What is Our Mission? God’s Purpose for Us

“If your church permanently closed this week, would anyone in the community notice? Would anyone in the community care?” These words spoken by Ed Stetzer at a conference I attended cut to the core of my pastor’s soul. If a church closes the doors and no one cares, it leads me to believe that church has no purpose and should shut down. What is the purpose of the church? What mission are we on?

By God’s grace, West Lynchburg has been in the community for 116 years. In order for any church to remain vital and effective, it must be a church that is not only in the community but for the community. The church must clarify and embrace its mission to have longevity. The mission clarifies what God has called this local congregation to do. The mission of West Lynchburg is: Magnifying the greatness of God for the joy of multiplying disciples. In brief, Magnifying God and Multiplying Disciples is our mandate and motto.

The mission is based on several scripture passages:

Magnifying is based on Psalm 34:1-3, “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!”

There are two kinds of magnifying: microscope magnifying and telescope magnifying. The microscope makes something small look bigger and greater than it is. The telescope takes what is already great and brings it into perspective. We are not called to be microscopes. We are called to be telescopes, bringing the greatness of God into perspective.

The greatness of God is based on 2 Samuel 7:22, “Therefore you are great, O Lord God. For there is none like you, & there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears.”

God is the greatest of all Beings. He is the first and the last. There is none like Him. He is infinite, eternal, and unchanging in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. Yet there is great ignorance and neglect of God in our world. Therefore, followers of Christ must live out the mission to magnify the greatness of God to a world who knows not His greatness. Just as 1 Peter 2:9 states, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

For the joy is based on Psalm 16:11, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

The assumption is that when you see the greatness of God, your heart and life is filled with joy. When we worship and connect with God, there is great joy that overflows!

The joy of multiplying is based on Psalm 67:3-4, “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.”

Notice peoples is plural. Why? People are born again and saved individually, but we must recognize the many nations they represent, and the great unfinished task of world evangelization as indicated in Revelation 5:9, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation”

Jesus declared to His disciples in Matthew 24:14, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

Multiplying disciples is based on Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

While no local church is promised to be preserved forever, there is no doubt that a church on mission to magnify God and multiply disciples will be blessed by God and have a significant impact in the local community.

 

Another day… Another opportunity…
 

Pastor Chris Jordan


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Where are We? Discovering our Community

In the first blog post, we looked at the history of West Lynchburg. With decades of growth and stability, the church has made a significant impact in the community. Yet with the growth of the city and changing community surrounding the church property, the past few decades have seen a decline in average worship attendance and membership. What once was the growing west end of the city of Lynchburg is now an urban lower income setting. To reach the community, we must discovery who now lives in the area.  

Demographics studies were obtained from the City of Lynchburg, Baptist General Association of Virginia, SCAN/US, and MissionInsite, LLC. The data gives information for a 10-mile radius 5-mile radius, 3-mile radius, and a 1-mile radius from the church property. For our purposes, we will focus on the 5-mile radius.
 
 

Figure 5: 5-mile Radius of WLBC provided by the Center for Ministry Research and Innovation – Baptist General Association of Virginia.

 
According to Scan/US 2020 Estimates,[1] there are 92,225 people living within the 5-mile radius. The data reveals nearly seventy percent (70%) of the population is forty-five years and younger. In fact, twenty-seven (27%) are under the age of eighteen. There is a young population surrounding the church. This is in great contrast to the current membership of the church that is seventy percent (70%) over the age of 45. The City of Lynchburg Executive Summary[2] reveals median age in the community is 38. When it comes to religious involvement the American Bible Society ranks Lynchburg as the 3rd Most Bible Minded City in America.[3]  Yet, the BGAV report also shows only 23% of the community attend church at least once a month.
 

Beyond being a younger population surrounding the church, we will explore further their characteristics and interests. The MissionImpact Guide[4] delves deeper into the culture. It categorizes the population in various subgroups with the top four in this community called Colleges and Cafes, Urban Survivors, Hope for Tomorrow, and Digital Dependents. We will evaluate each one with the greatest community representation to the least represented.

