I know this question may seem rather difficult to comprehend. We have had such a storied history, reaching so many over our 224 year history for Christ, that we may wonder why we should bother taking time for something of this nature.
This question was posed on Sunday night, August 23rd to our Sunday evening congregation. I asked them, and they came up with four different items that they would consider if they were in the initial stages of planting a new church:
Location, location, location. First, they would look for a place to plant the church facilities. Would this building be easy to get to? Easily accessible? Enough room for worship, classes, children’s and youth activities?
Examining the people you wish to reach. To be honest, established churches lose the fine edge of this because their churches are … well… established. The core crowd is already present—often for years and years. We assume that, given our long history, everyone knows where we are. Yet, did you know that there are those who live in Athens who were not aware of where we were until I introduced myself on their front porch and showed them where we were?
Did you also know that within a five mile radius of the church, the average household income is $99,089 (as of August 2008)(the national average is in the high $50,000 range)? Did you know that 42% of them have a college or Master’s degree (national average: 24%)? Did you know that the majority of them are in their late 20s (known as the Young and Coming)?
How do we interpret this? This means that they are used to being surrounded by excellence, preparation, and are in desperate need of not just human care and compassion but for the truth! They have been inundated with theories, opinions, and every sort of philosophy. They are coming to an age where they just want to hear the truth about the meaning of their life. They reach a crisis point saying, “Is this all there is? I grew up with just Bible stories, but my teachers never connected it with real life issues!” This is where we must step in!
Christ-centered. Not appealing to the culture to find out what people want. We appeal to Christ and the Scriptures to give them what they need. They need the Gospel. They need to know that everything the Scripture touches on (and it’s not just spiritual things, but everything) is truth. We must mine out the Scriptures and go to trusted, God-centered, Christ-exalting resources to help them “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
Leaders. These churches need leaders. And they need leaders who will lead. Too many of us (leaders included) simply react—react to problems and issues and crises and controversies by compromising, smoothing things over simply to keep the peace (and for many pastors, to keep their jobs)! But the church needs leaders (and I am talking to myself) willing to submit to God’s vision for the church (which is to spread His glory from our neighbors to the nations) and will not settle for mediocrity, but will strive for excellence by doing all for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Leaders surrender to their Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, and invest in people both inside and outside the church, as well as their families (Prov. 22:6; Eph. 6:1-4).
Established churches (especially Southern Baptists churches) have all the programs and missions organizations and materials and everything else already fit—all we do is plug in. Yet, by simply going through the motions of this and taking it for granted, we can do all this without even thinking about what we are doing. But we need to look at what we are doing. We need to take nothing for granted when it comes to the Lord’s work. We need to have movement and direction. And we’ll be talking more about this on Sunday nights—so I and this church really need you there.