The most asked question in my early visits with congregations tends to center around the future. While I’m not a time traveler, I do have some guesses. I confess some help from our friends across the pond.
The churches of the United Kingdom, aka Great Britain, have faced the changing landscape for some time. Their website contains a number of stories worth reading. Maybe a field trip to learn from the people at Fresh Expressions (http://www.freshexpressions.org.uk/stories) is in order? I spent some time this summer digesting what the Brits are doing and brainstormed some possibilities for us in New England:
- A congregation turns a piece of its grounds into a community garden. Through a separate 501c3, they seek funding and develop a training program for people in the neighborhood to learn how to grow their own vegetables. Later, they connect with a nearby community health center to offer a health/diet program.
- Two congregations merge, but rather than sell both properties, they keep one of the original buildings because of its “monastic feel” and turn it into a Christian meditation center. The center offers classes and experiences in meditation, iconography, painting and the arts as a form of Christian expression, yoga and forms of liturgical dance. Over time they acquire a national reputation for teaching people the ancient/future forms of Christian spirituality.
- The Bar: a music resource center for young people. A youth center built around music expression and learning. The goal is to bless the community with creativity. Weekly events/concerts/worship/coffeehouse events take place with young people as the leaders.
- The Pub Church: After a couple of churches sell their buildings, they arrange with a local bar to hold traditional worship services on Sunday mornings. They also hold a Sunday evening “Table Talk,” aka Pub Theology, with the pastor. When the bar owner decides to sell, the church buys the place and turns it into more of a restaurant/bar. It even opens a weekly Alcoholics Anonymous group.
- The Walking Church convenes regularly to walk, talk, pray, meditate, sing. Instead of a building, they meet regularly at a starting point and walk, offering exercise and public witness. The walk ends at a coffeehouse.
- X-treme or Shackles Off: A new ministry is birthed in a storefront where teens are invited to hang out. The lead lay minister is a 40-something mother who has a deep love for teenagers. She hangs out at the storefront on couches, engaging teens in conversation. After developing trust with them, she introduces topics of deep meaning. Teens begin to pray for one another, programs are started to help a local homeless shelter. A once-a-month coffeehouse concert begins. People talk about Jesus in a way that connects to the reality of their lives.
- Multicampus church: Several churches in a community combine their efforts for mission. They sell two church buildings, and keep two others. One has an excellent facility for a much needed Lutheran/Christian elementary school. The other building is an ideal setting to continue offering weekly worship for all those who worshiped at the initial four buildings. They are a multicampus congregation.
As we go forward in this venture, we’re going to look to the South, the East and the West for clues. For instance, what’s happening in Honduras that could teach us something about starting new congregations? Join me on the journey.