In a previous blog post, I wrote about things that have changed over the course of my time as pastor at CGF English Congregation, as well as things that will never change as long as I am here (i.e., A commitment to expository preaching, regular prayer meetings). I also promised that, in a future post, I would post something called 'What WILL Change", and so here is that promised post.
This post, (it's quite long, you've been warned, but I'd strongly encourage you to read it in its entirety, ESPECIALLY if you consider CGF to be your home church), is what I believe that Lord is leading our congregation into for the foreseeable future.
In the latter part of Jeremiah, the exiled people of God are living in a strange land full of strange, even ungodly, things. In such an environment, how are the faithful to respond? Are they to be:
Against Babylon? Are they to hate the Babylonians and be opposed to any and everything Babylonian?
Ambivalent toward Babylon? Are they to maintain an icy coexistence with their Babylonian overlords?
Affirming toward Babylon? Are God's people to embrace and incorporate Babylonian culture, even the things that are ungodly, into their own culture?
Or are they to be something else?
Jeremiah 29 seems to suggest they take the fourth option. But what is that fourth option? In verse 7, we find our answer: "But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray for the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare" (Jeremiah 29:7).
God tells his people to "seek the welfare" of Babylon. Rather than seeking to move away from Babylon, rather than trying to rebelling against Babylon, rather than embracing everything Babylonian, God tells them to seek the welfare of Babylon while peacefully living in the city where they live in exile.
I believe that we, as the English Congregation of CGF, need to take a similar approach, given the junction we are at in the life of our congregation. We need to be a congregation that seeks the welfare of our city. Yet, the question posed towards us is this: How do we do this?
First, we need to look at our current reality, where we are right now as a congregation.
CURRENT REALITY (STRENGTHS)
1. Shared familial and cultural background. Most of our people are not complete strangers to one another; many of our people have relatives in both Chinese and English congregations, so that helps with familiarity and fosters a general sense of closeness. Being a congregation whose members know and get along with one another is a blessing that ought not to be overlooked or underestimated.
2. Lots of people to minister to. Though the Manhattan branch has seen an overall decline in attendance numbers due to members moving and attending other CGF branches (i.e., Brooklyn, Elmhurst, Flushing, Philadelphia), we nevertheless have a sizable amount of people to minister to and train up in Christlike maturity. Our English worship service averages around 80 in attendance, not including the 50 children that attend children's worship.
3. Young congregation with lots of potential. Though our congregation is relatively small, it is quite young and hence flexible and more open to change.
CURRENT REALITY (WEAKNESSES)
1. While we are a church that meets in Manhattan, the majority of our leaders and attendees no longer live in Manhattan. Due to the rising cost of living in Manhattan, most of our leaders and attendees no longer live in the borough in which we worship. Most of our people live in New Jersey, Queens, or Brooklyn. This is not necessarily a sinful thing, but simply the current reality of our congregation. Because most of us do not live in Manhattan, this poses challenges that must be faced if we want to be effective in reaching our neighborhood.
2. Decreasing Fujianese population in Manhattan. The decreasing Fujianese residential and work population in Manhattan has left a decreasing amount of people attending the Manhattan branch, which in turn, has meant fewer children being sent to our English Congregation. The attendance of our children's worship averages around 50 children a week; I'm told that, in the years prior to me arriving in 2016, there were well over 100 a week.
3. Inadequate reaching of non-Fujianese people. As Lower East Side and Chinatown have steadily become less and less Chinese and/or Fujianese, we haven't adequately reached the non-Fujianese people that have moved into the neighborhood. This is not to blame anyone; the truth is that, for the last 30 years, with the amount of Fujianese immigrants and their children (and even some grandchildren) seeking out and joining CGF, we simply have not had the capacity and bandwidth to reach people beyond the people that were already coming into our church. However, now that Manhattan (both the neighborhood and our branch) is experiencing an overall decline in the amount of Fujianese people, this is something that must be addressed.
With our current reality (both strengths and weaknesses) in mind, for what should we aim to strive for the future?
Stay tuned for "Part 3: Future Picture", coming this week...