I was running on the beach in Florida in March. Running is often my BEST work time. With music in one ear and the other ear toward heaven, when I’m running or cycling, I hear God best. This early morning was no different, though the message was at first confusing.
As I was running and praying I heard this phrase in my mind … “SUBTRACT CHURCHES”. That’s funny I thought. In one week I begin a new role directing the Centre for NEW Congregations! Perhaps I should call and withdraw my resignation from the church. Subtract Congregations? What sense does that strategy make in building God’s Kingdom? I kept running.
Further down the beach … another phrase: “MULTIPLY Congregations”. “AH! That’s better God!” No need for the phone call. I’ll keep my job. My new role is safe.
Another kilometer south and I stopped in my tracks: “SUBTRACT Churches – MULTIPLY Congregations”. I think I LIKE that!
As I let that phrase filter down into my soul and added a note in my iPhone, it started to germinate. In this new day, this new culture, this dramatic period of shifting morals and values and priorities, this fluid and changing chapter of history, that some would call the next “cultural zeitgeist” – could it be that is the way forward for the CHURCH? “SUBTRACT Churches – MULTIPLY Congregations”.
Could it be, that as the church is progressively marginalized (whether by culture or often our own doing) that the way forward is INCREASINGLY, like NEVER BEFORE, PARTNERING in fresh new ways for the Kingdom’s sake! Could it be that we need fewer churches and more congregations?
But what does that look like? Generations of the past, led by incredible visionaries, travelled our Atlantic Region and regions across the continent planting NEW CHURCHES. In neighbourhood after neighbourhood, they would show up and “plant” a new church. The only measurement tool between churches was usually, “as far as a horse can go in the dead of a February snowstorm.” Time for another church! It was multiplied across the continent and especially evident in Atlantic Canada. The vision was huge and the strategy effective. So effective that it effectively worked for at least a couple hundred years.
But it’s a NEW DAY! Cars have changed the landscape. Neighbourhood have shifted. New ones have popped up and others died. The demographics are shifting and urbanization increasing. Perhaps?
And please place me under an “umbrella of mercy”. Perhaps we need fewer churches but greater numbers of networked and partnered congregations? Could it be that the day for autonomous churches working largely in isolation is gone? Could it be that our churches become “partnered networks” of congregations that share similar vision and values and DNA? Sharing resources, even staff and facilities in bordering neighbourhoods? What if churches became networks of congregations? Maybe “sites” (ie congregations) of the same church joining what God is up to in a variety of neighbourhoods? Or maybe “congregations within congregations” like a birthed congregation to a certain ethnic population or a different demographic in a neighbourhood? Or a “stand-alone” congregation birthed on a University campus? Or one targeting millennials in a Thursday Night Café? Or a missional community in an inner-city that builds community and “congregation” with the disenfranchised who won’t step up to your “Guest Services Desk” this weekend. Could it be…
OK I’m done. Hopefully just enough to either “tick you off” or flow your juices as we dream about reshaping Atlantic Canada in a NEW day! It’s worth some of your BEST thinking! CHECK OUT: www.reshapeAtlantic.ca and follow the twitter feed @reshapeAtlantic.