The Difficult Truth About Creating the Future Church

McKenzie JesusIs it possible to support something that doesn’t fuel our self-interest?

Many of us donate money to organizations to which we have a personal connection.  Your brother died of AIDS?  Maybe you give money to AMFAR. Your mom died of breast cancer?  You volunteer for Komen. Your church offers great programs for your kids AND your grandfather donated the pew cushions? You make a regular pledge to First Presbyterian Church of My Hometown.

We all do this.   We live according to our own self-interests.

Maybe it’s the way we’re wired or maybe it’s how we were raised, but we tend to support what benefits us and our own.  Is this the original sin?  Maybe.  But it’s so universally accepted that shifting this way of giving may seem impossible.

Nevertheless . . .

  • Imagine that the church you love is dying. And you and the rest of the congregation choose to close that beloved church and donate all proceeds to a new church with lots of energy, a clear purpose, a contagious spirit, and absolutely no personal connection to anybody in the congregation.
  • Imagine that a neighboring congregation is ministering to an under served community of people who do not look, speak, or act like you. And you volunteer to take a sabbatical from your own spiritual community to serve that other church for one year so that they might increase their capacity for ministry.
  • Imagine that Haiti needs a hospital.  Or Malawi needs a school.  Or the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago needs tutors.  And you have no intention of publicizing your good deeds or padding your resume. You just want to serve – perhaps without anybody knowing about it.

We have churches that need to close.  They no longer serve anyone but themselves, and even that service is barely satisfying much less life-changing.   They exist for themselves.  They vie for personal power.  (“I’m in charge of the kitchen fund and you can’t have any money for new spoons unless you come through me.”)  These are the churches that need to leave a legacy of giving all they have left to the church down the street that exists to make disciples and love their neighbors.  They need to close and share anything they have left over for the church that’s fueled by the power of the Spirit.

The sad thing is that I don’t know of many (any?) churches willing to accept this difficult truth:  the future church is not about us.  It’s about expanding the reign of God.  (But we really wish it could be about us.)

Image is Jesus for the Millenium by Janet McKenzie (1999)

11 responses to “The Difficult Truth About Creating the Future Church

  1. I have been pondering lately the possibility of forming an entirely separate congregation alongside an existing congregation in the same building. And finding some way to serve them both. For instance, the church I am presently serving is aging, loves the ‘old hymns,’ and wants things pretty much left the same, although they do appreciate creative worship. When a new, younger person (35-50) comes in, they have little patience with the structures of governance which serve the older generation so well. And one or two newer people on a governing body can’t do much to make changes. So I wonder if it is possible to serve as chaplain to the existing congregation (because that’s really all they want) as well as birth something new. As always, thanks for your thoughts.


  2. This was how I was raised — in a family which had little connection to church. Why is this concept so unfamiliar in the church? I have been trying to convey it for a year now, and with only months to go, I think I need a 2×4!


  3. So true. And I heard this again and again echoed in multiple languages along the Camino.


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  5. This is dead on.

    There was this old guy at my wife’s church a few years ago, when we would talk about emerging stuff, new church developments, et al he would always say, “Who’s going to pay for it?” I always wanted to say, “You!” but I new my wife liked her call.


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  7. And there are those churches who are bossed around by cadres of Boomers and Gen X’ers, who shove all the old hymns to the side and badly lead – and in a capella – already poorly written contemporary music and further lock down on initiative and control. It doesn’t appear to be working except for those making executive decisions. It’s not just a temptation or culture of one generation; it’s more white American than age-based. There are songs of lament and hope out there that can’t be sung because to sing them exposes the hypocrisy and failure of what passes for “respectable” church culture. Moreover, churches are often creatures of their surrounding culture, and our culture is at the same time moving away from white supremacy to greater diversity. Some churches, like some Americans, are handling both decline and diversity badly.


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  9. Catherine, This parallel model of church is something I heard about some time ago–actually in relation to ethnic groups. The new group would grow, he old might diminish, and ideally they would, at some point come together. The trick, I think, would be a balance where one wouldn’t be made to feel second class (kitchen rules, for example).


  10. Gloria, can you say more? Or point me to resources. Thanks.


  11. The are many churches (I belong to one) that have one “Contemporary Service” which includes a worship band and is less formal in style, and one “Traditional Service” with traditional choir and hymns. Sunday school and coffee hour are help in between services, with people from both services contributing. The Scripture readings and sermon are the same for both services. During the summer months, there is one “blended” service, with a little mix of both styles. You might think only “younger” people go to the “contemporary” service, and “Old” people only go to the “traditional” service, but there are some older folks who are quite inspired by the newer music, and many younger people who prefer the traditional.


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