The Mother Church

The Mother Church

by John C. Bangs

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Overview

It would be reasonable to estimate that multiple hundreds of thousands of people have become followers of Jesus Christ as a result of the modern church-planting movement. One characteristic of the literature of this movement has been an almost singular focus on the individual who is sent out to lead the new congregation, rather than on the vital role of the sending or sponsoring church.

Practically all the books are written with one target in mind: this individual leader, the pioneer pastor, usually referred to as the "church planter." The Mother Church is not written for pioneer pastors; it is written for the leaders of potential mother churches. It is designed to help leaders assess whether and when the birthing of a new church is a good idea for their congregation and to provide them with tools to birth and nurture healthy, thriving, life-giving new churches.

"Church leaders who desire to see their mission efforts survive and thrive need to give special attention to the hardwon insights of John Bangs' The Mother Church. Bangs is not only a mission planter and pastor, but he brings the broader view of a church-planting leader ..."
-Charles J. Scalise, Ph.D., Professor of Church History, Fuller Theological Seminary

"The Mother Church will revolutionize the way we view and do birthing of mission churches."
-Kent J. Ingle, D.Min., Dean, College of Ministry, Northwest University



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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781450221009
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 07/21/2010
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.44(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Mother Church

A Church Leader's Guide to Birthing and Nurturing Thriving New Congregations
By John C. Bangs

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2010 John C. Bangs
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4502-2100-9


Chapter One

Church Parenting: A Better Metaphor

We do not think good metaphors are anything very important, but I think a good metaphor is something even the police should keep an eye on. -Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

What if every married couple in North America chose to forego having children in order to give themselves more fully to the accomplishment of personal and career goals? What if going childless were the rule instead of the exception? Several obvious results would seem positive.

Businesses would be more productive. Consider what could be done with twice the workforce, the ability to work almost interminable hours, undistracted devotion to business objectives, evenings spent networking at parties and dinners, and more time for education. The population would likely be healthier. Imagine the energy and fitness we could achieve with excess time to spend with physical trainers, masseuses, spiritual directors, and psychologists. Individuals would be wealthier. Tax money that now goes to public schools and to clothing children could be converted to disposable income. Having plenty of time for exotic vacations and lots of money to pamper themselves, child-free couples would be more rested. If all went childless, North America would have an exceptionally productive, healthy, wealthy, and rested present-but no future.

Something very similar to this is happening in North America's churches: Foregoing parenting, our churches are exchanging the birthing of healthy new baby churches for their own prosperity at the present moment. My purpose in making this strong statement is not to condemn the efforts and priorities of our churches. Without question, our churches make a powerful and positive difference in individual lives and in communities. My hope, instead, is to start a conversation, a reevaluation of those priorities. I can hear the questions: How can our programs be productive if we send our most effective and compelling leaders away to pastor new churches? How can we breathe health and vitality into our ministries if we release perfectly good volunteers to serve baby congregations? Where do we find the wealth to finance our facilities if we give "the gift that keeps on giving," financial contributions of tithing congregants, to rent space for daughter churches? We are exhausted enough already just trying to minister to our own congregations; how can we minister effectively if we add the task of birthing new ones?

Questions like these demonstrate the enormity of the task at hand. Let us take a moment to address these questions by reflecting on some numbers that demonstrate where the North American church stands in the task of reaching our population with the gospel.

The Numbers

At a 2005 convention in Chicago two speakers were featured: Ted Haggard, the since-discredited then-president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and Ron Luce, the fiery director of Teen Mania, the organization that presents the popular "Acquire the Fire" stadium events. Haggard's message was affirming and comforting. Using George Barna's statistics to paint a picture of an expanding and successful evangelistic effort in the United States, his message could have been entitled, "Don't Worry; Be Happy." Luce's presentation, on the other hand, was intentionally disturbing. Fully intending to mobilize the two thousand or so pastors present in a strategic battle to win the hearts and minds of America's youth, Luce, quoting a since-challenged statistic, declared that only 4 percent of the "rising generation" are born-again Christians.

So who is right? Is Evangelical Christianity prospering, growing, and succeeding at making disciples of all nations, including this one? Or are we in a dire situation requiring urgent, focused action to keep the Christian faith from going the way of Zeus and Odin?

Answers to questions about the success or failure-growth or decline-of the Christian faith are exceptionally difficult to pin down conclusively: How is the genuineness of Christian faith determined? Who makes the call? Should we count first-time faith confessions, born-again experiences, church membership roles, average weekly attendance figures, or attendance at peak times of the year? Should only Evangelical churches be counted, or should the mainline Protestant denominations be included? What about Catholics? Orthodox? Seventh Day Adventists? Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses? Do we ask the churches or do we go directly to individuals and ask them? Different studies use different criteria to answer these key questions.

The Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance contend that Christianity has fallen into decline in the United States:

Large numbers of American adults are disaffiliating themselves from Christianity.... Identification with Christianity has suffered a loss of 9.7 percentage points in 11 years-about 0.9 percentage points per year. This decline is identical to that observed in Canada between 1981 and 2001. If this trend continues, then by about the year 2042, non-Christians will outnumber the Christians in the U.S.

The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) concludes that Americans are moving away from organized expressions of Christianity:

Often lost amidst the mesmerizing tapestry of faith groups ... is also a vast and growing population of those without faith ... The present survey has detected a wide and possibly growing swath of secularism among Americans.

The Ontario Consultants and the authors of the ARIS report give credence to Luce's position. In contrast, George Barna's The State of the Church: 2006, concludes that the number of Christians in the United States is not in decline, but is at least stable and may be "hot." Where the ARIS report uses self-identification to determine religious identification, this statistician of the born-again movement asks specific theological questions to determine if a person is truly an evangelical Christian. The percentage affirming "a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important" and choosing the statement, "When you die you will go to heaven because you have confessed your sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as your savior," has increased steadily from 35 percent in 1991 to an amazing 45 percent in 2006. Barna is clearly in Haggard's camp.

Their optimism, however, should be tempered by a key observation in a study by David Olson, a leading expert in church-multiplication associated with the Evangelical Covenant. Olson brings into consideration a phenomenon called the "halo effect" that occurs when people are asked to self-report on personal issues like church attendance, voting, and smoking. The number of people actually counted in churches on a given Sunday morning differs from the number of people who tell telephone survey workers that they attend church on Sunday mornings. According to Olson, "Numbers from actual counts of people in orthodox Christian churches show that 20.4 percent of the population attended church on any given weekend in 1990. That percentage dropped to 18.7 percent by 2000." Olson's conclusions are based on the data of the Glenmary Study, which evaluated reports from about 250,000 of the 350,000 churches in the United States, and must be considered much more conclusive than Barna's observations, which come from telephone interviews of only 1,002 adults.

The number of church attendees has indeed risen from 50,848,000 to 52,500,000 between 1990 and 2000-an increase of just over 3 percent. In the same period, however, U.S. population has risen 13 percent. Church attendance growth lags a full 10 percent behind! In fact, as a percentage of population growth, church attendance declined from 1990 to 2000 in every state of the union except Hawaii.

Remarkably, all numeric growth in U.S. church attendance is in the evangelical sector. Mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic church attendance figures are down significantly in the United States. C. Kirk Hadaway reports, "Using adjusted membership figures, the Episcopal Church lost 829,000 active members between 1967 and 2002." These losses seem moderate in comparison to those of other mainline churches. The Presbyterian Church (USA) lost an incredible 1.7 percent of its total membership in 2002 alone. The Church of Christ lost over 2 percent that same year!

Canadian losses exceed the losses in the United States, Canadian Social Trends 2006 concludes, "The proportion of adult Canadians who either have no religious affiliation or do have a religion but don't attend religious services increased from 31 percent to 43 percent."

These figures represent an annual disaffiliation rate with Christianity of over 0.5 percent per year, and they fail to take into account the difference between the religious practices of immigrants and Canadian-born citizens. Immigrants are much more likely to practice a religion other than Christianity. The index of religiosity among immigrants in Canada shows stable participation in spiritual disciplines and weekly attendance, which may indicate that non-Christian religions are holding their own, but Christianity is in serious decline. This outpacing of the growth of Christianity by other religions is not only a Canadian phenomenon; it is observed in study after study of church attendance in the United States. Note the conclusion of researchers Carl Dudley and David Roozen: "The founding of congregations among Bahá'is, Muslims, and Mormons over the last twenty years ... is rapidly putting a new face on American religion."

Based on the accumulated evidence cited, I am going to have to side with Luce. We are not in a "Don't Worry; Be Happy" moment in North American Christian history. Action is needed. But what kind of action? I propose the following: North America's churches must ignite a parent-church movement. Individual congregations in the United States must begin to see the birthing of new churches according to the parenting metaphor as a natural part of their church life cycle. Genuine parental nurture must be invested in every new church project, resulting in healthy, thriving congregations and leaders.

Why New Churches?

Why parent new churches rather than simply improving the health and strength of existing ones? Urban church-multiplication pioneer Tim Keller answers this question with a provocative claim:

The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for (1) the numerical growth of the Body of Christ in any city, and (2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city. Nothing else ... will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting ... The only way to truly be sure you are creating permanent new Christians is to plant churches.

