SEABROOKS SAYS: Our churches have been in decline for decades. Do we really want this? Dwayne Burks draws an interesting conclusion of churches and the “Go Outside” campaign in Gaston. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?
Recently our community rolled out a new branding slogan that encourages us to GO OUTSIDE. It seems to be having an impact. In fact, last week I found myself referencing the slogan when I shared our county’s many outdoor attractions with an out-of-town customer service operator who took my refrigerator repair call. Before we hung up, he was convinced to visit the U.S. National Whitewater Center and Crowder’s Mountain State Park. GO OUTSIDE is catching on!
I thought about this new slogan in relation to the plethora of churches scattered across our county. The local Economic Development Commission reports that we have over 700 houses of worship right here in Gaston County. If my math is correct this means we have a church positioned every half mile for every 297 individuals.
The reasons for so many churches is perhaps another story for another day. But the question for today is what is it that causes certain churches to thrive while others seem to falter or barely get by? Why do some churches pack the pews, while others have more pews than people? Could it be that some of our churches starting grasping the GO OUTSIDE message long before it was enlisted as community catchphrase?
Christ charged the church to GO OUTSIDE over 2000 years ago by challenging us to, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.” In fact, Christian churches routinely refer to Christ’s instruction to GO OUTSIDE as the church’s Great Commission. Furthermore, we couple the Great Commission to GO OUTSIDE with the Great Command to love our neighbors as ourselves.
This sounds an awful lot like the philosophy of First United Methodist’s Rev. David Christy who sums it up using all the sophistication of his Duke Divinity degree when he says, “It ain’t rocket science. We are here to love God and love people.”
Growing, thriving churches seem to GO OUTSIDE, motivated by their love God and their love for others. Healthy churches do not wait for people to come to them. Instead they GO OUTSIDE their doors and engage their communities. It may be as simple as greeting neighbors on the street or getting to know homeless in the street. But times are different and traditions die hard. A generation ago we could open the doors and people would show up. Churches were the centerpieces of community communication, activities, and recreation. But times have changed. Communication channels are not limited to a weekly meeting down at the church. Today we communicate instantaneously. What once required hours, days, or sometimes weeks to filter down is literally in the palms of our hands. Likewise, people are more mobile than ever before. Church has become just one of the many options on our map of weekly things to do and places to visit. But that does not mean the church needs to fade into obscurity. It means we have the greatest opportunity ever to open our doors the other way and GO OUTSIDE. The world is abuzz with activity where we can do what Jesus told us to do a long time ago – GO OUTSIDE!
While programs coordinate and support this going outside; programs do not dictate it. Healthy churches GO OUTSIDE not with out of a sense of obligation or forced outreach. Rather, both pastors and parishioners GO OUTSIDE fueled by the genuine desire to love their neighbors as themselves. So the challenge for churches is clear. How will we move from merely coming to church to actually being the church? How will we love our neighbors as ourselves if they are not coming to us? What if we take our lead from Christ and from the growing churches around us and GO OUTSIDE?
Dwayne Burks serves as the Chaplain and Director of Social Responsibility for the Gaston County Family YMCA.
Phone or text: 704.860.2957.