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State of the Church 2013

State of the Church, 2013

Dan Scott

Senior Pastor & Corporate President

Christ Church Nashville

Annual Church Business Meeting

 

In the February 10th edition of the Tennessean, Michael Cass wrote an article called Nashville To Plan Growth Through Twenty Forty[1].  In that article he paints a picture based on projections of statisticians for a future Nashville in which over one million new inhabitants move into the city between now and 2040. These statistics imply that Williamson and Rutherford Counties will each have 500, 000 inhabitants by that time. Latinos will be by far the area’s largest minority group, with one of three middle Tennesseans being of Hispanic descent. And, there will be sizable representation here of African and Asian groups as well. Additionally, the city’s culture will be deeply impacted by the values of the millennial generation, whose members will fill the most important leadership posts in all areas of city life, religious, economic, academic and political.

The members of the millennial generation tend to select where they live before choosing where they work. The new urban density that this implies will put huge pressure on the city’s transit, educational and aesthetic priorities. However, the type of city planning required to remain attractive to the millennial generation can sometimes be at odds with the priorities of the city’s current inhabitants. This means that the city must figure out how to transition the city to meet the needs of tomorrow’s citizens without alienating those of us who live here today.

Cass says that the city has organized a series of meetings to discuss these challenges and opportunities. The city’s leaders want our opinions about how they can both meet our present needs and plan for tomorrow.

This article, and the issues it addresses, is important to every one who lives in the Nashville area. However, I read it with particular interest because it seemed to parallel our church’s opportunities and challenges. As the Sovereign God would have it, we are located at the center of these anticipated changes. In fact, they have already affected us more than they have affected large churches in areas outside Davidson County. Like our city, this church has organized its programs, built its campus, and tailored its ministry as responses to the needs of those we were serving. Now, we find ourselves facing a rapidly changing city while still carrying the infrastructure of the past. While newer churches are able to dive more directly into meeting the needs of today’s world, we must retrofit existing structures – ministries, personnel, facilities and so forth — to do that.

However, older churches have their own particular strengths, such as intergenerational relationships, a sense of history, and the sort of land holdings that will become increasingly difficult to acquire. The challenge before us where these things are concerned is that younger adults, even Christian ones, tend to view them more as liabilities than as assets. For this reason, they may negatively label our church before they even experience it.

The challenge, I believe, is to use our facilities in such a way that the community around us, believer and unbeliever alike, will see them as a community asset, as something that serves everyone.   And, our campus must not drain the finances that the people would rather give to Christian mission, discipleship and community service.

It is risky to acknowledge the different way the various generations, ethnicities and social classes view our physical assets. But it is important to our future that we speak openly about it. After all, there is much to learn from everyone if we keep our conversation sincere, respectful and truthful.

My objective this evening is to present an honest assessment of the state of the church. Because this is a business meeting, most of our attention will be focused tonight on finances and corporate matters, as it should be. However, in a church especially, the corporate assets and facilitates exist to further the cause for which these things exist. If the corporation and its material assets ever become the main focus of our attention, we will have lost our reason for continued existence. Therefore, we must be cautious about how we evaluate the church’s health and not fall into the trap of either using spirituality as an excuse for sloppy business, or business as an excuse for sloppy spirituality.

Our corporate structures and assets have been handed to us for this season to safeguard and manage. The Lord’s parable of the talents makes it clear that this is a spiritual trust, and one for which we will be called to give an account.

As we look toward the next many years, our main task is to serve our own times, but to do so in a way that keeps transitioning the church toward a healthy future, toward ministering to the needs of the future Nashville described in the Tennessean.

Twenty-five years ago, I was a thirty-five year old man with little children and we had just built the building we are in tonight. This church had given me a place and a voice and had encouraged me to grow in leadership and in life. Our church was exploding in growth and we were all excited.

The years since have passed like a flash of lightening.  My children are nearly the same age I was when I first came here. Now, their children are growing up.

The next twenty-five years will pass just as quickly. How we think today, how we act today, how we plan today, and how we allocate and spend our resources today will determine how the leaders of our church twenty-five years from now will be able to respond to the opportunities ahead, some of which we can anticipate and others we cannot.

We must keep this bigger picture before us. These far reaching issues are, and should be, little less prominent in our thinking than the ones more immediately facing us.  Nonetheless, the future issues are real, they are pressing and they, too, are urgent. A million people are coming!  Along with them are coming our own grandchildren. These people will arrive at adulthood churned about by the ever accelerating forces of globalization, radical new technologies, and scientific discoveries that will boggle their minds and reorient the thinking of our nation.  These future inhabitants of Nashville are our own children in Christ and it is our responsibility to prepare to serve them.

This is one of the reasons we are here tonight.

 

 What are Our Most Urgent Needs?

