A church is not a business, and when business analogies are used to make a point about the church, they are often pushed too far to be helpful. Still, in this post, I am going to use a business analogy to make a point about the church plant which I anticipate. I will try not to push it too far.
News stories about businesses closing have become pretty routine during the economic downturn of the past three years, but a couple etched themselves in my memory. In 2008, Starbucks announced they were closing 600 stores nationwide, and several of them were here in the Columbus area. More recently, the local media reported the closing of the last supermarket in one inner city neighborhood, and the story indicated that other so-called “food deserts” exist throughout Columbus’ inner city. The first story grabbed my attention; the second made me sad.
I love Starbucks, the Seattle-based chain of coffee shops which has flourished as a result of its successful business model—”testing the limits of how much reasonably intelligent people are willing to pay for a cup of coffee.” I have often plunked down my hard-earned (when I was employed) money for an overpriced mocha latte. The news that Starbucks determined it was overextended and needed to “downsize” caught my eye mainly because I had been a customer at one or two of the stores that closed in Columbus, and henceforth it might be a bit less convenient for me to get my periodic caffeine fix. I may have thought briefly about the baristas who would need to find other jobs, but I never thought the company was on the verge of financial ruin. And I was certain that the closing of a few coffee shops would not cost the community a vital and valuable commodity.
The second story presented a very different situation. In that case, the community did suffer the loss of an important resource when the inner city supermarket closed. Grocery stores operate on a thin profit margin, and more and more of them are finding that, without some sort of subsidy, they simply cannot survive in inner city neighborhoods, which have generally lower-than-average household incomes and higher crime rates. When these stores close, inner city residents have no convenient source of wholesome food and fresh produce. This, in turn, contributes to health problems that make difficult circumstances even worse.
In a future post, I will say more about the economic issues raised by these two scenarios and how we, as Kingdom citizens, should respond. For now, I want to use these two stories to point up a way of thinking that undercuts and weakens efforts to extend the Kingdom of God through the planting of new churches.
Too many Christians regard church planting in much the same way they think about Starbucks. A new Starbucks interests them if they believe it will contribute to the economic growth of the community and, especially, if it makes their coffee consumption more convenient. If the new store fails and is forced to close, oh well, no great loss.
In some cases, church plants may be undertaken for reasons as superficial as providing a more convenient location for worship. Far more often, however, the new church represents the establishment of an “outpost” for the Kingdom of God in an area which needs that kind of Christian witness. In that case, much like the inner city grocery store, no matter how great the need, the provision to meet that need will not survive without assistance from some outside source.
I am convinced that a new Anglican church in the vicinity of the OSU campus (Grandview Heights) will address a legitimate need. In time it may even become self-sufficient. In the meantime, however, that vision will not be realized until and unless a group of God’s people owns the vision and takes steps to help make it a reality.
At present, Shirley and I are ready and willing to move to Grandview Heights and devote the rest of our active ministry to raising up a community of faith that will serve that neighborhood while it reaches out to the OSU campus. We are grateful to St. Augustine’s Anglican Church for underwriting our office in Grandview, but we now need other people to share our vision and take concrete, maybe even sacrificial, steps to help us accomplish this important task. Are you available?