“Where in the Bible does it say we’re supposed to organize new churches according to the franchise model?” The question, uttered in a presbytery meeting nearly 30 years ago, stung like a bee — as intended. The fellow expressing it was the lone African-American pastor in a Florida presbytery that kept raising funds to plant new churches in burgeoning white neighborhoods while neglecting the also growing but not so flush minority populations.
We Presbyterians had ridden a wave of numerical membership growth in the booming 1950s. Our style, culture and ethos perfectly matched those of millions of new families forming after World War II. Our seemingly irrepressible growth created illusions of our grandeur, and before long our hubris did us in. We retained for decades the ‘50s models of new church development — “Build it and they will come” — but only after too many failed attempts did we begin to consider other ways of starting new churches. Only then did we also put forth serious efforts to plant churches among people not of Western European origin — according to models that matched their styles, cultures and ethos.
Jump ahead to 2012 and the Presbyterian Church no longer leads the parade of American cultural and religious life. And the denomination’s seemingly irreversible shrinkage has chastened its pride — provoking a hunger for a new wave of community outreach, friendship building, Gospel proclamation and cultural transformation that could result in the formation of new worshipping communities. A thousand and one of them, to be exact.
As Leslie Scanlon reflects (pp. 10-12), a new spirit is arising among almost all of us — those who proudly label themselves Presbyterian and those striking the word from their church signs; those whose favorite verse is Micah 6:8 and those who prefer John 3:16; those who ride to church in a subway and those who drive an SUV.
A few years ago, the only thing that united us was our common enjoyment of watching West Wing on TV. When it went off the air, we lost common ground. Now this new thing is emerging, and the convergence of enthusiasm, energy and missional passion offers a happy, even stunning departure from the internecine battles that keep tearing at the church’s fabric.
Roger Dermody and Chip Hardwick are casting a visible, tangible, measurable vision for 1,001 new worshipping communities to be founded in the next 10 years. Considering the general lack of new churches developed over recent decades, realizing this vision calls for a huge reversal of misfortune — and a huge investment of heart, mind, soul and funds.
Then again, by thinking and communicating like the pastors they are, these two men, now serving in leadership roles in the Louisville denomina- tional headquarters, outline a three-point plan of attack.
» Upward: lifting Jesus higher,
» Inward: making disciples,
» Outward: engaging in mission.
And, happily, they’re not offering a one-size-fits-all, build-it-and-they-will come franchise model for the new communities to follow. They’re asking folks to step outside the mold, to think in nontraditional ways, to form communities that retain the heart of Reformed proc- lamation and the spirit of Presbyterian instincts without being bound by the familiar forms.
We can do so only if we raise up innovative, transformational leaders.
Young women and men toting just-signed M.Div. degrees are ready to rise to the challenge. So are younger women and men carrying bachelor’s degrees — many of them from Presbyterian colleges. They’re looking not for big paychecks but for people who are open to meeting our Lord. They’re ready to spend their time, their resources, their very selves to build such folks into communities that declare, “Jesus Christ is Lord.”
May they find success. Let’s all join them, giving them the support they need.