By Dave Ferguson
“We don’t know exactly when, but we do know the earthquake is coming.”
That is what seismologists who study our shifting earth are saying about impending catastrophic earthquakes. These experts can now tell us with absolute certainty where earthquakes will happen, but they don’t know exactly when. They have even created a list of the world’s most earthquake-vulnerable cities.
At the top of the list is Kathmandu, Nepal, where they predict a 6.0-magnitude earthquake will occur and could kill approximately 69,000 people. Also on the hit list is Manila, Philippines, where a quake that will register close to 6.0 will end the lives of approximately 13,000 people.
How do they know? Seismologists are able to measure the seismic shifts happening underground.
In much the same way, seismic spiritual shifts are also occurring. I can’t tell you when a spiritual quake will hit your church or community, but I can now tell you with absolute certainty you will feel the impact. These subtle shifts have been occurring for more than a decade, and in time they will change how people find their way back to God.
SPIRITUAL SEISMIC SHIFT 1: TRUST BEFORE TRUTH
When we wanted to start a brand-new campus in Yorkville, Illinois, we went to the school district in that community, like we have done before, and asked if we could fill out a usage agreement for Sunday mornings. The reply from the district was, “Sorry, we allow outside groups to use our school facilities only on a one-time basis; we won’t entertain long-term agreements.”
We had met with resistance before and since we are a pretty determined group, we only heard their “no” as another step before we would get to “yes.” So we tried again. And we tried again. But no matter how hard we tried, and no matter whom we talked to, the answer was, “No, you cannot use our school to start a new campus.” They did not trust us.
Meanwhile, just 15 minutes from our first campus in Naperville is the low-income and primarily Hispanic community of East Aurora, where we were taking a completely different approach. We had set out to build trust before presenting the truth. We did not want to be perceived as the “great white saviors” trying to bring the message of Jesus, so we knew planting a church or campus would not be our best first step.
So, three years ago we began by partnering with an elementary school—offering tutoring and other academic assistance to a very low-performing school district. We sponsored community events and worked to partner with existing churches and nonprofits to support their efforts.
While we provide many service or volunteer opportunities to involve our attendees in East Aurora, our emphasis has always been on building relationships in the community and letting them know we can be trusted to be there for the long haul. We even encourage church people to relocate to the under-resourced community to become a part of it, and to build relationships from within. One of our families has done that, and several others are preparing to do the same.
After several years of building trust and working in the community, we were contacted by the principal of the public elementary school. He suggested we start a new Community Christian Church site in his school building. Why did the school in East Aurora invite us in while the school in Yorkville did not? It’s because the principal in East Aurora trusts us.
Meanwhile, other churches in the community are now inviting us to launch a bilingual campus. Individuals in the community know and trust CCC. Some have become part of small groups where they can safely experience the love of Jesus. Because of relationships that have been formed, and what people have seen the church do in the community, they are experiencing Jesus and the church in a new way. We have earned their trust, and now we have the opportunity to share the truth.
This is just one example of a spiritual seismic shift happening as those far from God are looking for people and churches they trust before they will listen to the truth.
SPIRITUAL SEISMIC SHIFT 2: BELONGING BEFORE BELIEVING
We baptized 362 people last year at Community, but I baptized only 11 of them. Do you know who baptized the most people at our church last year? Small-group leaders! The vast majority of the people who made a commitment to follow Christ asked their small-group leader to baptize them. Why? It was within the context and experience of community that these people came to belief.
This is indicative of a second spiritual seismic shift that is taking place; spiritually searching people need to belong before they believe.
Brett was one of the people who was baptized this past year. Listen to his testimony he read right before his baptism:
There is an old song that goes, “God puts cracks in everything; that’s how light gets in.” That quote sums up how I got here today.
Eighteen months ago I experienced a prayer meeting led by my small group that moved me beyond belief. Forty or so Christ followers from CCC, many of them here today, gathered at my house to pray for my wife who was in the battle of her life for cancer. As a direct result of that evening, God answered that prayer; my wife is here, and my family remains together today. It is a testimony to how praying as a group multiplies its effect. God brought us the miracle we prayed for.
I had struggled with belief in the power of God. I wasn’t ready to show my faith and be baptized. It took some prodding by my good friends. After discussion and prayer within my small groups, I am ready to make a public commitment of faith to Jesus Christ.
Over and over he refers to his small group. He tells how his small group prayed for healing for his wife, Stacy. He tells about his struggle to believe and how his small group kept prodding him and discussing it with him.
And who do you think was in the baptistery with Brett? His small-group leader, Troy, baptized him. Brett is another indication of the subtle shifts changing the spiritual landscape of how people find their way back to God.
SPIRITUAL SEISMIC SHIFT 3: SERVING BEFORE SALVATION
The first time I met Clayton he was holding a guitar and practicing with a band at one of our CCC locations. It was the first time he had played with one of our bands, and he was a little bit nervous.
What I didn’t know about Clayton was that he was not a believer, had never been baptized, and was currently living with his girlfriend. But I did know he had been to Community for the last four weeks, was on a genuine spiritual search, and when he met one of our arts directors he immediately asked, “Is there any way that I could play in the band?”
How would you answer that question? Must someone be a member at your church before he or she can serve?
I’m not encouraging churches to lower the bar of expectations of a disciple or for leadership—no, we need to raise the bar! But there is a seismic spiritual shift occurring in our culture where many people will need to serve in order to find salvation. And because that is true, we must create serving opportunities within the walls of our church, but even more so outside the walls of our church and in the community for people who are far from God.
DO YOU FEEL THE SHIFTS?
You might push back and say, “I’m not feeling any of those shifts where I live.” You may not be feeling them now; but they’re coming.
I don’t know exactly when, but I do know that the earthquake is coming.
Dave Ferguson is lead pastor with Community Christian Church (www.communitychristian.org), Naperville, Illinois.