MCC is a church planted by pioneers from Illinois 160 years ago. Throughout those 16 decades it has been a church that has seen some major highs and painful lows. This legacy has included the season when the building was condemned, an Easter when they had an attendance of 999, and a summer when we were 30 days from foreclosure; 160 years will afford you an experience in almost every imaginable season a church can experience.
For the past decade MCC has hovered between 150 and 215. Five years ago, I was entrusted with leadership of this church at the ripe age of 26.
Much of the story went the way you would imagine. I was young and ignorant. The church was gracious. God was good. Here, however, is what we’ve seen happen in the past 12 months:
- Launched a campus; not out of need for space, but as missionaries
- Gone from 1 to 2 services
- Gone from 9 small groups to 19
- Baptized more people this year than ever before
- Seen attendance grow from 237 last October to 380 this October
I hope in the remainder of this article that I might encourage you with some of the major foundations for this growth we’ve seen. In short, we intentionally took on the mentality of missionaries.
1. We Studied Our Community
I took one missions class in college. The class I took was entitled “Cross-cultural Ministry.” The premise of the semester was: know your culture, know their culture, know where they diverge, know where they intersect, and strategize intentionally. All this we labeled as contextualization.
I knew that God was not sending me out of the country, but I didn’t realize He was calling me to be a missionary. Becoming a missionary began with studying the community He’d called us to. As such, I chose to become the most versed sociologist and historian in our community on our community. Knowing our community uniquely allowed us to engage our community effectively.
Here is just the start of what I discovered. We live in a community of 19,000 people. This past Easter, 1,727 people attended ANY church in our community. On Easter! If your grandma owns a Bible, you go to church on Easter. On an average Sunday, about 1,000 people will be in any church in our community. When I owned that ours was a call to cross-cultural ministry, it changed everything.
2. We Contextualized for Our Community
The common approach to the local expression of church was not what our community needed. To reach our community with the life-giving, future-changing power of the gospel, we needed to strategically contextualize our expression of the local church.
We live in Oregon, the natural habitat for hipsters. Our community is 38% Hispanic. We are an independent and isolated region skeptical of outsiders, corporations, and Californians. A lack of sun exposure leads us to drink a lot of coffee and microbrews. We lose our minds when the sun finally shows each July.
All this, and much more, has demanded we contextualize.
We can’t be the homogenous megachurch with an outdoor baptismal. (Although, I love those churches and their leaders and am envious of the disproportionate amount of sun they get to enjoy.) Instead, we have become a multi-ethnic, multi-generational, multi-site (some might call it micro-site) church, because after years of studying our culture we believe this is the most powerful contextualization of a local church for our community.
(To be fair, this discussion, summed up in a single paragraph, took almost four years of research and reading, praying and thinking, discussing and brainstorming, trial and error. It was not without critique or failure or, as a mentor of mine stated, “blessed subtraction.”)
3. We Cast a Different Vision
How then do we lead our churches to make these massive shifts? It begins with a simple (not easy) change of the vision we cast for our people. (This is my favorite part!)
When over 90% of our community does not attend church anywhere, I simply began with, “Tell me about your kids.” Or, “Tell me about your grandkids. Where do they go to church?” Most often, I saw a face that expressed sorrow, longing, and a bit of embarrassment as they would share their hopes of one day seeing their family return to the church, a place they raised them.
I often have this conversation from the stage. I always end with this question, “What would you sacrifice to see your family in one of these seats?” When the vision they see is the face of their family member, and not our vision of a faceless mass of people filling an ever-growing church, it changes everything.
A Final Thought
I remind our church that my first grey hair appeared the week I became the lead pastor. None of this is easy, and it doesn’t come quickly.
Pastor, do the hard work. Study your community. Contextualize your strategy. Cast a new vision. God has placed you in this place for this time to lead a community of missionaries into a community in desperate need of life. God has called you. He will equip you. May you faithfully and diligently lead a body of community-changing missionaries.