Why Think about Off Site
This will be a growing edge for many congregations.
Moving activities and ministries off site, out into neighborhoods and homes, will challenge longtime perceptions that "church" means whatever is done at the central location. It will seem counter-intuitive to be decentralizing their congregation's life even as they stretch to keep the central location's doors open.
Ancient Israel faced a deep tension between the Temple cult in Jerusalem and the decentralized life of shrines and synagogues. It was a tension between city and country, between pioneer and settler, and between a belief in God's presence in a single place (the "Holy of Holies" inside the Temple) and God's presence wherever God's people happened to be.
Modern congregations face a similar tension between a single sacred space and many spaces where the sacred can be experienced. They also face the historical reality that once they were neighborhood parishes, welcoming neighbors who walked to church, and now they are destinations to which people drive from many neighborhoods.
Because so much energy, funding and worry have gone into keeping the central doors open, many congregations find that their identity and purposes are tied up in what they do at the main church. They measure health by how many worship on an average Sunday. They define membership as being part of that Sunday community. They staff primarily for Sunday activities, notably worship.
In thinking about decentralized ministry, congregations will be acknowledging what many members and neighbors already know: interactions with God and other Christians are just as lively "out there" -- on a retreat, at a renewal weekend, in an at-home Bible study, in doing mission work -- as they are "in here."
By seeking a broader and less centralized presence in the larger community, a congregation can significantly expand its reach and impact. Many who attend a home-based group or serve on a mission team will never join the Sunday worshiping community at the central location. No problem. The point is impact, not bodies in a pew.
By going out where people are, the congregation will become more aware of people's needs and thus more effective in meeting all needs. Imagine the way Sunday would deepen if leaders were sitting in members' homes on weeknights and hearing about job losses or bullying at schools.