To keep your Temples, support the Tents

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Screencap of COR Flyover video

Building our Temples

In the Bible Belt, Church of the Resurrection is embarking on a $90m building project. Really! 90 million dollars. This project has the purpose of being a 100 year location of ministry and mission that could have an ROI of several billion dollars to be raised for missions and ministry.

UMC Lead has some conversation about the tenacity of the 100-year idea, and the Kansas City Star has this interesting comment:

To be sure, in a throwaway age of changing habits, new technologies and, among many young adults, skepticism toward big religion, who knows if crowds will still show up for worship services in the early 22nd century?

But skeptics never have made [Adam] Hamilton flinch from big, bold visions. He helped start the Church of the Resurrection, or COR, in his mid 20s, preaching to 100 who met in a funeral parlor. It’s now the nation’s largest Methodist congregation. And this would be the fourth sanctuary on the Leawood campus since the mid 1990s.

I have no doubt the project will succeed and the campus will be an impressive space.

But will it be sustained? Will future generations (or the next pastor after Hamilton) be able to maintain the momentum and ever-growing needs of a congregation?

These are not unfaithful questions, but rather are the questions by honest stewards of what they believe God has given them to care for. 

How will they maintain the Temple (the geographic megachurch) that they have built?

The answer depends on how well the Temples care for the Tents.

Pitching Our Tents

In certain parts of our country, the percentage of Christians is declining. In the northwestern part of the United States, in fact, it’s called the None Zone because it has the highest percentage of people who choose “none” as their religion in census forms. That doesn’t mean they aren’t religious or even church-goers, but they do not claim a religion for themselves.

Temples are not easy to find here. There’s a handful, for sure, (including creepy ones like Mars Hill) though nowhere near as numerous or influential as in the Bible Belt.

But what there are are tons of Tents, of small churches that strike out in new ways to reach out to different types of people. Churches in bars and in homes, that brew beer and that raise bees, that allow dogs and that meet inside homeless shelters. While these Tents are found in any corner of America, there’s an interesting especially eclectic mix of them, especially in my town of Portland, Oregon.

Why would our Temples want to support these tiny Tents, even ones that may have radically different theologies (and especially social values) than the megachurch Temples?

The Tents are for the Temples…

While I was at the Wild Goose Festival in 2012, I had a chance to ask Nadia Bolz-Weber, pastor of a weird ELCA church in Colorado, about her thoughts on the power imbalance of small churches and large churches within a denominational system. She said something like this:

  • There’s two types of vital churches: Resource Churches and Creative Churches. Think of the latter as think-tanks. Churches that attract cultural creatives to smaller places where they can connect and evoke the kinds of ideas that larger churches with serpentine bureaucracies and entrenched cultures often cannot accomplish.
  • It’s not what we are giving, it’s what kind are we giving to each other. It’s not about that we give value to the amount that each one contributes. It’s that we value about what kind of contribution it is.

In short, some churches are resources and accomplish terrific things on a scale unimaginable by the mom-and-pop churches. And some churches are tiny and insular and will not survive. But some are havens for creative ideas, small-scale manifestations of the kingdom of God.  Tent Churches do not have a monopoly on creativity, but they might have the best chance for those solid ideas that other cultures may not be able to come up with. And when those ideas work, it is the Temples (Resource Churches) that will up the scale to a level where they can succeed even in the face of creeping secularism.

The point is that this creeping secularism will reach the Bible Belt one day, and if the Temples do not empower the Tents already in this culture to deal with it now, then the Bible Belt will be under-equipped to deal with it later.

If we don’t figure out how to do Tent Christianity in a secular culture, then we will not be able to assist the Temples when the secular culture reaches its doors (indeed, it is already there) and the Temples scramble to figure out how to faithfully respond.

…if the Temples are for the Tents.

A strong Temple will support a network of Tents, adapt their creative achievements, and scale them up to effective witnesses to Christ in their context. But more often than not, I’ve seen Temples be really dismissive of Tent Christianity, caring more about quantity and metrics than about the ideas that are coming forward.

The truth is that there’s some really interesting perspectives about church that will make a Temple stop in its tracks in bewilderment.

For example, in the None Zone, I learned that one church has taken seriously the 22nd century concern about church that was asked of CoR above. This church had several years of conversation about offering their garden area for a resting place for cremains or building a columbarium on site. They ultimately decided against that possibility not because of money or ability but solely because of this question:

“What if our Church in 50 years needs to leave this building? Would having their ancestors (us!) buried on-site keep them from selling the building and doing mission and ministry elsewhere in our town?”

