Identity and purpose is important to our lives. At some point every person must ask the question “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” if we are to live . Churches must also ask these same two questions.
At some point in the life of any church, the people may find themselves unsure of the answer to such questions. There is nothing wrong with that since that is part of the life cycle of any church as an organization. However, the church cannot continue to thrive when these two unanswered questions become a prolonged indefinite status.
The picture to the left, which originates from the work of Robert Dale in his book To Dream Again, depicts the lifecycle that all churches go through, at varying rates. Every church is born out of a dream (vision) that results in goals (mission). Out of this vision and goals emerges a strategy for living out that dream. Over time, as new members join and other members leave, and the contextual circumstances within the larger local culture begin to change, the original vision and mission loses vitality. For example, a church that begins as an outreach to a poor minority community but now finds the community transformed into a posh urban enclave will realize that the original vision, it’s reason for existence, is no longer feasible. Consequently, the church begins to plateau and decline towards the end of it’s life. Yet for a church that begins asking these questions of “Who are we?” and “Why do we exist?,” the possibility of dreaming a new dream emerges and the church is reborn, so to speak with a new vision and mission as well as a new life cycle.
In my judgment, many Churches of Christ currently exist somewhere between numbers 5 and 9 on the lifecycle. Many of these congregations began with a sectarian vision and therefore had a mission of “evangelizing” believers from other denominations, so that they could be “saved” since it was believed that such people were outside the fellowship of Christ. Yet an increasing number of Churches of Christ no longer hold such a view and so their reason for originally existing is lost.
As the preacher/minister for the Columbia Church of Christ, I am asking wether this admittedly oversimplification of the identity crisis fits the church I serve. I don’t know the degree to which that would have been true when the Columbia Church of Christ began. However, it does seem that we are on the downside of the lifecycle, unsure of what our identity and purpose is in Columbia as we look ahead to the future.
As with any church, this can be distressing news but it can also be a catalyst for daring to dream again. The dream needs to be a kingdom size dream, one that is deeply rooted in the mission of God and so big that it can only be lived by faith with power from the Holy Spirit. This is the sort of dream we our seeking to chase beginning next week when the shepherds (elders) and I travel to Dallas, Texas for a church renewal theology lab with Mission Alive.
Mission Alive began under the leadership of Gailyn Van Rheenan, who has served as a missionary in East Africa and has taught courses in missions and evangelism at Abilene Christian University. The purpose of Mission Alive is “to discover, equip, place, and nurture church planting leaders who will plant missional churches in suburbs, city centers, and poverty areas with unbelievers as the primary target and to partner with churches for missional renewal and church planting” .
On behalf of the shepherds and myself, I ask that you please keep us and the Columbia Church of Christ in your prayers. God is great and he has blessed the Columbia Church of Christ richly. We look forward to the future as faithful participants in God’s mission!
- This post is a slightly modified version of an article published as “Daring to Dream Again” in Connecting, 27 (October 3, 2012), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ.
- Taken directly from the Mission Alive website.