Mission Evidences from the Field:
What do Healthy Growing Churches Look Like?
It’s no secret that many congregations are in decline. I can say more about that on another day. But what I have been asking for the past six months is, what do growing churches look like? More specifically, what are the characteristics of newly planted churches that are thriving?

There is a wealth of information out there and I have a long way to go to process what I have already found, but I’d like to begin by sharing what I am seeing in various sources from across the United States. From the nearly three dozen books, reports, studies and essays from the past 10 years, here are some things for mission-focused church leaders to consider: 1. Belonging before believing. With issues of mobility, pluralism, isolation and more, people are looking for meaningful human and divine connection. The idea of human connections needs no deep explanation; however, by divine connection I mean that although the number of persons (especially younger persons) who disassociate with organized faith continues to grow, the interest in spirituality is not going away. Rather persons are actively seeking some meaningful spiritual reality or connection in their life. Belonging does matter for Americans, but the dynamics in play are complex, and launching a coffee shop or a cool new Bible study will not necessarily get millennials to show up or offer a satisfying answer to their spiritual thirst. Belonging emerges in the context of developing deep and trusting relationships. 2. How truly “gospel” your version of the gospel is. Now I may be about to set off a firestorm with what I am about to say, so I acknowledge what I say here may be misunderstood. Here goes. The gospel – the good news of what God has done and is doing through Jesus Christ through the power of the Spirit – is revealed to us through Scripture. But without fail, the way we talk about the gospel, the way we teach the gospel and the way the gospel gets expressed in our congregational life and programs begins to pick up our own particular history and experience. The way we do things, the songs we sing and the sorts of ministry we engage in reflect our own particular cultural elements. A good visit with a missionary can help illustrate what I am trying to describe. Missionaries know well the importance of communicating the gospel in another culture without their own culture getting in the way. If your congregation is more than 20 years old, in these times of rapid change, there are likely some things that may inadvertently get in the way of the gospel being fully heard and practiced. 3. Salvation in this world and the world to come. Salvation is not just about the soul and the future; it’s also about this world. In what concrete way does the good news of the gospel speak into the lives of broken people in your congregation? Do you have a holistic vision of God’s intent to redeem the world, starting right in your own neighborhood? 4. A Trinitarian vision of God. Spirit-filled communities are dynamic communities. Pentecostal churches are showing a great deal of life today, though I don’t think a particular style of worship is the most significant factor at play. Rather, the conviction of newer, flourishing communities is that God is present in worship and in the ordinary aspects of human existence. Assess the language of your congregation’s worship, Bible classes, small groups and committee meetings. Do all three members of the Trinity show up? 5. The neighborhood is the thing! Churches that embrace their local identity and understand mission in their local communities are finding traction. The neighborhood looks different for urban churches compared with small-town churches. Whatever your neighborhood looks like, it’s important to define it and then live, work, play and serve in that neighborhood. There is much more to be said, and I’m still trying to sort this out myself. So I invite you to ponder these ideas with your fellow leaders and ask what might be a good next step for your congregation as it seeks to be faithful to God’s preferred future.

I will say more next month and begin to offer some resources. Until then, God’s peace to you!

Carson

If you are in the Austin or San Antonio area, please consider joining me in April for a face-to-face conversation about this subject. See details below.
NEWS
On the road with Dr. Carson Reed
Building on the ideas presented in this month’s newsletter article, Dr. Carson Reed will travel to Austin and San Antonio in April to speak with church leaders on the subject, “Vital Signs: What Today’s Healthy Churches Look Like!” On Tuesday, April 23 at 11:30 a.m., he will speak at the Austin Area Ministers’ and Elders’ Lunch at Mimi’s Cafe. On Wednesday, April 24 at 8:30 a.m., he will speak at San Antonio Area Ministers’ and Elders’ Breakfast at the Magnolia Pancake Haus. There’s no charge to participants, but seating is limited.
The Siburt team expands
The Siburt Institute is pleased to welcome Ola Mae Bulkley, the new administrative coordinator for the Siburt Institute and the Doctor of Ministry program! She comes to us from Austin, Texas, where she worked most recently with Hill Country Christian School.