The Colleges and Cafes group are young singles and recent college graduates living in a college community. Their religious perspective is “Looking for Heroes of Faith.” Their common spiritual issues are feelings of guilt, anxieties about abuse and shame. This group has a mixed reaction to the church. If leaning more liberal, they will gravitate to more mainline denominations. If leaning more conservative, they will gravitate to evangelical or independent churches. Many have given up on church altogether. They prefer mega-churches or micro-communities, but tend to avoid medium sized, traditional family churches of 100-300 people. Church Young Adult Ministries often struggle because they are too generic. When this group is committed to church life, it is usually a mission activity or public cause that motivates them. Worship preferences place a high emphasis on mission-connectional[5] and coaching[6] worship, and less on caregiving[7] and education[8] worship.

The next largest segment of the population is called Urban Survivors. This group is comprised of middle-age, older singles and single parents living in a modest urban setting. Their religious perspective is “Hoping prayer works.” The common spiritual issues are felling lonely and frustrated, with anxieties about guilt and death. Urban Survivors may be widowed or divorced, and some may have children living with them. Their striving to improve their life for themselves and their neighborhoods. Often, they have very materialistic aspirations. Alongside their faith in God’s purpose, they also believe that money is the key to a better life. They are willing to work boring jobs if it will help them make money. They would like for their children to have things they never had. When it comes to religion, faith is important but systematic theology is not. They often approach their faith more pragmatically than dogmatically. Faith is optimistic about this life believing God is active in their personal and community experience. Worship preferences for this group places a high emphasis on educational,[9] inspirational,[10] and mission-connectional[11] worship.

The third most common group is called Hope for Tomorrow. These are young, lower-income single parents in second-city apartments. Their religious perspective is “If you happen to meet God, tell Him I need a break!” Their common spiritual issues are feelings of anger and frustration, anxieties about fate and abandonment. This group is more likely to participate in a local church. Faith is important to this group and they enjoy volunteering. Worship preferences for the Hope for Tomorrow group is transformational[12] and coaching[13] worship.

The fourth most populous groups is called Digital Dependents. These are a mix of generation Y and X singles who live digital-driven, urban lives. Their religious perspective is “Looking for Heroes of the Faith.” Their common spiritual issues include feelings of guilt, anxieties about abuse and shame. Religious organizations have difficulty connecting with Digital Dependents due to their progressive attitudes and liberal values. Traditional evangelism methods, Sunday School, and worship have been ineffective in reaching this group. These creative multi-taskers spend more time in the virtual world than the real one, causing the human interactions at church to appear irrelevant. They are open to connect through sophisticated, interactive websites and internet cafes and chatrooms. Just like the College and Café group, this group’s worship preferences are mission-connectional[14] and coaching[15] worship.

There are less represented groups beyond the four identified. As time progresses, groups will change and new groups will emerge. Yet, as of now, we have identified a large number of singles and single parents living within the community that do not currently reflect the membership of West Lynchburg. Each of these individuals and households need a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. For West Lynchburg to be relevant, vital, and continue for generations to come, we must understand and make intentional steps to reach these groups of people. Without compromising the gospel, the church must once again embrace the mission and mandate of the Lord Jesus to make disciples of all generations.
 
Another day… Another opportunity…
 
Pastor Chris Jordan
 

 

[1] Scan/US 2020 Estimates. July 31, 2020.

[2] Executive Summary: Tracts Demographics Report City of Lynchburg, VA

[3] American Bible Society. The Most Bible Minded Cities in America. Last updated August 2015, accessed July 28, 2021, https://americanbible.org/features/americas-most-bible-minded-cities.

[4] Thomas Brand, Mission Impact Guide 3.0, MissionInsite, LLC. Last updated July 2020.

[5] Missional-connection worship is unity of action and reflection, all about outreach and volunteer empowerment.

[6] Coaching is informal, dialogical, topical, practical coaching on how to live better and more faithfully.

[7] Caregiving is slow, meditative, family-feel with pastoral prayer, children’s time, and senior celebrations.

[8] Educational is consistent liturgy, expository preaching, focus on doctrine, ethics, and history.

[9] See footnote 10.

[10] Inspirational is uplifting music, motivational speaking, focus on joy, optimism, and encouragement.

[11] See footnote 7.