By choosing to answer in this way, even though their building is currently impressive and used for mission and ministry, this church is choosing to operate as a Tent in a part of the world where religion is scarce and demographics shift constantly. It’s not a decision that a Temple would make–and that’s fine. But their rationale and vision for themselves are helpful thoughts that may inform creativity at the Temple level to do new things.

escher-cyborg

If you are reading this and you want to keep the Temples alive, then your best investment is threefold:

  1. Stop badmouthing the small churches (if you are United Methodist, that means stop dumping on the West) and start supporting them in word and deed.
  2. Acknowledge that the next generation accepts LGBT full inclusion and support it before they stop their support of you. Perpetuating the culture war so that you remain in your Temple during your tenure is not a faithful response when the secular culture drains their coffers right after your golden parachute.
  3. Pay attention. Mentor pastors in weird situations. Ask how things are working and celebrate successes with them. And when an idea strikes your fancy, take it and scale it. It’s all for the kingdom and the Tent and the Temple need each other to thrive and perhaps to even survive.

Thoughts?

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Comments

  1. Thomas Coates says

    Thank you Jeremy!
    This is very much in line with what I’m being taught in Evangelism at our UM theological school– the rise of new ways of church outside of the church building (new monasticism, connecting with neighbors (meaning the people in the apartment over), ecovangelism, and the ways you mentioned). We also review system change models: those who critique the system from the inside, and those on the outside as well– away from the programming “attractional church” model.

    I also wonder if bishops and elders sought to empower deacons in these non-traditional church-world roles, instead of many looking at deacons with suspicion, at the least.

    Regarding your threefold statement–
    Sadly, we also had a professor (not at our theological school, but at the main campus) claim that millennials weren’t giving up on the church because of its treatment of LGBTQ people, which is a false statement (it’s a significant reason why 1/3 of millennials leave according to the Public Religion Research Institute, and of course, this number includes both LGBTQ people and allies, to me this means that non-LGBTQ millennials are concerned with issues of justice, in a way that many Christians should be)– writing off relationship building evangelism with 1/3 of millennials is just bad policy, let alone, I believe against the Gospel. No question UM churches out West have paid a high price for the homophobia/heterosexism in the Book of Discipline, and as equality for LGBTQ people spreads, this price will start to spread east unless the BoD is changed to reflect the movement of the Spirit.

  2. Julie A. Arms Meeks says

    Amen on your threefold statement!

    Living in a jurisdiction that typically dumps on the west, it bugs me to no end. The SEJ can’t assume that what works here will work there, nor decide the people there (clergy or laity) are outliers because you act/think/believe/include differently than the “standard” here in the SEJ. I think they need to wake up and wonder why OUR people are moving to YOUR location – because you too do church right!

  3. says

    Thanks, Jeremy, great post! I agree with much of it! I have a question: Do you feel people are “badmouthing the small Church” because they want to “dump on the West”? Also, I didn’t think Kansas City was in the Bible Belt. Where do you place the Bible Belt geographically? Not a criticism, I just think we may have been taught differently! :)

  4. Karl Kroger says

    Excellent thoughts here. In the Dakotas, like many conferences, there’s an increasing emphasis on caring for the bigger churches, and putting energy and money in the growing areas. I understand this, and don’t altogether disagree. However, we need to ensure that we don’t neglect the smaller churches in our more rural areas, to our demise. We need each other. Hopefully we can see more partnerships emerge, where big churches and small churches are resourcing each other.

  5. says

    I see your premise as a defense of Tents, which I appreciate. Remember when YHWH was content with a Tabernacle, but David wanted to build a Temple? God was…umimpressed, to say the least. Wary, even. Perhaps there’s a lesson there.

    Also, I see here that Temples need Tents, but I’m not convinced that Tents need Temples. I know those in the SEJ would argue that they are subsidizing you, but you are resourceful and creative. Resourceful creatives tend to do okay disconnected from the mainstream.

  6. Carolyn says

    Where is your usual devil’s advocate, Mr. Pogue? You straight up said to stop dumping on Western jurisdictions, and that is his pet topic. This is his chance to explain why we need to continue complaining about the godless West. Pogue: come out, come out, wherever you are!

    • Creed Pogue says

      Sorry, Carolyn, I’ve had some other issues to deal with of more importance than putting out yet another fact-based rebuttal to Jeremy. But, I have a moment so I can point out that nothing has really changed in a year and the Western Jurisdiction is still smaller than the North Georgia Annual Conference by itself. The WJ still fails to even pay for its own bishops much less make any contribution to the costs for the central conferences or the retirees (even Bishop Talbert).

      Jeremy’s point about not falling prey to the edifice complex is a good one though.

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