The Church is a bit like the family farm that is now surrounded by subdivisions. We may still serve the "family" well, but we're now disconnected from the community around us. Those outside see value in what we have, but more often they just pass by wondering about the old family that seems out of place, or maybe complaining about the old broken down tractors (programs) that they see in our front yard. We keep going along living life the way we do because it seems to work “for us” but with a call to the world as well as each other, we have to realize that our neighbors, who we used to chase cows with or who provided the fire wood that we now have to cut ourselves in exchange for veggies aren't there anymore. The community of the world we are part of has changed and we have to change as well.
Think if you will of when your neighbors move, the new neighbors still fill the same “position” but they most likely serve in different roles within the community. As such, the community changes, if the person who mowed the lawns moves away and the new neighbor doesn't own a lawnmower, someone steps into that role, or everyone has to figure out a way to accomplish what the need. You don't have to be the person to mow lawns, but at minimum you have to now mow your own or hire someone else.
So how does this apply back to the church? Well let's go back to the farm analogy: If we as the church began as a place that supplied the local community with a needed service, but have as time has changed become disconnected from the changing needs of our community, we need to consider what the community currently sees us as. If we are the now “family farm” taking care of itself mainly and seen a place filled with things from a time gone by, we're no longer doing what we originally aimed to do. We have stopped being part of the community, so how can we take what we have and better be what our communities now need?
I think of farms in the area where I grew up, some fenced themselves off more in order to avoid having people complain about escaping cows and will live as long as the family does and then certainly die out (if not before). They aim to maintain for themselves. This is certainly not our call as the church. Some others have sold off much of their land, using profits to try to become something new, or just living out their lives still separate from the community that has grown around them. Also, does not line up with the churches call. But there is one other way I've seen that seems to maybe have lessons we as the church can learn from.
Some of these farms have found themselves just like the one I started this article with: A family farm with rusted tractors and old barns surrounded by subdivisions and planned communities. They heard the mumbling of the neighbors, they saw that they weren't connected, and they looked for ways to be part of the world surrounding them. This meant getting rid of some tractors, cleaning up some barns, and repurposing themselves to continue to serve the community that they were now part of. Some became homes to farmer markets and auction houses. Some found their space to be in great demand for community carnivals, concerts, and other entertainment and slowly repurposed buildings and land to be more and more formal entertainment space. In both these cases there's still some working family farm land attached, but the family is also connected to the community through the other things it does, and in doing so the community for the family has increased. We as the church have many things a community needs, but we must first take the time to look and hear what our specific context needs and try to fill in that void IF we can. Regardless, the process of being neighbor begins by our willingness to go out, be aware of need, and offer help.
We are not just here to take care of ourselves or those who come to us, and we are not a business selling God. We are a neighbor helping here to help and serve. A neighbor who needs to get back out and see that needs have changed and stand in those places of need just like we each were created to do from the beginning. The world sees us as behind, but we don't have to catch up, we just have to reconnect.