Driving my daughter to preschool recently, we noticed our local Wendy’s – the one where my kids like to go for Jr. Frosty’s on hot summer days – was closed for renovation. The sign on the temporary chain-link fence read:
In the meantime, please visit us
on Perry Highway in Wexford
So imagine our surprise the next morning when we drove by and found the building completely demolished. One big heap of rubble lying on the ground, surrounded by backhoes and wrecking balls.
When I read the sign, “Closed for a Refresh,” I imagined renovated bathrooms and reupholstered booths. But The Wendy’s Company apparently intends to rebuild from the ground up! And they are willing to invest significant dollars and risk loosing business for several weeks to make it happen. I’d say they take this “refresh” thing surprisingly seriously!
It got me thinking. I hear a lot of talk, in my job, about revitalizing the church. Nearly everyone agrees – from local church members to clergy to denominational executives – that we need revitalization. We want to grow, to reach new people, to have more children in the church. We want a refresh.
But when we think about what it means to refresh, we think small. We change the Sunday School curriculum. Add praise band songs at the beginning of our worship service. Install a projector and screen. Move Vacation Bible School from morning to evening. We might add a new small group or engage a new mission project.
Those are great things – all of them. Sometimes changes like those help us to engage our community in new ways and share the Gospel with more people. But I wonder: when is it time to build from the ground up? When it is time to create something brand new?
When I speak of starting new churches, the inevitable question that follows is this: Why should we start new churches, when we have so many already? Shouldn’t we invest in them?
My answer is yes, absolutely, we should invest in our existing congregations. We should and we do. Your Conference staff members love to talk with existing congregations about everything from discipleship and prayer to missions and evangelism. We’ll work alongside you to develop a discipleship process, strengthen stewardship and educate about evangelism. Yes, we invest in our current congregations!
And, sometimes it’s also time to build from the ground up. Data shows that new churches reach unchurched people more effectively than existing congregations (see, for example, the conference statistics shared in Robert Schnase’s Seven Levers). New churches also reach younger and more diverse people more quickly than other congregations. New congregations naturally speak to the culture around them and experiment with new ways of doing things, because they don’t yet have an established “way we always did it.” New churches more readily focus outward on the community because they don’t yet have an inward structure on which to focus.
And do you know what else? New churches point people to our existing churches, too. That line at the bottom of the Wendy’s sign: “In the meantime, please visit us at…” That’s something new churches say all the time. It is not uncommon for a new church to say, “we don’t have enough teens for a youth group yet, but we know of a church across town that has a great group!” Or, “we aren’t worshipping in that style, but First Church is. Can I introduce you to their pastor?” Often, a growing new church in a community brings growth to the churches around it, too.
Sometimes, we need to build from the ground up. It makes us all stronger.
So please…when you hear, “Coming soon! A new church near you!” – don’t panic. Call me if you want to talk about what it means for you and your church. I’d love to explore that together. But mostly, remember that we’re all in this disciple-making, Gospel-sharing, love-offering mission together!
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