Can the Neigborhood Church Survive?

by vernsanders on January 27, 2012

Many years ago my thinking was significantly impacted by a book entitled THE NINE NATIONS OF NORTH AMERICA. The (still valid, in my opinion) premise of this book was that the “United” 50 (well, really 48, as Alaska and Hawaii are anomalies) States were more logically grouped into 9 cultural and economic “nations.” Reading the book at that point has helped me to understand a lot of the “divisiveness” we find in the US right now, including in the church. I highly recommend it, because it is not really dated.

Why do I bring this up now? Because I just read an article (which you can find here) that identifies a new cultural and economic grouping pattern: megapolitan clusters. I’m not going to go into details here (read the article…please), but for my purposes, it is important to understand that the information in that article can inform a church’s outlook on a number of issues, primarily those concerning who they serve.

Let me put this into regular language. Many neighborhood churches live in fear of mega churches in close proximity to their campus. Their fear is that they will get marginalized by the large-scale program alternatives at the bigger church. Some of the fear is base basic: why is our church not “big” and “important” like that? Some of the fear is economic: will we have to close the church, and, for the staff, will I lose my job?

The article (in my context of the 9 nations perspective) implies two real, simple (well… obvious, anyway) solutions:

  • Serve Your Neighborhood Well

By concentrating on the people in closest geographic proximity to your campus, you provide a valuable “social network” alternative to the big church. Believe it or not, not everyone wants to attend a church where they are one in 10,000. To employ this strategy, you need to understand who you are as a church, what the gifts and talents of your staff and congregants are, and be yourself…only more intentionally. Let your neighborhood know who and what you are, and there will be people who resonate with that. If you are open, as a community, to new people being a part of your community (and, for some churches, that’s a BIG if…), then be more intentional about letting people know about your church.

  • Cooperate With Other Churches

This is another big IF, but take a step back and look at the hottest phenomenon in the megachurch business movement: multisite. Why are multisites so important? Because at a certain point, bigger isn’t better. Yes people drive 100 miles to attend Saddleback, but if you could give them Saddleback only 10 miles from their home, wouldn’t that allow them to participate in more depth? You don’t need to be a satellite campus of your local megachurch, but perhaps you could combine with 2 or more other churches to do a food donation ministry, a parenting class, or a combined music ministries concert. Cooperation means that any single church doesn’t have to be all things to all people. Remember Creator‘s mantra: we have more in common with each other than that which divides us. Concentrate on the “in common” things and look for ways to serve your community better.

It’s a thought…and I don’t consider myself to have all the answers. Please leave a comment and let me know if you’ve done cooperative programs, or whether this is just completely unacceptable to you and/or your church. I’d like to learn from you.

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