I recently read an interesting post on Adam Walker Cleaveland's pomomusing blog. He invited a guest blogger, Russell Rathbun, to share an idea that sounds fresh and interesting to me. The post was entitled, "What if a Church had an Expiration Date?"
The basic gist was to start a new church with a core of folks committed to welcome, connect, develop, and focus outward such that after a set time (he suggests five years) they might be sent out to start afresh and multiply.
This idea very much paralleled the response I got from Stacie, one of the students I taught at the YWAM School of the Bible last May. Challenged to develop a worship service from scratch, using principles we had studied, she envisioned a whole church concept around that worship. It also had an "expiration date," though she didn't use those words. She envisioned a house church that would only meet for a year, beccause the expectation would be to disciple and grow such that two (or more) new house churches might be formed out of the original group after a year's time. In comparison to this pace, I found our mainline denominational church (as evangelistic as we may be) to be moving at a snail's pace... and a slow snail at that.
I believe such an idea rightly challenges us (esp. in the mainline denominations) to be more intentional about evangelism, discipleship, community, and multiplying ourselves outward. Having said that, as I reflected, I had what I think were some helpful thoughts toward the value of not 'expiring.' Here's what I wrote:
At first pass, I LOVED this idea, in spirit if not in specifics (after all, what if God had something in mind for 5 yrs. 1 week!)… and perhaps part of God’s witness is reviving/resurrecting things about to expire. Nonetheless... I think the caveat “remain open to what God might do” would be a good balancing principle, [though] I definitely think we need more permission to end things – within the church to be sure, if not the whole endeavor.
As I pondered [this idea] more, very significant matters like baptism, discipleship, multi-generational relationships, spiritual formation, etc… came to mind – i.e., many of things things that are right and healthy in churches, not to mention instructed in scripture. Perhaps the idea of a time-line for church planting and a holy expectation for multiplication outwards is a healthy application of the expiration date idea, without packing up the whole shop.
As 2nd pastor of a 28 yr. old church, I hear the stories of the first 5 years and can understand the value of tapping into that energy. Yet, I also see some amazing experiences that come out of the 15th year “stall” and pushing through it… it’s a kind of adolescence and even maturing that may come with time. I also think of the excitement of dating someone for the first time and the richness of a long-term relationship and marriage… certainly not as mobile and malleable as those early relationships, but also potential for lasting impact through children and maintaining a dynamic loving relationship as we age.
I think what I’m getting to is that, upon reflection, there are some important things that might be lost with a 5 yr constant re-start. Yet I think there might be some good ways to incorporate the energy, motivation, and expectation in this idea within the life of a maturing and outward-focused congregation. It is a provocative enough idea to at least get some good thoughts and conversation going!