[12] Transformational is spontaneous, expectant, personal transformation with High Power interventions.

[13] See footnote 8.

[14] See footnote 7.

[15] See footnote 8.


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Who are we? West Lynchburg after 116 years

In November of 1905, a group of Christ-followers stepped out in faith and started a new church. Uncertain of the future, they trusted the Lord to sustain them as a gospel influence in the west end of Lynchburg, VA. 

The first building served the purposes for a few years but needed expansion by the sixth year due to the growth of the church. By the church’s 9th anniversary, land was purchased, and a new building erected a mile down the street that provided adequate space for future growth.

Under the leadership of the church’s fifth pastor Dr. P.T. Harman, the congregation grew significantly. He led the church in 1926 to build what is presently known as the Chapel and Breezeway, providing space for worship services, office space, and classrooms. In 1950, he led the building of the Sanctuary with balcony seating and the tall steeple. The membership had increased to nearly a thousand people. Most of the members lived within walking distance of the church.
 

By 1963, the Pastor Dr. Russell Cherry led the church to add the educational wing offering a full and robust Sunday school program. Much of the growing Lynchburg community was aware of and has interacted with West Lynchburg Baptist Church. Records show that the 1960’s were the height of church involvement. There were many young families with children that filled the halls with life and vitality.

Throughout the 1980’s and 90’s, the church attendance was steady. Many of the members were beginning to move out of the local community as the city of Lynchburg expanded and new neighborhoods were developed. Rev. James Newman gave stable leadership and wonderful shepherding care during this time.

For 116 years, the church has been led by 14 faithful pastors who loved God, the church, and the community. As I begin my leadership as the 15th pastor, I stand on the shoulders of some great men who were like the men of Issachar “who had understanding of the times, to know what… to do.”

According to attendance trends provided by the Baptist General Association of Virginia[1], from the years 2000-2020, the average worship attendance dropped from just over 400 to under 200. As with most congregations, the pandemic of 2020 further decreased average weekly attendance.

As we look back and celebrate all that God has done in and through this church, we must also evaluate where we are now, understanding the times, and seek God to know what to do going forward.

In addition to experiencing a decline in attendance over the past 20 years, the Breeze Church Management Software[2] is utilized to understand the makeup of the current membership. It reveals the following age demographics:

  • 70% = 46 years and older
  • 20% = 19-45 years old
  • 10% = 0-18 years old

The database clearly shows an aging congregation, where in former decades most of the congregation was younger.

A few reasons have been discovered for why this trend has take place:

  • Longevity of membership. Many of the older members have been active in the church since they were young. They were saved, baptized, married, and raised their children at West Lynchburg.
  • Children moved away as adults. Many of the children who grew up at the church did not remain as members, either moving away from the Lynchburg area, currently attend a different church, or no longer attend any church.
  • Changing community. Many of the long-term members moved over 5 miles away from the church, though remained involved with the church. The new residents of the surrounding community either connected with a different church or did not affiliate with any church.

These are the current realities of West Lynchburg Baptist Church.

There is much to be thankful for in the116 year history of West Lynchburg. God has used this church to be a lighthouse for the gospel in this community.

But what about the next 116 years?

What does the future hold?  If the current downward trends continue, will there be another 116 years or even another 16 years?

To see a revitalization of West Lynchburg, we must…

  • Acknowledge the reality of the state of West Lynchburg and have a heightened since of urgency regarding the decline.
  • Pray and determine if we are committed to seeing West Lynchburg become effective in reaching new people and making disciples for God’s glory.
  • Understand the surrounding community and the current culture in which we must engage.
  • Search the Scriptures to discover what God’s mission and model is for His church.
  • Determine the discipleship pathway to lead people into a dynamic, growing, and reproducing relationship with Jesus Christ.
  • Establish a ministry to reach and disciple young families.
The future of West Lynchburg will be based on current decisions and the will of God. It is time to do some soul searching and spend time in prayer regarding what God would have us do to see His glory shine again through West Lynchburg.
 
Your comments and feedback are welcome.
 
Another day… Another opportunity…
 

Pastor Chris Jordan

 

[1] https://www.bgav.org/blog/demographics-and-research-studies

[2] https://www.breezechms.com/

 

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