I thank God for old churches. Conversations demeaning older churches have become routine and many have very little confidence in the capacity of older congregations to have significant Kingdom impact. Clearly it is easier to establish new forms of ministry in newer congregations. Perhaps there is even a greater motivation to connect with the “outsider” in that congregation. Few lifelong friendships exist in new churches; the kind of relationships that require long term investment and personal attention. Older churches do invest more time and energy on internal relationships; consequently they exhibit less focus beyond themselves.
But, I am not willing to discard older churches as either irrelevant or incapable of Kingdom impact. In fact, I think it is past time for a balanced dialogue on the value and strengths of newer and older congregations. Both have a place in the Kingdom of God.
Most church planters are the product or by-product of older congregations. Unfortunately some church planters communicate disdain for older congregations, seeing them as incapable of connecting in substantive ways with unchurched people; more committed to caring for those in the family of faith than seeking to introduce new persons into that family. Again, statistics validate that newer congregations tend to be more effective in guiding new believers toward faith and community.
At the same time, older congregations often evidence deep commitment to intercession. They pray for the destruction of strongholds that prevent persons from coming to faith. They ask God to raise new leaders for a new generation. They are often greater contributors toward denominational funds used to underwrite costs associated with starting new churches. They may well be the greatest supporters of educational scholarships given to prepare next generation church leaders. In some instances they provide space in which new churches and ministries begin.
If we could back away far enough, and look through the Father’s eyes, I wonder if we might see more clearly how the actions of older churches are influencing new churches as well. If we could stop the “us verses them” mentality, perhaps we could see ourselves as truly being on the same side; a Kingdom side of Righteousness and Truth.
Older congregations often have small subsets of members who are vibrantly and vitally active and interested in helping their congregations to be missionally relevant in the community. Those subsets often long to see their congregations more involved in ministry to their neighbors and in hands-on international involvement. At the same time, they know the physical, financial, and cultural limitations that limit or prevent many members from engaging the world. In such congregations, these small missional cells may serve as representatives of the larger congregation. This is not a cop-out. It is reality. And it should never be despised.
Not every congregation will see a majority of its members directly involved in hands-on mission ministry. There are legitimate limitations that may prevent such. However, every congregation can be filled with those who are growing in their awareness of what God is doing and seeking to do both at home and across the earth. Every congregation can be active globally as they pray; accomplishing spiritual victories through intercession. Many older congregations would welcome the opportunity for partnership with a new church start. They would participate in blessing new churches in intermittent ways, even though they may not engage in the new church start at an every week level. Like grandparents, they are blessed to care for the grandkids for short periods, although they are no longer up to full-time parenting. I am reminded of Paul’s word to Timothy, “Let no man despise your youth…” and wonder today if it is perhaps time to add “Let no man despise your years…” as well.