My church newsletter article this week:
For a number of years I served on the denominational committee that was responsible for overseeing new church planting. It was during my time on this committee that I came to believe that the Church of the Brethren has something of a death wish.
There is virtually no interest in the denomination in planting new churches. There is no denominational staff person with skills or interest in this area. There is no money and no strategic thinking about planting churches.
And yet, it is an indisputable fact that planting new churches is the only effective way to grow a movement. Newer churches are far more effective at reaching people; they are led by people who believe passionately that there is a message about their faith that is worth sharing.They are more open to the sharing of new ideas and gifts. And they are usually planted where there are people who might be looking for new churches.
This last point is particularly relevant within the Church of the Brethren. For its entire history the denomination has been predominantly rural. For much of its 300 year history this presented no problems as the country was also predominantly rural. But since the 1950's the population of the country has shifted to urban areas and for some reason the Brethren didn't follow. We have very few churches located in urban areas around the country. And many that are urban got that way by accident; they were once rural but have since been engulfed by sprawl. There has been no concerted effort to plant churches where the people are actually living. And we wonder why we are in numerical decline!
Open Circle is a notable exception in our denomination. Credit goes to the Northern Plains District for having the vision to get a church started in the twin cities (although some in the district are not so thrilled about us anymore), and to the church planter who knew it was either plant a church in an urban area or get out of the ministry and find another line of work.
Recently on the Voices for an Open Spirit listserve, where progressive Brethren talk among themselves about our denominational problems, there has been a noticeable uptick in conversations about planting churches. This is good to see. Within our denomination I think progressives have devoted far too much time and energy fighting with conservatives to win the "middle." The middle is aging and dying.
It would be far more fulfilling and productive for us to use our time, talent and resources as progressives to strengthen our existing progressive churches in urban areas and plant new ones.
If, and it is still a big if, this vision begins to unfold we have an opportunity to play a significant role. Because we have done it. We are still new and are still experiencing growing pains, but we have people with vision and skills who know what it takes to build a progressive community. If the Church of the Brethren is to have a future I believe we are where it's at.