Renee Paul, our former administrative coordinator, is excited to take on the role of events coordinator and to increase her involvement in grant writing on behalf of the Siburt Institute.

We have expanded our church consulting partners to include
Dr. Eddie Sharp (’90), a highly respected church leader who has spent more than 47 years in congregational ministry. Combining his extensive experience and academic training, Sharp focuses on leadership transitions, spiritual formation, spiritual discernment and matters related to minister burnout and stress. Sharp recently retired from the University Avenue Church of Christ in Austin, Texas, where he served as preaching minister since 2008.
Dallas Racial Unity Leadership Summit (RULS)
The Carl Spain Center on Race Studies and Spiritual Action will conduct the next Racial Unity Leadership Summit in Dallas,
May 15-18, led by Dr. Jerry Taylor, associate professor of Bible, missions and ministry for ACU and founding executive director of the center. The summit will be in honor of the late Botham Shem Jean, a young black man whose slaying by a white off-duty police officer sparked racial debate in the Dallas area and beyond. Before his untimely death, Jean, a graduate of Harding University, served as the song leader and young adult minister for the Dallas West Church of Christ, the host congregation for this RULS event. Jean was deeply rooted in Churches of Christ in the U.S. and in St. Lucia, his home country in the Caribbean. 

Ministers and members from both predominantly white congregations and predominantly black congregations of the Churches of Christ will gather for this time of healing across racial lines. All are invited. For more information, contact the Carl Spain Center at carlspaincenter@gmail.com.
Call for the elders
In his latest Mosaic article, Steve Ridgell (’73) invites us to revisit James 5 and take seriously the charge for the elders to anoint and pray for the sick in their congregations. With a keen awareness that Jesus is the true source of power, Ridgell shares the sense of renewal and healing experienced in his local congregation when they took that Scripture to heart. Ridgell, a popular speaker and author, is the director of ministry for Hope for Life, a Herald of Truth Ministry, and serves as an elder at the Southern Hills Church of Christ in Abilene.
Spirit shake-up at Summit 2019
Dr. Leonard Allen will host an all-day pathway on the “Spirit Shake-up” the Monday of Summit 2019, Sept. 16. Allen reminds us that, “the Holy Spirit is no tame Spirit. When the people of God grow comfortable, satisfied and sleepy; when the call of God’s mission to the whole world recedes, the tendency of the Spirit is to shake up the church and dislodge it from its ease and self-satisfaction.” 

Allen served as a professor of Christian Studies at Abilene Christian University for 15 years and has authored several books, including the ACU Press publication, Poured Out: The Spirit of God Empowering the Mission of God. He now serves as dean of Bible at Lipscomb University. Dr. Lauren White, assistant professor of theology at Lipscomb University, also will present during the pathway.

Mark your calendars to attend Summit at ACU, Sept. 15-18.
MARK YOUR CALENDARS
Ministers’ and Elders’ Lunch, Austin, April 23Ministers’ and Elders’ Breakfast, San Antonio, April 24Dallas Racial Unity Leadership Summit, May 15-18 (Contact: carlspaincenter@gmail.com)Summit 2019, Sept. 15 – 18
THOUGHTS TO PONDER
“It is the mark you make on others, the mark you leave behind in the characters and commitments of those you love best, that will determine whether or not your life has made a difference. Grand achievements, great affluence, and good causes lose their luster if they remain yours … if they die with you. Real significance lies in equipping those you love to achieve greater things than you, to generate and use ‘treasures’ more wisely than you, to give themselves to worthy causes more completely than you.”
– Dan T. Garrett (’73) and Dr. Tim Woodruff, Leaving a Legacy: Sustaining Family Unity, Faith and Wealth “We cannot save the world; we should not even try. But we can improve the world, not just by creating better goods and services more responsibly and distributing these goods and services more justly among people, but also – and, perhaps, above all – by learning how to rejoice together in the gift that each one of us and the entire world is. That joy will lead to care.”
– Dr. Miroslav Volf, “What Will Save the World? Caring for the World We Cannot Save”, in A Calling to Care: Nurturing College Students Toward Wholeness (Dr. Timothy W. Herrmann and Kirsten D. Riedel, editors)