Is Your Church a Good Neighbor
For the past four years, a church in our area has grown at a phenomenal growth rate-more than 20 percent a year. From a single service in a strip mall, it now offers three Sunday morning services, two Saturday evening services, and a Wednesday night service. Without question the church needs a bigger facility.
Plenty of buildings are available for rent, but here's the problem: repeatedly the city council has refused to give them the "conditional use permit" that would allow them to change locations and hold services in an industrial park, warehouse, or even the old flea market building. Today the church is trying to relocate further down the strip mall into a vacant former box store, but the city has threatened to declare the entire mall as "blighted" and just passed an ordinance whereby "there could be no church located within 25 feet of a liquor store." A liquor store happens to be adjacent to the box store. (Normally ordinances of this type are passed to protect a church not the liquor store!) The city leaders, in effect, have declared, "Growing Churches Not Welcome Here."
Is this a scene from a Peretti novel where the forces of good are pitted against the demonic forces of evil? Not necessarily. There's another side to the story.
City leaders are elected to represent the interests of the community. By and large they are rational folks weighing economic alternatives. The city needs revenue, and to them, tax-producing businesses benefit the community more than churches do. Many city officials cannot imagine how a church could possibly benefit the community more than another Starbucks, Blockbuster, or tanning salon. They've never been given enough evidence to the contrary.
In contrast, on the west side of Jacksonville, Florida, every month the city council holds its meetings at Potter's House Christian Fellowship. The mayor of Jacksonville has spoken at Potter's House events and openly credits the church as one that is changing Jacksonville for the better.
What makes the difference? How can one group of city officials be so against a growing church while another group so openly embraces one?
A growing number of churches have realized that church has got to be more than growing attendance, seeker sensitivity, and small groups. They're fighting the perception that churches are isolated, insulated, and uninvolved with the life of the neighborhood. Seeking to be transformational salt, light, and leaven, they're taking ministry outside their four walls, and thinking about themselves and their neighborhoods differently.
Bishop Vaughn McLaughlin, pastor of Potter's House continually challenges the 60-some pastors he mentors with a haunting question: "Would the community weep if your church were to pull out of the city? Would anybody notice if you left?"
Here's how churches are making the changes necessary to transform their communities and leave people fundamentally better off-whether or not they ever join that particular church—and thus show themselves to be ...