Why do I feel this way?
In the combining of two churches in a replanting effort many factors are in play when it comes to the initial transition processes. The one concern that I have felt and many had voiced is not knowing where they fit. Say it another way, many people have experienced the shock of growing quickly without the longer time period that is normally there to adjust to the growth.
As a church grows in number of attenders and members typically there is the time to adjust to the new volume of people entering into the social structure of a church. When that growth is immediate due to two churches coming together that time to adjust is absent and noticeable. Studies have shown that there are numerical barriers as a church grows. For instance, breaking the 100 person barrier is often tough because the close knit family feel fades due to many social circles needing to be formed. And each time a church doubles that same phenomenon is in play.
So what happens when a church of 180 and 140 combine. There is a stretching of each group because multiple barriers for each group have just be surpassed. And in the case of many replanting efforts there are stylistic adjustments that play into the uneasy feeling experienced by the two groups. Sunday morning bible studies, and week day community groups are one such stylistic adjustment. The format and style of worship is another because as both groups come together it is like two families joining. There is a process of becoming a new family, which is complicated by the sheer number of people worshipping and growing together.
How does one deal with these tensions?
The most important thing to focus on while experiencing the joys and difficulties with the transition is to keep Jesus and His calling on His people in the forefront of you mind. Jesus called the church to be His missionaries and disciple makers. Jesus never told us the style of worship to have or the way to do life together (Sunday mornings at a building verses groups in homes). He instead gave us the great commission to focus on. Focus on your growth in to a mature follower of Jesus. Also, focus on the growth of your family and those who are closest to you, albeit a small group or bible study group.
Read scripture to keep your mind focus on the mission of Jesus. If we fail to at our spiritual act of worship which is the renewal of our minds we will find ourselves in trouble. Holding onto a familiar culture or norm is not wrong, but it can become wrong if it causes us to desire a style or format over the Savior.
God has promised that the church will survive as it is the bride of Christ. Jesus died to rescue and sustain His bride. With that in mind, let us be sure to keep everything in perspective and think often of eternity. This life is not all that there is. This life is but a vapor or a mist that quickly passes. Our eyes have to see beyond our lifetime to eternity with God in heaven. We also must remember that due to the shortness of our time on earth that the people around us are daily deciding to reject Jesus. This is done by their direct opposition or simply ignoring the question of what happens to us when we die. We could ask “what is the point of this life?” And the response to that shows where our hope is. Keep eternity in mind when walking through the marriage of two churches replanting. God is establishing His kingdom, not ours.
Pray that God would comfort you and guide you in the process as you are a vital part of the replanting process. As was stated earlier, let God speak to you through the scriptures, but also let your heart cry reach the ears of your Heavenly Father. He is willing and able to hear from your heart and give you all that is needed in this life.
What are the practical steps to stay connected and be apart of what is going on?
Connect with a small group or bible study. I cannot stress the importance of being in a smaller group when the church is several hundred people. It is an unreasonable expectation to think anyone can know all the people. This is where being plugged into a smaller group is critical, so that you can be known and know other people well.
Serve with people from the church replant. It is in the process of serving that strong bonds are built with other people. A group of people just returned home from serving together in El Salvador and having that common experience and service opportunity has united those people in a way that no other event can. So grab friends and figure out a service project. Perhaps grab a few folks centered around a common interest and serve while using that common interest. This will build a family feel that is needed in church.
Sit together with your small group during worship. It is right to think that you will not know everyone in the corporate gathering of the church. But that doesn’t mean you have to feel disconnected while in a larger setting. Sit with your small group and friends and those who are apart of your bible study. Build those deep relationships and when new folks join in the area where you sit, include them.
Reach out to a family or two that you don’t know. When two churches come together we do need integration. That integration needs to measured and reasonable. Get to know a family or two. Begin inviting them to small group or bible study. Once again if everyone gets to know someone new, then it is only a matter of time for that full family feel to be regained. The church is meant to be smaller groups uniting around the same purpose for the glory of God. So get to know a family or two.
Have reasonable expectations for this process. This is new territory in church life for all of us. Be patient, be prayerful, and have reasonable expectations. Things are going to continue to change and it will be different, but not wrong. Expect things to get more familiar where they need to and have a holy discontent for the things that God has a holy discontent with. God wants our hearts. Be discontent and prayerful when you see someone’s heart going astray from where God would want it. Realize nothing in life ever stays the same, but that doesn’t mean it is wrong. Have reasonable expectations.
Talk with a pastor or church leader. In this process the leadership of the church is fighting hard to bring both groups together. This takes time and energy. It is helpful for church leadership to hear from you. And I would remind us of the words of Jesus at this point as we communicate. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3). We all are to look out for others, not ourselves. Having the mindset of Jesus, who sacrifice everything that we might be rescued and restored to the Father. Please come talk with us.
Lastly, Pray for your Pastor and Leaders. I want to give a personal word here of what I go through in this process. I carry every person with me in my heart as I go through my day. My heart breaks for people when I hear of their concerns, and complaints. When I overhear gossip in the halls, my heart is heavy. I pray daily for this process and spend many nights sleeplessly praying through and thinking over what is happening. My heart breaks and it affects me deeply when a brother or sister in Christ is struggling with what is going on at church. When a dear friend is struggling with where they fit in or a new friend is upset because of another reason. I hear many of the concerns and comments and they do cause me to weep and pray. I know the concerns over music and food and dress. I still hear the comment that Sunday School is going away, which it is not. I am concerned by the lack of baptisms and excited/overwhelmed by the upcoming events. It is easy to be negative. My heart is heavy as I try and care for the whole staff and leaders. I do my best to know what is going on and who is where but I cannot know it all. I have the concern for the sick and home bound, and doing my best to see those in the hospital. My life feels like rush hour traffic, so many places to be and travel to, but no room for that kind of progress. But the redemption of Jesus has given us a new heart. We are now different…so I focus on the good.
I am excited that God has assembled the right people at the church for such a time as this. I am hopeful because I know the gates of hell cannot prevail against the church. I am joyful because Jesus died for you and me. He has not given up on me or you. I am prayerful because I cannot do any of this on my own. I am humbled because I do not deserve the goodness God has shown to me. I am confident because He who has begun a good work in us will complete it. While I get overwhelmed, I have to stay focused on the cross as my only hope and source of joy. Jesus will bring every tribe, tongue, and nation to himself. God is good and will be good to his people.
Please keep your eyes focused on the cross and eternity with Jesus.
Praying these thoughts help,