I was with a group of congregational development leaders in other annual conferences. We are responsible for new church starts. We are always considering new ways of being church and moving toward the edge of what might be possible.
But even among that group of creative thinkers it happened. Someone suggested an approach to church planting that was radically new. About as soon as it was uttered, others responded with all the reasons why it wouldn’t work, starting with The Book of Discipline and ending with the rigid bureaucracy of the institutional church.
That tends to be our natural response, doesn’t it? Our minds seem to be wired to look for problems. It is easier to critique than to create.
I noticed in that conversation that our focus on all the barriers and reasons why something would not work just got us stuck. We had nowhere to go in the conversation from there.
I also have seen that the churches that effectively reach new people—especially new generations—are pushing the envelope. They don’t let the way we have always done things, or all the “rules” of the established church, limit their thinking.
God beyond the limits
If you haven’t noticed, many of the things that used to work in connecting to new people and being the church in our world are no longer effective. As I often like to say, not many people are waking up on Sunday morning thinking about what church they might attend and make great. If ever there was a time to be about experimentation, creativity, and going beyond what has been—even if it means pushing the envelope—it is now.
The Southern Prairie District’s October newsletter reports on how Balaton United Methodist Church asked the question, “What if . . . ?” The church’s Sunday school was down to five children. Offering it in the traditional way and time was not drawing people.
The person who headed up the Sunday school started talking to the Lutheran church in town. They had a similar situation. They asked each other, What if we tried something on Wednesday night and did it together? What might that look like?
Turns out it looks like over 100 kids and adults sharing a meal followed by worship, learning, and fellowship time. They call it JAM (Jesus and Me). This is in a town of 650 people.
Who would have thought that was possible? Instead of staying focused on what was not working, they dreamed about what might be, and discovered a new way to be the church and to reach new people.
The questions we ask shape the conversations we hold, and the conversations we hold shape the church we become. What would it look like if we asked the simple question, “What if . . . ?” and listened long enough to hear whether God might just be doing a new thing in our midst?
Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church