In week three of our series about reversing the accelerating decline in churches, we look at a factor that may not seem to be a part of Chapel Hill’s experience. In Week One, we discussed the impact of the decline of Cultural Christianity which provided benefits for people to be in church even if they may not all have been devoted disciples. In Week Two, we discussed the departure of the Builder Generation who was born before 1945 and was loyal to institutions. This week’s factor from church consultant Thom Rainer is the migration from rural areas and small towns to the cities.
Now, we may not feel as though CHUMC fits in this reason for decline. We are not rural. Farmers Branch is not as small as other towns with a population of 40,209 as of 2018. Yet, as we have mentioned before, it is a town that has seen its share of migration over the years, especially in CHUMC’s immediate neighborhood. White flight caused a radical shift in the population dynamics of Farmers Branch as people moved to other suburbs to avoid the integration of schools and the accompanying bussing of children to facilitate the diversification of schools. Beyond that, many of our members’ children and grandchildren have relocated to newer suburbs, exurbs, and even near downtown areas after completing school as they settled down with their families and/or in new careers, fitting another cultural trend of our day. This left a dramatic ethnic change in its wake in CHUMC’s neighborhood and in Farmers Branch. While CHUMC has historically been a predominantly Caucasian church, its neighborhood is now predominantly Hispanic. And census data shows that the majority of the Caucasian population in CHUMC’s neighborhood is elderly. We certainly should not forget nor neglect the fact that there are Builders and Boomers in need of a church home and the love of God, but they are less likely to have not already addressed that need, and our most likely harvest is among Hispanic families. This is a change many churches are not ready or equipped to address.
Thankfully, CHUMC is adapting to its changing context. With the assistance of the North Texas Conference, CHUMC was able to bring Idalia Luna, our Hispanic Ministries Pastor and Family and Children’s Minister, on staff more than a year ago. Pastora Idalia serves at CHUMC in the new church planting role of indigenous planter. This is a role that has arisen out of the current social context.
After much research on the best practices for church planting in the twenty-first century, the North Texas Conference changed its church planting funding approach from one in which they were funding full-time planters in fairly independent efforts seeking to plant an altogether new church to a model in which planters serve in their planting role part-time while holding a second paid role in the church or in a second job. In this model, the church plant begins within an existing church but with the necessary autonomy to be flexible and adaptable. The goal is not necessarily to plant an altogether new church but a new worshipping community within the existing local church to reach new ethnic and/or generational constituencies.
This effort empowers CHUMC to share God’s love with the people in the community. But what can we do to further address the migration impact on CHUMC? Here are some suggestions:
1) Support Pastora Idalia in her ministry. There are ways to do so and people being reached by her ministry that do not require someone to know Spanish. If you do not know Spanish, find out who/what they/those are. If you do know Spanish, then you know there are plenty of ways to chip in and share God’s love.
2) Remember there are Caucasian and other Builders and Boomers who need to know God’s love as well. Take notice of who they are in your neighborhood and consider how you might share the love of God with them.
3) Take note that Farmers Branch itself is growing. The city is expected to double in population with an increasingly diverse population over the next decade. Keep your eyes open for where these new people are and where they gather. Think about how we can share God’s love with them.
4) Pray. Be in prayer that the Holy Spirit will guide us and shape us so we may meaningful, transformative relationships with all new people we encounter.
Believe you me. The harvest is plentiful. Let’s work together in reversing decline by harvesting in the mission field we have been given.
Grace and peace,
Rev. J.D. Allen