Hyde Park Community Methodist Church is one of the most respected churches in Cincinnati. I've liked most of the people I've met who work or worship there.
But they're knee deep in the hoopla. And they don't know it, but they've already lost...
About a year ago, they announced an aggressive 9 million dollar building campaign -- with the money, they would flatten an old monastery that they own and build a slick new multi-use building that will serve as a vibrant community center, attracting people to their place to work, play, and rub up against Jesus -- at least that's the vision that the church hopes -- as articulated in their vision statement:
"The determined policy of this church is that it should be a seven-day-in-the-week community church. Just so far as physically possible it will be thrown open for the use of all community gatherings, community interests, community programs. We hope to make it a meeting place for everybody and everything that has the highest interests of the community at heart. Questions of faith, church membership, etc., will not be raised. All are welcome.
The program aimed at is of such breadth, purpose, and atmosphere that people will rather "be at church" than not. We want the youth and childhood to find their fun, their pleasure and enjoyment at the church and just as near to the altar of God as possible. We will be nearing our ideal when the children and young people of all the community will prefer to be "over at the church" than anywhere else. We repeat that we are not building to make Methodists. We will be glad to have folks join any church they desire.
WHAT WE ARE DETERMINED TO DO IS TO HELP PEOPLE GET ACQUAINTED WITH JESUS CHRIST AND GO FORTH TO LIVE GODLY LIVES OF SERVICE AMONG THEIR FELLOWMEN EVERYWHERE."
I commend their missionary motive -- their desire to make everyone welcome, and then to introduce them to Jesus Christ. But the problem is that they're ticking off people surrounding the church. Now this is bound to happen when a building campaign begins -- neighbors worry about what will happen to their community. But I've never seen anything like the backlash. Driving around Hyde Park and the surrounding neighborhoods, you will see signs in hundreds of yards (not just a few yards, these signs are omnipresent). The signs say "Honor Your Promise", referring to a promise the church made years ago not to undertake massive new construction that would alter the character of the neighborhood. And the press that HPCM church has been getting has been awful. See yesterday's article in the Enquirer for a taste -- it seems to indicate that only half the congregation is on board with the aggressive building campaigns. And this has been stewing for some time -- see the article from March 9, Cin Magazine. and the May 11 Enquirer article. The protesters even have their own website.
Here's the rub, though. HPCM church is still operating from a mindset that has been phasing out since the 1950's. They still operate in the build it and they will come. Now I realize that I'm pastoring a church that also has a large building and we're trying to grow our ministry and reach out to new people -- but I'm also not involved in fights with the local community. Once the yard signs went up, I knew that the church had lost. The community was against the aggressive plans -- the people who will be attracted to the church for their nifty programs and neato facilities will be the very people who will move up the street to Crossroads church for the next big thing in a few years. In addition, George Barna identifies a whole new trend of "revolutionaries" who seem to be turning their backs on the large big box congregations (read the story here) -- that does not bode well for the churches engaging in these multi-million dollar expansions.
Commitment to a congregation isn't based on gee-whiz stuff, but upon relationships. Now to advance ministry, sometimes you have to tick some people off, and there will be relationships that will be broken. That happens when we're sinners dealing with sinners. But we're not talking about a few internal relationships that are being strained, we're talking about the relationship that the church has with the very community in which they find themselves placed. They need to do some pretty aggressive relationship maintenance there, and that means giving up some of the grandiose plans.