I've been a pastor for a long time. I started as an intern at Colonial Hills, where my youth pastors, Robert and Bart, and my youth sponsors (The Smiths, The Routens, and The Cochrans) invested in me greatly. I owe them all so much.
And over the years, I've served in all kinds of churches in various positions. I've been a youth intern, part-time Youth Minister in country churches, Youth/Music Minister in a country church and a couple small town First Baptist churches. I served as a Youth Pastor at a big First Baptist where the staff bailed and left me and a friend trying to keep the wheels from falling off! That was fun. I've been the Youth Pastor at a couple of big (1,000 members) churches, and am currently serving two churches that are very opposite. One averages around 800 in attendance on Sunday morning. I am the Associate Pastor there, working along side one of my closest friends and a great Pastor, Mike, whom I've known for almost the entirety of my ministry. The other church I currently serve in as Lead Pastor averages 20 people, meets on Sunday night in a coffee shop, and is composed mostly of friends gathered along the way. All that to say, "I've seen a lot of churches and a LOT of philosophies of being church."
And one thing that keeps coming up is the shift in paradigm, or lack there of. In my generation, our culture had a basic understanding of church and to some extent Christianity. The general way most of us back in the day came to Christ was by coming to some sort of church activity. Even though I came to Christ through a friend sharing with me, I heard and experienced the Gospel at the Youth Events I was attending. In that day, you could say, "If you believe, you belong." And it was true. The moment I took a step towards Christ, the youth group embraced me and made a HUGE difference in my life. So many of those people I listed above were instrumental in that.
But the shift has come in this: most people aren't going to go to church to have their spiritual needs met. There is no longer a basic understanding between our culture and our churches. If anything, there is an institutional distrust of the church that permeates our culture. And yet, even here in Lubbock, TX., I watch church building after church building pop up in hopes that someone will be drawn there. Don't get me wrong! I am not anti building. I am anti "let's build a building so we don't have to go out there and be the church." Just this week I have gotten information from 3 new churches that are putting on a show, opening a building, and hoping to attract those who need Jesus.
For those of you who don't know Lubbock, here's some statistics. Lubbock county is home to 255,000 people. Of those 255,000 people churches report around 120,000 are on their "role" as members. However, statistics show that the average church actually has about 37% of their membership in actual attendance, meaning that (and this is a high estimate) about 50,000 of the people of Lubbock County actually are involved with a church, leaving 205,000 people unchurched, dechurched, or poorly churched. Lubbock county has somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 evangelical churches last time I checked. Those 300 churches actually share the 50,000 attenders in one of the most prolific "church-hopping" communities I've ever been in. Bottom line: every new church that pops up with a building and hopes of drawing people to their "show" will only manage to segment the church hoppers and bight off their "market share" for a while.
Lubbock needs followers of Christ building relationships with the other 205,000 AND living Jesus-styled relationships with those they befriend. The paradigm is now (and Barry says has been for a long LONG time) Belonging ENABLES Believing. Think it through with me. Jesus was greatly criticized for being the friend of gluttons and sinners. He saw the value of reaching people by influence and relationship rather than the hopes that the local religious elite would homilize eloquently enough to draw them in. Where ever it is you are, whether it's Lubbock or China, Christ is calling you today to GO out to your spheres of influence and be Jesus for people. Build relationships. Be generous. Be sincere. Love deeply. Live passionately. And don't place your hope in a building or a program. Build a life that tells people they belong and includes them. In the words of St. Francis Assisi, "Preach the Gospel always and, when necessary use words."
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