Like so many churches in the world today, it is a congregation which is aging and declining in numbers. In the not-so-distant past, it was a thriving church family which offered rich opportunities for worship and service to the residents of its community. However, like many older urban settings, the years have seen the demographics of this redefined neighborhood transition from multi-generational Caucasians to first and second-generation Mexican immigrants. The new demographics also reflect a decline in median income and an understandable shift in the predominance of faith traditions from Protestant to Catholic. Most of its few remaining members have moved outside the neighborhood and some beyond the city limits. To the casual observer, it is undeniably a church whose days are numbered, waiting for the death of a prominent member or the move of a supportive family to seal its fate and close its doors.
From my first encounter with this small, tenacious group of Christians, I understood that they had no intentions of accepting what some might consider the inevitable. A nucleus of astute leaders was prepared to lead this small membership church towards an uncertain future with unwavering commitment to growing the Kingdom in their present location. They realized that their congregation had reached a virtual fork in the road – one direction leading to continued decline and closure, the other leading to a radical departure from their present identity and outreach. Prior to my arrival, they had decided to approach the fork in the road with eyes open to the reality of their surroundings, ears open to their shared voices, and hearts and minds open to God’s leading. It was in such a context that I was called to serve as their pastor and shepherd through the journey that lie ahead.
In conversations with the leadership of this house of worship, they have been frank about the present reality of their community and confident of the direction in which they have felt God’s leading. They feel strongly that to be an effective witness and to grow the Kingdom of God in the neighborhood in which they were planted years before will require the establishment of a Spanish-speaking outreach and opportunities for worship that will address the cultural and language needs of a predominantly Hispanic populace. For this small church, taking these steps is more than a kind gesture to their neighbors; it is the only means to ensure a continued ministry presence and an effective witness to their community. In recent months, they have begun to address the “how-to” of affecting the transition required to ensure the viability and growth of their small congregation in the 21st century.
Shortly after my arrival, the leadership team initiated a strategic planning process that will assess their present circumstances and formulate an intentional plan for the future. The resulting documents will summarize their deliberations of who they are, where they want to go, and how they are going to get there. The process is not yet complete, but it demonstrates their conviction to be faithful to the heritage of faith that has been given them by previous generations and the opportunity to pass it on to subsequent generations. The uniqueness of their process is an appreciation that those generations which will benefit from their efforts will be of another culture and another language. For them, this understanding is of little significance; what matters to them is the opportunity to make disciples among those of their community for generations to come. For that result, they are more than willing to approach the fork in the road with both eyes open, regardless of the direction they must take, all for the glory of God.