If you had invented the church, what would that church look like?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Why don’t you click on the word “comments” below and tell me what you’re thinking.

Jim

So…Why Not?

negativity-change1In my last post, I told you that SO FEW people know the purpose of the church, but now that you are one of those people I have a question: if the essential purpose of every Christian church is service, outreach, fellowship, education, and worship, then why do we not organize ourselves that way?  Why do we not have—in large churches, especially—a minister of service, a minister of outreach, a minister of fellowship, a minister of education, and a minister of worship?  If these are the essential minstries of the church then shouldn’t we be doing them, and wouldn’t it help to have someone in each of these areas who could recruit, train, and motivate our members toward that end?

It seems obvious, but I don’t find many churches that are staffed that way.  Instead I find churches with youth ministers, children’s ministers, ministers to young adults, median adults, senior adults, etc.   In other words, churches seem to organize around specific populations within the congregation, and I think there’s a reason for that.

I think that when the baby boom moved through the church it overwhelmed the leadership.  Pastors who had been perfectly capable of caring for small congregations were suddenly trying to care for all these children and all their parents.  As each population reached “critical mass” the church called another associate: one for children, one for youth, one for “college and career,” etc.  At a time when the culture was pushing people through the front doors of the church it was all the church could do to keep up with the growth and provide for the needs of those people.  The emphasis was, necessarily, on things like fellowship, education, and worship—all things that happen inside the building—because that’s where the people were.

But what do you do when the culture is pulling people out  the back doors of the church?  Do you panic?  Do you change your worship style to make it more compatible with the culture?  Do you ask your staff to come up with more exciting programs to reverse the tides of change?  Do you go to church growth conferences hoping to fill those emptying pews?  Or do you take a deep breath, relax, and return to the essentials, to those things the church of Jesus Christ has been doing from the very beginning: service, outreach, fellowship, education, and worship?

I think you do, and I think you will find when you do that two of those five things have their focus outside the walls of the church: service and outreach.  If we live in a time when more people are outside the church than inside, then isn’t it wonderful that Jesus anticipated such a time and told his followers to go (out)  into the world and make disciples of every nation, to go (out) into the neighborhood and love our neighbors as we love ourselves?  And wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could take him at his word, and do what he asked us to do?

I think it would, and I think that if we did it faithfully we wouldn’t have to worry about how many people are inside and how many people are outside the building.  We would minister to both in the same way he would.  We would throw ourselves into the joyful work of service, outreach, fellowship, education, and worship.  And to be more effective we might even organize ourselves for that purpose—the essential purpose of every Christian church.

Why not?

S.O.F.E.W.

purposeI used to teach a fifth and sixth grade Sunday school class where we used the church constitution and bylaws as our curriculum.  Just what a fifth or sixth grader is hungry for, right?  But there was a lot in that little booklet, including the church covenant, articles of faith, and a statement of purpose.  When I taught that last item I would say “SO FEW people know the purpose of the church,” and then I would tick off those five letters on the five fingers of my right hand: “S.O.F.E.W: Service, Outreach, Fellowship, Education, and Worship.”

In my study of dozens of church mission statements and purpose statements since then I have discovered that these five things make up the essential purpose of every Christian church.  Although they say it in lots of different ways, every authentic church seems to be occupied with service, outreach, fellowship, education, and worship.  I think that’s because we all look to the same New Testament, and to the same Lord, for cues as to what the church should do. 

For example: Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor just as much as you love yourself (Mk. 12:30-31).  From that “Great Commandment” we derive the purposes of worship (loving God) and service (loving others).  Jesus also told his disciples to go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that he commanded (Mt. 28:19-20).  From that “Great Commission” we derive the purposes of outreach (making disciples) and education (teaching them to obey all that Christ commanded).  Finally, Jesus told his disciples to love one another as he loved them (Jn. 13:34).  From that “New Commandment,” the only commandment Jesus ever gave, we derive the purpose of fellowship

As the writer of John’s Gospel concludes, “Now Jesus did a lot of other things that aren’t written here” (Jn. 20:30), and he said a lot of other things that haven’t found expression in any church’s purpose statement, but these things have, these five things, and it’s a shame that “SO FEW people know the purpose of the church.” 

I hope that from now on you will.