Saturday, March 15, 2008

Wheat and Weeds

This year, Willow Community Church will be 100 years old! Yep, 100 years of making disciples!
Some of those years were an awesome expression of love and commitment toward God and Lansing, Michigan, but some of those years were not. In fact, the previous year before Kimy and I started working at Willow the average Sunday attendance was under 30. It has been really rather cool to see Jesus change that over the last two years! With the help of Pastor Dave and his wife Annie and a whole bunch of other people and an innumerable amount of prayer, Willow has grown to 90 in attendance on Sundays! Yep, that's 300% growth in about 24 month!! OK, I know that growing from 30 to 90 is a lot different than growing from 90 to 270, but still!

The last two weeks we have been studying Matthew chapter 13. This is the passage where Jesus teaches in parables. A parable is like a simile. A simile is a simple comparison between two things that make up one idea. I could say that teaching 5th grade boys is like sticking a dull needle in my left eye, and most of you would get the point! A parable is like a simile on steroids! A parable uses a bunch of analogies to help the listener understand one main truth about how to live in the Kingdom of God on earth.

In Matthew 13 Jesus tells us a parable about a farmer who throws seeds on four different types of soil. The seeds represent the message of Jesus' love for the world and the soil represents the response to that message. If the soil represents the response to the message and the message represents the seeds of Jesus' love, then who is throwing out the seeds? Christians! Yes, the one main point in this parable is that the farmer is the Christian telling the story of Jesus' love to the world. Jesus uses the imagery of the soil to give comfort to the Christian's disappointment of the response that the world will have to their story. He is pointing out that the likelihood of someone responding in a positive manner and becoming a fully devoted follower of Jesus is very slim. Jesus is actually taking the pressure off of the Christian in such a way that makes it clearly the listeners responsibility to respond positively and Jesus' responsibility to convict and convert, neither of which is the story teller's responsibility. All a Christian is required to do is sow the seeds of Jesus' love and leave the rest up to Jesus and the listener!

Jesus continues teaching in parables when He says that a field represents the entire world and that the field is full of wheat and weeds at the same time. He mentions that the farm hands hired to cultivate the field shouldn't pull out the bad weeds because they could possibly pull out the good wheat at the same time. He says that once all the vegetation is harvested all the wheat will be used for good and all the weeds will be burned in a furnace. The one main truth in this story is that the followers of Jesus live among people who do not follow Jesus. To make this point stick, Jesus explains that the followers don't need to judge the world or hold it to their standards because when the end of time comes, those who do not follow the truth of His teaching will be judged and ultimately experience total separation for God. Again, Jesus is helping the Christian take the pressure off by telling them to stop worrying about the way the world lives, but to love them as He loved us and let Him be the judge.

OK, so what? What does any of this have to do with the first two paragraphs of this bog? Well, before I tell you, look at these statistics:
In 1920 there were 27 churches for every 10,000 people, in 1950 there were 17 churches for every 10,000 people and in 1996 there were 11 churches for every 10,000 people. Now think about this: Each of the 11 churches should average 909 people in attendance just to cover only 10,000 people in any given city. Average church attendance in the U.S. is 90, virtually unchanged since 1990. Willow currently averages over 80. In 2006 the population of Lansing, MI was 114,276 people. That means that there should be 1270 churches averaging 90 in Lansing! Current estimated population in the zip code where Willow is located (48917) is 32,000 people. Since there are only 11 churches for every 10,000 people, 35 churches averaging over 900 people are needed to ensure that every person in 48917 has a place of worship to attend! If we look at the national average of only 90 people attending any given church we would need 355 churches just to give everyone in 48917 a place to worship! Now keep in mind that healthy church growth is an increase of 5% more in attendance than the previous year. Since Willow is around 90 people 5% more next year would see 94 in attendance next year , 94 X 5% = 100 the year after that and 100 X 5% = 105 the year after that. Through 4I's (Willow's Outreach program), small groups, PIN, and various other outreach events aimed at 48917, we can safely estimate that we can effectively touch 3,200 people in one year; that's only 10% of the total 48917 zip code. A realistic percentage of response to intentional invitation to church is 2% (that goes up to 25% if you have a personal relationship with the person you are inviting). Check the math on this: 2% of 3200 intentional invitations to Willow in one year = 64 people visiting just one time. A first time visitor is only 34% likely to visit a second time (34% of 64 = 21.76 (22)). A second time visitor is 51% likely to visit a third time (51% of 22 = 11.22 (11)) and a third time visitor is 78% likely to make that church their spiritual home (78% of 11 = 8.5 (8 to 9)). 5% over our current attendance over three years would be about 15 people more than we have in attendance now if Willow just wants to be average. I think I like the 2% of 3200 rule better; 2% of 3200 invitations to Willow should yield 27 to 29 people more in attendance over the next three years!!

The one main truth of all of this is quite simple (even if the math isn't!): Willow Community Church must sow the seeds of the love of Jesus Christ all over the 48917 area and surrounding communities! We must realize that we are not responsible for convicting or converting anybody but that we are called to love the people of our wonderful city! I would like to come right out and ask you to help us to do this. I would love to introduce you to the awesome people of Willow Community Church and share with you the vision we have to see our community go to heaven with us! If you are not currently involved in a local, passion led, vision oriented church then please come check us out at 11am Sunday mornings. If your involved in a healthy, reproducing church, then please pray for Willow and its people as we work to fulfill our purpose in Northwest Lansing, Michigan!