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Does York City Really Need Another Church?

Does York City Really Need Another Church?

1151180_58992004Surely someone is asking the question. A friend of mine recently enthusiastically told his pastor about the start of City Church only to get a rolling of the eyes in return. “Oh great,” he said sarcastically, “just what we need, another church.” I’m not particularly surprised by this response. There have always been objections to starting new churches, especially in the last century. Those objections have come from within established churches and from pockets of American culture. Pastor Tim Keller has done a fine job of articulating the full logic of why we need to plant more churches. Click here to view his PDF entitled “Why Plant Churches.” Among the most commonly cited objections, Keller points out three common responses.

A. “We already have plenty of churches that have lots and lots of room for all the new people who have come to the area. Let’s get them filled before we go off building any new ones.”

B. “Every church in this community used to be more full than it is now. The churchgoing public is a ‘shrinking pie’.  A new church here will just take people from churches already hurting and weaken everyone.”

C. “Help the churches that are struggling first. A new church doesn’t help the ones we have that are just keeping their noses above water. We need better churches, not more churches.”

Keller’s article does a great job of defending the logic of church planting in general, so I do not intend to cover the same ground that he does. Instead, I want to look at the logic of church planting in York City specifically. To do that, I want to respond to each of the three objections mentioned above with regard to York City.

RESPONSE TO A.

It is true that York City has plenty of churches with shrinking congregations and I recognize that many of these these congregations want to reach new people. The reality is that there are many factors that make it difficult for established congregations to do so. First, all organizations, including churches and businesses, have a tendency to turn inward after a long time in operation. I am not arguing that this is actually the case with City churches, but it is a normal and expected trend. My own experience in evangelical churches, which hold a high value on reaching new people with the Gospel, proved that even evangelicals can be resistant to reaching new people. As we focused on reaching new people, I commonly heard complaints about how the church failed to focus on its own people.

Secondly, the latest statistics show that more and more people define themselves as practicing no religion. The latest American Religious Identification Survey found that 15% of respondents described themselves as having no religion, up from 8.2% in 1990. In addition, U.S. adults who described themselves as Christian fell from 86% in 1990 to 76% in 2008. A simple question is in order here: If existing churches are struggling to reach and serve City people, does it not make sense to try something different?

Third, new churches typically do a much better job of incorporating new generations, residents, and people groups. Churches naturally build a sense of community together over time. At times, the community is healthy, at other times it can border on being cliquish. The fact that established churches focus on their own constituents is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact in many ways it is necessary. As City Church grows we will be faced with the same difficulty: serving our existing people and attempting to reach new ones. That is part of the reason why we intend to become a church planting church. We recognize that every congregation has a natural inertia to focus inward after several years in operation. By the way, churches that plant new churches typically emerge as healthier congregations both in terms of new people who come and in terms of financial giving. This is because as churches send off people from their congregation into church plants, “space” is created for new people to step in and serve. In church plants, there is plenty of space for people to serve, invent, and try their hand at different ministry areas, because there is lots of need and opportunity to participate.

RESPONSE TO B.

New churches do not necessarily take other Christians from other congregations. In fact, City Church has no interest in being a party in “sheep swapping or stealing.” Church planting is the best means of reaching people who are un-churched or de-churched. That said, there have been church plants that have started that did set out to lure people from other congregations. That is not, nor will it become the intent of City Church. We recognize that we are only one of many solid Christian churches in York City. We do not believe that we are “God’s gift” to York City. Our goal is to serve the underserved, to reach the unreached, to provide a safe place for the skeptical, doubting, searching, and confused to come and explore the enormous personality of Jesus Christ. To that end, we are being funded heavily by Providence Presbyterian Church of York and through fundraising that I am in the process of doing now. One temptation for many church planters is to lure Christians from other congregations who give generously. It is our goal to avoid this by being well funded up front, which we believe will remove the potential derailing of our vision to focus on the groups mentioned above.

RESPONSE TO C.

We agree that there is a need for better churches. New churches are able to take risks that older churches often cannot safely do. As we exist in partnership with other churches, it is our goal that we will be able to share our positive experiments in ministry with existing churches and help them avoid the mistakes we will make. In this way, we hope to invigorate struggling churches.

City Church: A CHURCH IN THE CITY AND FOR THE CITY

There are many congregations in the City where the majority of the people do not live in the City. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. Many people have gone to their particular church for years and want to continue to do so. Many of those families used to live in the City and therefore went to a church in their neighborhood. But as the years progressed, those families moved outside of the City. Many of the churches where this trend has been the norm do sincerely desire to serve the City but this becomes increasingly difficult since the members are removed from City neighborhoods. The incarnation of Jesus shows us many things, but one specifically is that if you hope to make people’s problems your own you need to go and live among them. The incarnation is how God dealt with human sin and the need for reconciliation between God and man. I believe the model is the same for the Church. We do a much better job of reaching neighborhoods when we live in them and become neighbors. We learn more about their struggles and need and are constantly pressed to love and to serve. Living in the City gives us an opportunity to love our neighbors as ourselves as Jesus commanded. One of the “requirements” of people who join on to the City Church team is that they meet one of three criteria. I ask that they live in the City, work in the City, or have shown a demonstrated love and concern for the City. This is the way City Church hopes to keep its focus on the needs of the City.

The last statistic I read on religious identity in York County showed that 50% of the county was un-churched. Now is not the time to protect our own little kingdoms or build new ones. Now is the time for existing churches and new ones, like City Church, to partner together to advance the kingdom and reign of Jesus, the One who came to our neighborhood to bring us together by laying down His life for us and for many who have yet to join the fold.

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