Have you given consideration lately to what direction your church is headed? It’s been an important question for me of late, what with a new senior pastor at my home church. I’ve been excited to be part of the vision that is being cast for where our church is headed, and what it will take to accomplish that.

Beyond the doors of the local church, our denomination, the Church of the Nazarene, has been asking some tough questions regarding its own future. While looking into the past is not always a good idea when planning for the future, it can provide valuable insight for a path to the future. In the latest issue of Holiness Today, Jan Lanham points out,

In the very earliest days of the Church of the Nazarene, the focus on concern for the poor was a distinguishing characteristic of this holiness group. Rescue missions, orphanages, and homes for unwed mothers were some of the ways the church sought to meet needs. When displaced survivors from the San Francisco earthquake came to Los Angeles, Phineas Bresee turned Sunday School rooms and the church basement into a temporary shelter for victims.

Those who joined the Church of the Nazarene in those early days were challenged to: “Do good to the bodies and the souls of men. Feeding the hungry, clothing the destitute, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and ministering to the needy, as opportunity and ability are given.”

In no way do I presume to think that the Church of the Nazarene no longer views the acts of mercy that Lanham mentions as worthy of their attention, but I would say that for many Nazarene churches, they do not constitute the primary focus of the life of the church. Both local churches and denominations change over time. In the early 20th century, as the  Church of the Nazarene experienced rapid numerical growth, the primary focus became sending missionaries.

Today, the Board of General Superintendents (BGS) is grappling with the changes that more than a century have wrought on the Nazarene church. One such change is that the vast majority of our membership lies outside the USA/Canada region. In fact, only 15% of our membership is in this region, as indicated in the annual report that the BGS released this past February. That is a small percentage of the international membership, yet that 15% contributes a whopping 85% of the financial resources of the Church of the Nazarene. Such a change from historical membership numbers requires consideration of the focus of what our church does, and how it does it. The BGS is to be commended for acknowledging the importance of this, and in 2009 establishing a Commission on the Nazarene Future.

Here are some of the questions that are being asked: *

1. What should be the new role of missionaries in a world with few technological boundaries?

2. What should be the new role of the general superintendency in a church that will gain 200,000 members and 1,ooo ministers every year?

3. What should be the new role of regions and fields in facilitating growth and discipleship?

4. What should be the new role of the GMC (Lenexa, Kansas) in a church with 85 percent of the membership outside the U.S.?

5. What should be the new role of the USA/Canada Region when it has 15 percent of the membership and 85 percent of the financial resources?

6. What should be the new role of partnerships with like-minded faith groups, as suggested by the 2009 General Assembly?

7. What should be the new role of technology with the community of faith, as the most remote parts of the world become connected?

What direction is your church or denomination headed?

* These questions are drawn from the May/June 2001 issue of Holiness Today