This year at BGCC we’ve dedicated around 20 babies and children. Our nursery is packed! I rejoice in the number of young couples and children our church counts as part of our family. I’m thrilled because our church is growing younger.
Ten years ago this wasn’t the case. I remember walking past the nursery during service to pick up something needed for my sermon. Inside were two nursery attendants with no babies to watch. I stopped and said, “It’s a slow Sunday I guess?” Their answer was chilling, “No, it’s pretty normal.”
We Faced the Facts
This was a defining moment for me and our church. I went to the elders and shared my encounter because we needed to make a choice. We could stick with what we had because our church was just the way we liked it. We could have kept this going for sometime because only the nursery was empty. Next year our toddler class would be empty, then our preschool classes, and eventually we’d have no children meeting downstairs. Our youth would grow up and leave, but we’d be fine. We’d have a church made for us, just the way we liked it.
The alternative was a difficult proposition. We’d have to make some changes for people who weren’t here yet. We’d have to intentionally decide to do church in a way that was approachable and magnetic for a new generation of believers. We’d have to learn about our neighbors and become a church for them. This meant we’d have to sacrifice some of our likes to show our neighbors we loved them and wanted them to be a part of God’s family here at BGCC.
These were our only two choices. We may have not liked the facts, but they showed us what was really happening. Reality is that tough friend who always tells you the truth. Sometimes it hurts, but it hurts more to ignore it.
It was a hard choice, harder than we realized, but our leadership was committed to leaving BGCC in better shape than they found it. Together we decided we were going to grow young and reach out. We didn’t know what that meant yet, but we knew we needed to do something.
We Did Research
We decided we needed to know who we were trying to reach. What did this new generation believe? We started by reading The Rise of the Nones by James Emery White. We wanted to know why so many young people had written off the church. His book helped us realize this new generation was asking different questions than we were answering. It forced us to double down on caring for our community both because it was the right thing to do and because it was the best way to reach those skeptical about faith.
In addition to engaging our community we wanted to provide excellence in worship. We had been caught up in the small group movement and thought it was the best way to reach new people. Groups would invite their friends who would then come to church. We were not seeing this happen! We realized many of our visitors wanted the ability to preview the church before connecting with it.
Unlike today most churches were not streaming their worship services. So, if you wanted to know what a church was like you had to attend. It was like a first date when visitors attended for the first time. They didn’t want to give their name, sign-up for a class or group, or volunteer. They just wanted a preview to see if we were compatible and they would give us one chance to make a first impression. This is why we needed to make sure we planned every Sunday like it was someone’s first Sunday.
We Put a Plan in Action
Engage the community and be ready for guests with excellent worship services. These were the two primary takeaways we had from this meeting. We believed that if we did this we would see some growth, and we did. The problem was that once we became a church for our neighbors, some of our members felt left behind. This was the part that was challenging and I’m not sure we handled it perfectly…I’m sure we didn’t.
I believe our decision to be a church for our neighbors was the right decision. I know we’re seeing the fruit of it in our congregation. It started with a choice to intentionally focus on our neighbors – on the neighbors who weren’t in church yet. These are the people we felt God wanted us to reach. We may not have church just the way we like it, but it’s not our church. The church belongs to God and it’s open to all of our neighbors.