Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Great Ecclesiastical Dilemma

Speaking before a group in a city with a population a little over 100,000 people, I asked this question? “How many churches are in this community?” A man in the class, who is also a member of the Gideon’s answered, “About 126.” I have no way of knowing if that number of congregations includes Catholic or ethnic churches, such as Hispanic or Korean assemblies. Either way, that number of assemblies represents one church for every 800 people in the area. By every standard you would have to say that the city has been reached with the Gospel.

The purpose of my talk was to point out the inequity of fulfilling the Great Commission. One third of the world’s population (now over 6 billion people) claim to be a followers of Christ. Another third of the world’s population are people groups who have never had an opportunity to even hear about Jesus. Ninety-five percent of all resources (money, human energy, programs) are to the one third who already claim to be followers of Jesus, along with the other third of the population which, though not believers, live in areas where there is an opportunity to hear the Gospel. Less than five percent of Christian resources is dedicated to the one third who have never heard the Good News.

What is interesting about this church, and typical of all congregations I visit, is that they are in phase one of a three-phase building program that will cost over a million dollars. Just about every church I visit are either already in or planning on an expansion program. Even though the class agreed with me that “If half of the churches in the city died tomorrow God would still have an adequate witness,” they couldn't possibly entertain the thought NOT to go forward with their church expansion.

Yesterday a friend was telling me about his church, one of the "first" churches in the city. They have a lousy location and are pressed by the competition of the other mega-churches in the area to do something to survive. They are now in a multi-million dollar relocation campaign because, quite honestly, they either have to compete or disband (a blasphemous thought).

Practically I cannot and do not judge these churches or pastors. To be a viable congregation the local church must think of ways to maintain their congregational size and at least marginal growth. Most of the time that reality means pouring money into upgrading everything from the nursery to sound equipment. Every congregation is at best a small business enterprise hoping to be the next super-center that is the largest congregation in the community. Falling short of that their next best hope is to survive. To reach that mega-church status will necessitate spending mega-dollars into a community that is already evangelized.

Missiologically, the inequity in allocation of resources borders on being criminal. People and nations, those who make up two-thirds of the world with little or no Gospel witness, compete for the five cents that is not consumed by the one-third over evangelized Christian population.

The ecclesiastical dilemma is trying to figure out how reach the unreached while locally staying in business. Is there an answer in solving this inequity? Yes, but it will be painful and probably not popular. We’ll look at some of the options later.