Olson reinforces this conclusion: "Church planting is the most powerful growth mechanism for the American church." This can be seen by comparing the contribution of new church development on total attendance to that of the growth of established churches. In only one denomination does the growth of established churches exceed that of new churches. In all others-and as a whole-growth from new churches dwarfs that from established churches. In four out of nine denominations, the only growth present at all is from new churches! Listen to Olson's complacency-shattering conclusion: "In this last decade, new churches were 23 times more productive in producing attendance growth than established churches (of the 3 million more people in worship in 2000 than 1990, 96 percent of these came from new churches)."

The Metaphor: Parenting or Planting?

As we start new churches, are we planting plants or are we having babies? Since the 1990 publication of Wagner's Church Planting for a Greater Harvest, and even before, efforts in church-multiplication typically have been conducted under the metaphor of planting. Other metaphors can be detected in trace amounts-the construction metaphor in denominations that speak of "new church development" or the cell mitosis metaphor in groups that speak of "church-multiplication"-but none of these is nearly as widespread as planting. In the way Wagner intended it, as an agricultural metaphor, planting is not an inherently flawed way of looking at the establishment of new churches. It could be that, in rural communities, planting is even the best metaphor. The challenge comes when this metaphor is transplanted into a suburban or urban context. What was meant as an agricultural metaphor quickly becomes a residential landscaping metaphor. Perhaps, at first hearing, this seems an insignificant difference, but the implications for establishing new congregations are genuine and profound. Since the vast majority of new church starts take place in non-agricultural communities, these implications appear in very real ways in real-life church starts.

Tom Nebel, who directs the church-multiplication efforts for the Baptist General Conference, in his very practical book Big Dreams in Small Places, observes, "The authors of church planting and church growth resources were suggesting that the best places, if not the only places, where God could start and grow churches were in growing urban and suburban environments." The well-articulated premise of Nebel's work is that, when contrasted to small-town rural situations, it is much more difficult to establish new churches in suburban and, especially, urban contexts. This is certainly so. Nonetheless, a report by the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board (NAMB) shows that the cities and their metropolitan areas are, nonetheless, the most fruitful areas for new church starts. So, for good or ill, we find ourselves speaking to urban and suburban church leaders with a rural metaphor that is too often misunderstood or misapplied.

Especially in suburban neighborhoods, we see planting as the process of going to the nursery, picking out a healthy young plant, digging a hole, improving the soil a little, adding fertilizer, putting the plant in the hole, adding some water, and walking away. It is the work of two or three hours on a Saturday afternoon. The plant may never need care or maintenance again. If it does, the care may be limited to a little pruning every couple of years, maybe some watering in the dry season, perhaps a little fertilizer. By framing the establishment of new congregations under the rubric of residential landscaping, the planting metaphor unintentionally creates the expectation in founding congregations that starting a new church requires little cost and effort, and that the new entity will become self-sustaining quickly. Planting as a metaphor for the starting of new churches suggests that what little investment is required will happen up front and will be over quickly.

Contrast this with a parenting metaphor. In parenting, the up-front investment at the conception stage is insignificant when compared to the effort expended later. The birthing stage is both painful and life consuming. All other activities stop for the coming of a baby. But that pain and the event of birth is not the end. It is only the beginning. The parents will soon learn that all aspects of their lives will be altered by the coming of that child-and, to a gradually decreasing degree, for the rest of their lives. They dedicate themselves to learning all they can about child rearing; all their evenings are busy; they do not have time for their old friends; any extra money goes into savings for college; all spare time is spent taking the kids to dance lessons, music classes, and team sports. In the end, though, despite the immeasurable investment, the very fact of the child's existence gives meaning to the parents' life. (Continues...)



Excerpted from The Mother Church by John C. Bangs Copyright © 2010 by John C. Bangs. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents

Contents

Acknowledgments....................ix
Introduction....................xiii
Part One: Why....................1
Chapter 1 Church Parenting: A Better Metaphor....................3
Chapter 2 Taking Stock: A Look Back....................26
Chapter 3 Thriving Churches: No Other Goal....................44
Chapter 4 New Congregations for Emerging Generations....................66
Chapter 5 Leaving a Legacy: Bringing Meaning to Life....................87
Part Two: How....................103
Chapter 6 Key Characteristics and Practices of Parenting....................105
Part Three: When....................123
Chapter 7 What Does It Take? A Look in the Mirror....................125
Chapter 8 Becoming a Parent: A Twinkle in Mommy's Eye....................144
Appendix A Pregnancy Test: A Congregational Self-Assessment Tool....................149
Appendix B Project One-Five....................158
Appendix C Additional Mother Church Stories....................160
Appendix D Seattle District Church Parenting Timeline and Checklist....................168
Bibliography....................169

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