By Dick Barrett
The church landscape in 21st century America has radically changed over the past 20 years. We can no longer expect that the church model that existed for most of the 20th century is going to be effective for carrying out God’s call upon our lives as disciples of Jesus: to go out and make more disciples of Jesus who are advancing the Kingdom of God in our own communities — the places where we live, work and play — today.
Many would even debate whether or not the church that existed in the 20th century was faithful to its calling, but that is not our primary concern today. Our primary concern today is whether or not we are being faithful to God’s calling on our lives during this time in the places he has called us to. For some, the places that God has called us to will be a long distance away, but for most of us the place that God has called us to is the place where we currently find ourselves. We are all called to be missionaries, whether we go far or we go near.
The church in America that existed in the 20th century was found mostly in church buildings, and success was often measured by how many attended on Sunday morning, the number of programs which existed, and the money that was given to support the buildings, programs and staff. The churches that were viewed as most successful were those that were large and stable. Due to our rapidly changing culture, that type of church will become less and less common. For the church to grow in the 21st century it will need to be smaller, not so much about buildings, flexible, and able to mobilize its people to go and make disciples while serving as missionaries in their own communities. We can sit around and lament that the church today is not the church of the 20th century, but the fact is that we are already 20 years into the 21st century.
Instead of asking the question, “How many people are regularly attending church on any given Sunday,” we need to be asking these questions: “How many disciples are being made, and how is the church impacting the community in which it exists to advance the Kingdom of God?” Evaluating a church’s success will need to be more qualitative than quantitative.
I believe that God has positioned Ohio Conference well for the changing church landscape, with the Missional Discipleship Groups initiative which currently has approximately a dozen churches participating, as well as our emphasis on discovering new ways to be missional in the communities in which our current churches are located. My prayer is that over the next year we will expand both the number of churches that are participating in the Missional Discipleship Group* initiative and multiply the number of groups from the churches that are already participating. My prayer is that we will form missional communities throughout Conference who will support one another in reaching out to those in our communities who are unchurched and extending the kingdom of God.
My prayer is that we will explore the planting of missional communities in locations where there is no Anabaptist or Mennonite presence. This will most likely be in more urban areas such as Akron and/or Dayton. My prayer is that we will continue to build our relationships with the Congolese churches in the Akron and Cleveland areas. My prayer is that the same fresh wind that the Holy Spirit ushered into Conference several years ago will continue to blow as we are faithful to carrying out God’s primary mission for the church of becoming better disciples of Jesus ourselves, making more disciples of Jesus, and extending His Kingdom throughout Ohio and beyond. May it be so for His glory and honor.
*To learn more about Missional Discipleship Groups, see “When disciples make disciples,” as well as http://bit.ly/MissionalDiscipleshipInitiative. Participating Ohio Conference congregations are partnering with Mennonite Mission Network in this program.