“Church planting? Don’t think of it as another option in a mall food court, think of a new farm in a starving country.”
A couple of days back I read this quote on Facebook. The quote initially took me back a bit. I didn’t know if it was meant to argue against planting churches where churches exist or to change our perspective on church planting in the South. The author of this great one-liner is my friend and has been associated with church planting in the South so I assume that the quote is an attempt to change our thoughts on planting in the South. In the South everybody goes to church, or so it seems, so we should ask, “Why plant in the South with churches on every corner?”
Allow me to take the food court metaphor a bit farther. Imagine a food court that is bustling with people and restaurants. Now imagine that food court 25 years from now. The restaurants that are holding steady have established relationships, they feed many families, and maintain healthy business practices. The simple and undeniable fact is that restaurants need upgrades, restaurants need new and old relationships, and restaurants need healthy business practices. If a restaurant fails one health inspection, that restaurant’s relationships are damaged and there goes the business. If that restaurant fails to maintain their location and to maintain the businesses around them, the restaurant is doomed for eventual failure. Churches are just like restaurants. Churches exist on relationships, both new and old; they need buildings and maintained facilities; and they must have healthy business practices. Churches that “shoot from the hip” wound people, which in turn hurts relationships and kills the church.
Now that the metaphor has been fleshed a bit, allow me to give some stats. The first and most interesting for this argument for church planting in the South is provided by Win Arn. He says, “ 80% of all churches are on the downside of their life cycle.” In other words, 80% of the restaurants are where Bitter Betty has the family reunion. Bill Easum adds “Three- fourths of churches will close their doors in the next 30 yrs.” Allow me to continue the metaphor, when Bitter Betty stops visiting “The Sizzler” (great buffet), the doors will close.
Ok! So maybe my point and sarcasm about dying restaurants has hit a nerve and your push back is, so why doesn’t “The Sizzler” build a new building and update its menu. I ask the same question! I pray that “The Sizzler” does, but the simple truth is that it will have great difficulty turning the tide. Statistics tell us that “The Sizzler” has a stigma for being Bitter Betty’s church, which is somewhat unfair, but Bitter Betty is “The Sizzler’s” paying customer. She visits every Sunday, eats the buffet, and pays with cash. To renovate the facilities and eliminate the buffet would leave Bitter Betty with a desire to eat at another location and doesn’t guarantee any new customers. Naturally, leadership at “The Sizzler” makes the decision for “The Sizzler” to do nothing, and by the time it does choose to change, it is too late.
“The Sizzler” has one good option, to reinvent itself in order to sell what is most important. By reinvent I mean use its accumulated wealth and healthy business practices to start a new restaurant chain… A restaurant that appeals to people who refuse to eat at “The Sizzler”, but are still hungry for Living Bread. The Church is the same. Declining and dying churches must be replaced with new churches if the South is to remain the Bible Belt, and most importantly, if people are to drink Living Water and eat the Bread of Life.
I understand that many of you reading may take offense to my metaphor. Here are a few of my perceived offenses (1) I called your church old and dying, (2) that you like to eat at “The Sizzler”, and (3) I suggested that the church reinvent itself but didn’t distinguish what should be changed and what should not. I caution you with number one, apologize for number two (I like the breakfast), and will answer number three next month.
Let it be noted that Bitter Betty is in no way a reference to my grandmother named Betty. It is a reference to the Twitter Account @BitterBlueBetty.