Sunday, September 23, 2007

2 many churches?

Happy Autumn! (you, too, Suzanne!)

A season has turned again. The sun is at a lower angle giving that goregous autumn light here in the Pacific Northwest. Maple leaves are looking very tired after a very dry summer. Early signs of color are creeping into the changing light. Perhaps it's a time to consider things in a different light.

Doug was across the street doing yard work for our neighbor. He asked if I had a church yet and told me about a vacant one in SE Portland. Sunday we drove by it. It looks nice. Right up and down the road from three others that are active but don't look as nice.

Starting a church? Why, when there are so many (it seems) churches around? Out here in East County 'burbs it seems there are little churches every few blocks. Now and then there's also a BIG one. Some big ones even look like industrial parks--because they ARE in industrial parks. Others look like the forlorn and forgotten little neighborhood groceries that once prevailed in these neighborhoods 60 or more years ago.

Some former churches don't even look like that. One nearby little Lutheran church where my wife and I went for childbirth classes after first moving here in 1978 has been a Buddhist temple for some years now. Same with another Lutheran church we joined soon after, the church where our daughter was baptized: Buddhist temple. The original buidling of our home church (the congregation quickly outgrew the building and sold it) has been a porn shop for the past couple of decades. Ouch!

Truth be told, if 90%, or even 60% of Portlanders awoke some Sunday and went to church, the buildings could not begin to hold all of us. Not even close. But doing church and being church ain't about buildings. Never was. So that can't be the measure. Church is about the people. People gather, and people scatter. Then they gather again. Different groups of people are different sizes. They can gather in all kinds of spaces. The groups can be like tent campers that occupy a space only briefly. Or they can be like heavy industry that digs into property for the long haul. Question is, what's the mission?

Marva Dawn and Richard Lischer call the church an "alternative contrast society." Alternative to what? A contrast how? Those aren't rhetorical questions but embarkation points of a life-changing journey. The kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed is nothing if not a vision of God's alternative contrast society. Most people who heard that straight from Jesus said it was the best news they'd ever heard. If that's so, the question is not whether there are too many churches, too few or just right. Question is whether there is enough kingdom of God. Can't ever be enough good news. Can't ever be enough of the best news. Right?

Kingdom of God... Waddizzat?!?!?!?

Next time: KOG, the alternative contrast society

Pastor Roger

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