 

Our staff adopted four core values eight years ago. I believe they are an important component of how we prepare for the future I have just described. Those values are,

  1. Teach and practice an ancient/future faith. This value reminds us that that we are a Christian church, deeply rooted in history but also moving courageously into the future.
  2. 2.     Raise up leaders
  3. 3.     Create Community
  4. 4.     Reach the Nations at Home and Abroad

Most of these are spiritual issues. Perhaps they have little to do with a business meeting, at least directly. However, I would suggest that the second core value, that of raising up leaders, is a serious and a practical need. An independent church becomes particularly vulnerable as it ages if it lacks a constant stream of emerging leaders. We need leaders of every age, of course, and nothing can substitute for the experience and wisdom of older leaders. However, without young leaders we have no future.

Furthermore, we cannot import most of our young leaders.

Our church’s history suggests when young leaders fail to quickly connect with our church culture; they have a difficult time surviving. This implies that young leaders must have enough experience with our church’s history and culture, or at least with our region and its unique spiritual background, to be accepted.

We must also realize that growing young leaders from anywhere, even from within our own congregation, requires grace and patience on our part. The thing that most dependably grows leaders is for them to actually take on responsibility. If we become too impatient with them, expecting them to exhibit the maturity of a more seasoned person, we abort the process.  Young leaders tend to be vocal and assertive.  Helping them serve as they gain maturity and humility requires patience on our part.  If a church lacks enough patience to do that, its potential leaders keep going elsewhere to make their mark on the world.

A community’s attitude toward its emerging leaders then is a prime indicator of its ability to move toward a productive future.

Developing leaders requires us to encourage those with potential for leadership to acquire the sort of formal and informal training they need to become effective. In these rapidly changing times, the demands of church work require leaders with specific skills for their particular calling, as has always been the case. However, leaders today also need deep general knowledge of the world. Church leaders simply cannot afford to fall far behind the educational levels of those they lead. It is difficult for a congregation to respect a minister who is incapable of wrestling with the issues of his times in light of his faith. For all these reasons, a church severely limits its scope of present and future influence if it fails to invest in the ongoing training and education of its emerging leaders.

I will be so bold to say that if we will deepen our respect and commitment to training and education we will likely meet the challenges ahead. If we fail to do it, our future will not likely be successful.

Second to the training and education of our leaders, the next important issue for us is to become clear; about both who we are and what it is we are trying to do. If we are clear about our common values, common objectives and common goals, people can make an informed and authentic choice about whether this congregation is where they want to work and build relationships. That will result in unity of purpose for many years to come.

Thirdly, our church must grow numerically. The past years have been challenging for us. The changes in our world, our city and our church have been constant and unrelenting.  Many seasoned members moved elsewhere. Thankfully, newer members have been coming in. But we must reach more people, especially those who live within the neighborhoods that immediately surround our church.

We must also attract those seasoned Christians who are called to serve. A church dedicated to the transformation of self and community is not attractive to everyone. However, it will be attractive to those who are serious about making a difference in the world.

In other words, we want our church to be attractive to those who have a mission in life. And to be that kind of a church, we must become clear about our present and future identity, mission, and values.

Last year, after securing board approval, I invited Pastor Bruce Grubbs to partner with us. I thought we needed his experience to help us clarify our identity and mission, and our church survey last year seemed to confirm that. Pastor Bruce has had a long and valuable experience helping churches develop the organizational structure and leadership training to carry out their mission. We are fortunate that he accepted this invitation.  He has been working with us for about four months to help us move toward growth.

I will share more about this in a moment.

Fourthly, we must increase our financial base.  Because we have a large campus, much of which now consists of aging facilities, it is imperative that we eliminate our debt and that we increase our income. Otherwise, we will lack the funds necessary for the kind of staffing and programing people expect from a large church such as ours, and will be severely hindered in our attempts to minister to our area of the city.

Our partnership with the YMCA has proven that we can form partnerships with reliable parachurch groups and congregations on this campus for our mutual benefit. The YMCA immediately began helping us carry the responsibility for our largest building that become particularly heavy in the recession we have lived through in recent years.  Now, after four years, they have begun to help us even more directly with the financial upkeep of the church by making a generous and much appreciated offering in the first quarter of this year. It is our hope that this partnership will serve as a model for other partnerships we can form with compatible congregations and parachurch groups.

We can fill our campus with ministries like this in the days ahead. This will not only help us carry the financial load, but will bring people with knowledge and passion onto the campus to work with us.

As an aside, the various groups that meet on this campus each Sunday (other than our two English and One Spanish services) host somewhere between four and five hundred people.)

Of course, the most dependable way to increase our income is simply to fill our building each Sunday with disciples, people who keep learning how to manage and grow their resources and who then become faithful tithers.

These four critical objectives will grow increasingly important as we move into the coming changes predicted by the city’s statisticians. The four points again are:

  • Growing leaders
  • Becoming Clear about our identity and mission
  • Growing numerically
  • Expanding our financial base

Our other corporate officers will give you a picture of our present financial and corporate health. Allow me to use my remaining time to briefly offer a few bullet points about our victories and challenges in 2012, and the ones we anticipate for the coming year.

