Planting a mission versus a church

Before I was one week old, I was in church. You could say church is in my family’s blood. My dad is a minister, my grandparents served as leaders in their church; my great grandparents were ministers and church planters. Church is familiar to me. But what about the people that are not in church – the people we describe as the unchurched? I used to think the unchurched were people who simply did not attend church. I now know that thought is missing the mark.

With the decline of the church in recent decades, the unchurched are more than just those who do not go to church. In our urban area, we have spent time with families in which several generations have not been a part of a faith community. We also have an enormous multi-ethnic and refugee population. Many have a very different idea (if any idea) of what is church. Church is not something they know and means exactly what the word implies: the unchurched are indeed unchurched. 

The following are some insights about who the unchurched in our region are:

  • For us, “churched” folks, missing Sunday morning worship service would bring some feelings of guilt or a sense of missing out on fellowship.  For the current unchurched going to church on Sunday morning does not even enter their mind. Should you be able to make a connection and the visitors really like your church you still probably will not see them every week. And tithing?  That is a whole separate discussion; let’s just say it’s not going to happen for a while.
  • Another discovery is that the multi-ethnic urban core of our area is very transient. These families are new to the job market with a young growing family.  If a better opportunity opens up, something bigger and better comes along, they will take it. If the patriarch of a multi ethnic family gets a job in another town, more than likely a large part of the family is going with them. Needless to say, the ministry can shrink and grow in double digits in a matter of days.
It has become clear: we must be prepared to engage and reach the unchurched in our area.

These and other realities are not barriers but rather opportunities for learning and understanding other cultures and making applications to the multi-ethnic ministry. It has become clear:  we must be prepared to engage and reach the unchurched in our area. Our preparation is with the knowledge of Christ that this valuable ministry is going to take time and it is not going to be easy.  

The usual paradigm for church growth is good and works in many places. However, in the urban and ethnic areas that are filled with multiple generations of unchurched, and multiple ethnicities, another paradigm is needed. A paradigm is needed that is more being and less doing, one that looks more like a Mission and maybe not so much like a church.  It must work with people, not for people and begin around common interests, relationships established, and trust instead of attractive programs.  This paradigm ultimately equips, prepares, and sends.

In this mission, we are recognizing our incredible need to find multiple avenues of funding. We are engaging in non-profit work, bi-vocational work, and even rent out a room in our home for funding. We must open our eyes to existing assets, such as building space, examine every square foot, and look with new eyes for opportunities for funding and support. 

And where do you fit in? In order for our mission to continue, it will be imperative that churches in our district support these urban, multi-ethnic missions. Please know we are not looking so much for wages and benefits, but partners in our mission.   Bring in a team for a Work and Witness trip or an ethnic/urban plunge. Please make us a part of your prayer ministry; sponsor a missionary couple, family or an intern. What is your special gift or talent?  What do you enjoy doing?   Maybe you are an electrician or computer genius, an accountant or a gardener.  You could donate some of your valuable time and experience to our mission.

We have an incredible opportunity before us. Together we can make a huge difference in the lives of millions of people. We have an opportunity to break a vicious cycle of generations of unchurched. We have an incredible opportunity to be the church Christ calls us to be. Thank you for your support, we pray you would not just continue to support us but also join us in our mission to bring the hospitality of Christ to the great cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.