Amazing Grace/Churches of Christ in Decline?: Rescuing the Churches of Christ, Part 3

grace2.jpgXI. Why can’t an established church have the same success as a church plant?

A. Established churches have many advantages

1. A building. Church plants have to rent space, with all the obvious inconveniences.

2. Elders and deacons

3. Lots of members

4. Children’s and teen programs

B. But they have disadvantages

1. A real, Biblical need to serve their own members. Established churches have members with marital problems, sickness, and many other needs. The church cannot ignore these. It’s not possible to be as other-centered while tending to internal needs. This is the inevitable result of growth.

2. Politics, silos, and turf wars. Members who want to be served rather than to serve, members who get upset when they aren’t consulted before a decision is made, members who don’t want the church to change

3. Racial segregation. Most established churches don’t look like many of the potential converts and therefore struggle to appeal to them

4. Legalism. Even when we know it’s okay, we often don’t feel like it’s okay. It’s hard to give up decades of a belief system. It’s hard to change. Elders are often scared to teach the truth for fear of provoking a split. And those churches that have brought in the instrument have often lost significant numbers of members.

5. Generation gap. Older members often have very different expectations from younger members. It’s hard to learn to accept those with very casual dress, tatoos, etc. Musical tastes can be radically different.

6. Low expectations. An established church often counts attendance and taking turns at passing communion as sufficient “service.” A church plant expects its members to participate in outreach events, in community service, etc. You can’t form relationships if you don’t show up. Members are expected to engage in personal evangelism.

7. Ministries that aren’t part of the vision. A church plant will have all ministries pointed toward the overall vision. An established church has countless ministries and programs, some of which don’t meaningfully contribute to the vision. Some we rationalize as being “outreach” despite having been ineffective at outreach for decades.

8. Members with no time. In a church plant, members have moved far from home as a team, all committed to work on the church’s vision. All have made serious, life-altering sacrifices to be part of the effort. All are deeply committed. In an established church, many members joined to be served by great programs. Many have no sense of vision and less sense of obligation to serve others. Indeed, the balance of life often shifts from church first to church if there’s enough time.

9. A different attitude toward children. The plant team has already moved their children away from family and grandparents to make the plant a reality. They love and dote on their children, but they understand that sometimes a family has to make sacrifices to honor God’s calling. In a church plant, even the children often see themselves as missionaries for Jesus. Hence, play dates, ball teams, and other activities are opportunities for both the parents and the children to form relationships and bring people to Jesus.In an established church, children often compete with Jesus for our time and attention rather than providing opportunities to be about our Father’s business.

XII. These are substantial barriers. But the gospel is designed to overcome barriers. Is there a way our church can learn to act like a church plant? Which would be better —

A. To do nothing, while others plant churches all around us? Is there some other way to grow (excluding growth by transfer or birth)?

B. To train a team of members to plant a new church in a new place in Tuscaloosa?

C. To train a team of members to plant a new church in our building, meeting on Saturday or Sunday night?

D. To ask all our members to become church planters as part of our existing congregation?

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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0 Responses to Amazing Grace/Churches of Christ in Decline?: Rescuing the Churches of Christ, Part 3

  1. Alan says:

    Disadvantages number 7 and number 1 seem to be contradictory points of view of the same issues.

    We attempt to create some of the church planting dynamics by organizing in family groups (10 to 20 adults) and calling each family group to reach out. But there are real needs to be met inside these family groups. We can't ignore the marital issues, parenting issues, health issues, financial issues, etc of our members. Those things demand time and attention. Maybe that's why "evangelist" is a different role from "shepherd." We some people focused on each of those legitimate types of service.

  2. Matthew says:

    I have thought of this too. One of the reasons is perhaps that older congregations have reputations and history that most people in a town will know. This creates a preconceived notion about the congregation. A church plant has a clean slate.

  3. Melina says:

    Fantastic points, Alan. Jay, I vote for choices B and D. I don't know how big Tuscaloosa is but there probably is room for a second location that would be more convenient to some neighborhoods. It could start as a housechurch or in rental space. Choice D is great as well. Items 2, 6, 8 seem to be issues of immaturity and selfishness that we need to collectively grow out of/ repent of. Of course, as Alan will likely confirm, pushing people and forcing people isn't the answer either. Teaching and Good Example and Good facilitation go a long way though. I'm sure that is what you and your congregation are doing more and more and you are to be commended for it. Item 3 is an issue but it doesn't have to be. Both my former and current congregations are racially and ethnically mixed. I'm not sure how it happened other than members befriending and inviting everybody and anybody.

  4. Donna says:

    I look forward to the next installment. At least you all are looking for answers…sometimes I think my "place" does not realize there is a problem…

  5. Alan says:

    It's remarkable how little time Paul spent in his letters exhorting the churches to evangelize. Instead he focused on the factors that ought to produce evangelism — understanding and appreciation of grace, and interpersonal character traits (kindness, compassion, gentleness, humility, patience, love).

    One other thing he did — he set a fabulous example.

  6. Nick Gill says:

    C sounds like the most practical option.

    A is sinful, pure and simple. Hunker down behind the walls and let others suffer outside the camp.

    B is workable, but duplicates expenditures somewhat wastefully. And, sad to say, MOST congregations need to either move to where the lost are or just look around the borders of their parking lot.

    D cannot happen because every Christian is not gifted to be a church planter. Some Christians ARE gifted to do those very things that make Disadvantage 1 important and necessary. The lost people we bring in are still going to be scarred by their lostness; the services we currently offer our longer-term members will be even MORE necessary as children of divorce, abuse, and poverty are ushered into the kingdom.

    The ATTITUDES of the church planters (the radical sacrifice, the detachment from worldly markers of prosperity and security, etc) should be cultivated in ALL members, even if they are not expected to perform the same tasks.

  7. Chris says:

    Melina – Yes some churches have racial mixture, but is that the true meaning of racial division? Our predominantly white church has some non-white members. For the most part, there is good unity between white and non-white. The connection or disunity, in my opinion, lies more in socio-economic/cultural connections or lack thereof. Bluntly, most white folks have not problem going to church with black people as long as the black people act like and value the same things as the whites. Regionally, this problem no doubt takes on a different look and feel because of different inputs (e.g. historical background). I often wonder what it must be like for a poor, ignored person who has never been to church at all to try to reconcile what we say our mission is with our behavior. Most of our members spend only part of two days per week in a structure that could shelter hundreds of people. It is wrong to have a nice large building? No. Is it aiding every large building congregation in carrying out our mission commanded by Christ? I think not. (Sorry if I rambled a bit. It is late.)

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