Mission 20,000: Impossible?

In January 1997, I was a seventh grader adjusting to my first year at the college preparatory McCallie School, but my mom decided that I had one more change I needed to make that year. We became members at the East Brainerd Church of Christ a month or two later, and that summer, I decided to be baptized. My four years at Harding aside, I’ve been a member there ever since.

The church at East Brainerd has changed a lot during that time. It was always a bigger-than-average church, but it also had bigger-than-average problems. Within a year after we placed membership, both the full-time preacher and the youth minister were gone, and throughout my time in the youth group, we never had a youth minister for more than two years (they still haven’t, actually).

Despite these changes, East Brainerd has still been in the small percentage of churches nationwide that are actually growing. The ministry staff has been stable for a year or two now, and we’ve had the same two regular preachers for the last 7 years. In January of last year, we built a new auditorium because our previous one was maxed out, even with two morning services. The new one seats 1000, and the regular attendance exceeds 700.

East Brainerd has also managed to stay relevant in the community. Above and beyond the usual outreach areas (such as the widespread hurricane relief efforts), our church has led a program for inner city children to receive school supplies, along with meeting other humanitarian needs. We have always been a somewhat progressive church, but aspects of traditional philosophy are still present.

To be honest, I have recently feared that our church would go off the deep end in its progressivism. I’m somewhat progressive myself, but I think there’s a certain amount of restraint necessary to effectively pull off major changes. So, when our elders began plugging yesterday’s “Family Day” service months in advance as featuring an announcement not to miss, I feared for the worst.

Now, I realize that I didn’t have enough faith in the decision-making of the elders at East Brainerd. The announcement was this: our church now has a stated goal of 20,000 members by 2025. Right now, I won’t deal with the implications of so-called megachurches on ministry, but I’d rather focus on the way the elders pulled this announcement off. They did it with the care only a Christ-centered group possibly could, and I have faith that they firmly believe this is a goal our church can accomplish.

However, the numbers don’t add up, as far as population growth is concerned. Chattanooga is one of the slowest-growing cities in the state, and 20,000 is approximately 1/20th of the metro population. If I had to guess, I’d say that there are no more than 10,000 members of the Church of Christ currently in the area. Still, I applaud the vision of the elders, and I plan on participating fully in the work needed to reach this goal. They recognized that our congregation was now a year removed from our latest accomplishment (the new building) and needed something else to strive for.

I’m excited to be a part of a church with such vision and desire to pursue new goals. As they come to me, I’ll share some of my thoughts about church growth here, posted under the “Christianity” tab.

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