When I first learned to drive a car, you had three choices for knowing how to get somewhere: ask someone who already knew where you were going, wander in the general direction, or get a map. I can’t count the times I wasted gas wandering when I first got my license because I thought I knew where I was going. Fortunately, gas was cheap, but time is time, and I wasted a fair amount of both. In time, I learned my way around Atlanta or got directions before I left. In the mid to late nineties, MapQuest came online, and you could get point by point directions if you printed them before you left. It was helpful if you didn’t change your mind or need to go somewhere else.
Then came smartphones.
Smartphones came with a lovely little app called Maps. If you paid for enough data, you could type in the address and follow the GPS in your phone. You could change you mind and go somewhere else en route. You could go to as many random places as you wanted without having to have or get directions. I can’t remember the last time I asked for directions or used an actual road map or atlas. When I need to get somewhere, I can look up the address (with the same smartphone) and type it into the Maps app. Voila, directions to anywhere I want to go.
Maps for churches works a little differently, more like the old paper map and atlas system. We have general direction from scripture, tradition, reason, and our experience. We have prayer and the direction of the Holy Spirit. With those, we begin a process, a prayerful act of discernment. There is no one formula, no magic bullet for church growth and vitality. There are some common markers, but each church is different because each community of believers and community the believers live in is different. Doing everything like a megachurch or an up-and-coming church will most likely get you nowhere. Those churches are a product of environment, circumstance, and people. You can’t make another one by acting like one. You are them or you are not.
But you are you. I believe every church has a path to growth and vitality. The path for each church is unique but there are some common traits. These churches are prayerful, missional, and hospitable. Successful churches are connected to God and each other through practices of devotion and contemplation, prayer and learning from scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. They are mission oriented, pointed outward not inward, and focused on people outside the church walls. And finally, they are hospitable. Those who are invited or show up are welcomed as though they are home. They belong without having to buy into a way of thinking or acting a certain way. They are family by virtue of their humanity and the Holy Spirit is trusted to smooth off the edges.
How can we take these ideas and revitalize our church? How willing are you to invest to see what returns God will bring?
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