People. It really is all about people. God loves people. The nice ones and the not so nice ones. The ones who have it together and the ones who are completely messed up. The ones you enjoy being around and the ones you can’t stand. God loves all people. That’s what planting churches is all about: a church is not a building, or a program, or a forum to hear music or a sermon. It’s people. People who are connected to Christ, who are learning how to live out the reality of the kingdom of God—his power and the presence—in their local community. It really is all about people.
No matter where you are, there are people around you who aren’t connected to a church yet. In the U.S., those people are often the majority in a community. For the most recent data for your area, you can check out the 2010 U.S. Congregational Membership Report at www.thearda.com. You enter your zip code, and you’ll get a bar graph breaking down the 2010 data for church participation, which will show you how many individuals participate in each of 6 different religious traditions, as well as the number of people not claimed by any church or religious body. In many places, the unclaimed category is bigger than all the others combined.
Some people see that unclaimed group and get overwhelmed, worrying that those people are all hostile to church and to Jesus. Others get discouraged because they assume the people who aren’t involved with a church just aren’t interested in what Jesus has to offer (I talked to lots of people, many of them pastors, who felt that way when I first moved to Duluth to replant the Vineyard church). But when Jesus encountered this kind of people, he was overwhelmed in a different way—with compassion (Matt. 9:35-38). His response to people today is no different.
That is why we also need to take note of the people around us in need of Christ and his kingdom. For years I have been talking about the “unclaimed” people in my area (the greater Twin Ports area). Early on, I calculated how many there were—the local Chamber of Commerce calculated that around 343,000 people lived in the greater Twin Ports area at the time. The Minnesota Council of Churches calculated that only 15.3% of the folks in our county attended any kind of faith community. According to my calculations (and I’m no math major) that left 292,000 people disconnected from the church.
I also took a bit of time to think about where these folks could go to church if they wanted to. I discovered that we could fill up every church in our area multiple times in a weekend and still barely make a dent in the amount of folks who were disconnected from Christ and his community. There literally wasn’t room for everyone.
So at the Duluth Vineyard, from the beginning we have always been thinking about making room for visitors, both in terms of space and of relationships. That led us to increase the size of our facility, to increase the number of our small groups, and to plant several new churches. And we continue to think this way because there still are thousands and thousands around us who aren’t connected to Jesus or to a church community.
We decided long ago that we would continue to be willing to do whatever it would take to make room for even just one more family. I’m so glad that little church in Dallas, Oregon—Grace Mennonite church—made room for me. We just want to continue to do the same for others.
What if all of our churches would do the same thing—make room for others and welcome them into our lives. Its hard work to keep on making room. We have to open our lives to new friendships if we want to make room. And we have to multiply every part of our church if we’re really going to make room: multiply small groups, multiply ministries, multiply weekend services and even multiply churches. I think its a vital priority. Why? Because God really does love people.