 

2012 at A Glance

 

Our year began with a number of significant challenges. We were working to accumulate and evaluate the responses of an internal survey we had offered to our members and attenders about our identity, mission and church culture. As the year progressed, we continued to use the results of that survey to forge unity and to regain our momentum. For much of the year, it appeared that we would fall considerably short in reaching our projected income, which we knew in turn would further complicate our ability to provide quality staff and programs. These challenges followed us through the year.

However, against this challenging backdrop, we experienced some significant victories that have probably worked together to help us regain our corporate health.

First, our deacon program became effective much more quickly than what we had anticipated. The deacons answered the need so often expressed in the survey for more consistent pastoral care.  I have rarely visited anyone this year that had not already been served by deacons. This has been a most powerful and vital response to the need of this congregation.

I am grateful to Chris and Colleen Hollis for their massive amount of work, and to Daniel Bell whom I first appointed to help us organize and move the newly appointed deacon’s program into the hands of lay leaders.  Neither Daniel nor I had any idea the deacons would be so quickly accepted and become so efficiently organized, so soon. I think I speak for both of us when I say that this has all been a most pleasant surprise. Deacons are a permanent part of our church structure and culture and I thank all of you who serve us in this important biblical office.

Secondly, a software change in our office made the deacons program possible. However, it has done much more than that.  Fellowship One has significantly altered the way we gather information and respond to congregational needs.

An administrative change like Fellowship One, is not the most exciting thing in the world for most of us. It’s like plumbing; no one thinks about it until its not working! Well, our plumbing had not been working very well for a while. Now it is. So, thanks to Ann Smithson, Amanda Phillips and Scott Egbert for your very hard work on this administrative change.

Finally, after working to figure out our church’s stewardship needs and how to meet them, Linda Hilliard moved us forward this year in that area. Beginning with a special push to honor Pastor Hardwick’s eightieth birthday to the end of the year communication about our potential shortfall in general giving, we were astounded at the end of the year with better than anticipated giving – in the general fund as well as special tithes and offerings.

In short: After beginning the year with a challenging set of circumstances that taxed our unity and morale, we rebounded, both spiritually and financially.  As late as November, it looked as though we would end the year with a deficit of $400,000.00 in our general tithes and offerings. But when we asked if you would help, you responded. Furthermore, because we had severely curtailed spending, we now have a surplus with which to fund the restructuring of our loan.

So, although our momentum is still vulnerable, it is real. And, God willing, we will now work to empower our mission through measured and implementable steps so we can watch our church rebound and position to meet the opportunities of the next twenty-five years.

 

Looking at 2013

 

We will see a number of important changes in this coming year. A few of these are:

  1. Bruce Grubbs, our Pastor of Vision Implementation, will be walking our staff, board, deacons and other leaders through a planning process that will result in a unified strategy to fill this church with spiritually hungry people. He is not inventing a strategy; he is midwifing one that we are discerning together. After over a hundred hours of one on one interviews with our members and attenders, and reading through every single entry of the church wide survey, he has a good idea about who we are and what we want. Now, over the next few months, he will help us write it down, make it plain, and formulate steps for us to implement what we want to do.
  2. Sometime in the course of this year, we will secure a new loan structure to address our indebtedness. We knew this was coming because the balloon payment on our present loan comes due in May. Thanks to your strong giving last year, and to your continued faithful giving in this present year, we anticipate signing a loan that will help us continue to pay this debt down until it is quickly diminished and finally eliminated.
  3. Sometime in the coming months, we will select a new youth pastor. A rather diverse group is participating in this selection because we want to do our best to discern who should pastor this vital part of our church in the years ahead. After several years of serving our church, Jeremy Carlson has accepted an exciting position at Lifeway. He has served Christ Church honorably. We owe him much, and I want to publically thank him. This is a good time for us to acknowledge Michael Alfred as well. This past year, Michael accepted a teaching position at Providence Christian Academy, an excellent school in Murfreesboro.

Being a youth pastor is a difficult job. The one who holds this position is usually under fire from someone, somewhere. These two brothers have served us with grace and distinction when the fire became exceptionally heavy. So we bless them as they move into other places of service.

Let’s remember that changing youth pastors can be difficult on our young people and their parents. However, the change also signals the beginning of a new season for the church.  People with new thoughts and skill sets can address opportunities we may have failed to see because they are not embedded and invested in past challenges and victories.

The state of our church can be briefly stated as growing increasingly healthy.  Our indebtedness continues to hinder our ability to hire personnel and to offer the types of programing we would offer otherwise. However, the financial pressure also forces us to define and strengthen the core components of our mission. It forces us to set priorities, so that as we emerge from this challenging season we will have a deep knowledge of who we are and what we do that is unique among the city’s congregations.

We have momentum.  Given wise and unified decisions about the issues I have mentioned here tonight, we should see, in a relative short time now, a church that has been tested by many challenges through which it has developed powerful skills to reap a great harvest of souls in the coming decade.

That is the state of the church as I see it on this day, the nineteenth of February, 2013.