On the Sunday we recognized our graduates this year, I shared some disconcerting statistics. According to a recent Barna Research poll, 59% of Millennials (22-35 year olds) who were raised in church have since dropped out of church completely. Only 2 in 10 Americans under 30 believe that attending a church is worthwhile. And 35% of Millennials believe the church today does more harm in the world than it does good.
Nearly all church growth experts agree that this means that church, as we know it today, will slowly cease to exist during the next 50 years.This is the reason that mainline denominations are encouraging the planting of “new church expressions.” The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is committed to “become passionately involved in birthing, nurturing, engaging and encouraging sustainable new churches in as many ways as possible” (https://www.hopepmt.org/plant/new-church-movement/).
Believing that I possess the gifts, passion, vision and call to give birth to a new church expression, I have accepted a position to work in partnership with the Great River Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), New Church Ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Grace Disciples of Christ Church, to create and lead a new expression of church north of New Orleans, Louisiana called, Northshore Disciples: A Movement of Selfless Love. I will begin this work January 1, 2020.
In another recent study, Pew Research reported that 26% of Americans self-identify as “religiously unaffiliated.” This is up from 17% just 10 years ago. However, the number of people who identify as “atheist” or “agnostic” has risen only slightly. This means that although people are leaving the church, they are not leaving the faith. In other words, they may be giving up on church, but they are not giving up on Jesus.
Therefore, I believe that looking like the authentic embodiment of Christ in the world is what is most needed today. You may have heard me say that we need “to overdo it” or “go overboard” to love like, serve like, and live like Jesus. Northshore Disciples: A Movement of Selfless Love will seek to do this by following a model inspired by the first biblical account of Jesus sending the disciples out to do ministry (Mark 6:6-13). The vision is to be a mobile, first-century expression of church that will offer weekly Dinner Gatherings (with Communion) and Service Projects (for more on this expression see: A New Church Expression).
Although I am resigning as the Senior Minister of First Christian Church in Fort Smith, I do not understand my resignation as leaving this church, and I am by no means giving up on them. I see it more as: “going on an extended Mission Trip” to do what I can to help First Christian Church and the larger Church discover new models that will enable us to continue sharing the love of God with the world. I will always be grateful for the opportunity to lead First Christian Church to be the hands and feet of Christ in Western Arkansas, as I am grateful for this new opportunity that will hopefully help us to proclaim the love of God in the River Valley for generations to come.
I will also have the opportunity to continue to push for inclusion as the new Ainsley’s Angels Ambassador in New Orleans. Ainsley’s Angels in NW Arkansas is in capable hands as Lindsey Berg has agreed to enter the Ambassador in Training program. Lindsey and Rob Berg are fortunate to have a team of Angel Runners and Guardian Angels to help them continue the mission of Ainsley’s Angels in Western Arkansas.
I will miss my service with Fort Smith Kiwanis and my place on the boards of Antioch Youth and Family and the Sack Lunch Program. I will also miss literally “running this town” with the Western Arkansas Runners and the True Grit Running Company. I will forever be grateful for my time in Fort Smith. I am not saying good-bye as I will be back in 2020 for the Regional Assembly of the Great River Region hosted by First Christian Church, for the Ainsley’s Angels Arkangel 5k, and hopefully for a Pub Run, and of course for a Beer and Hymns!