If you do a search online for churches that risk you find page after page focusing on insurance for religious organizations. These are gathered under the title "Risk Management." In other words, this is the exact opposite of what I was actually searching.
I was not seeking to find ways to manage risk, though I'm not saying that's necessarily bad, especially in the area of protecting families and property. It just seemed funny that the sites that popped up on my screen focused solely on the ability to keep churches safe and I was seeking to find examples of churches who refuse to stay safe (and I'm not talking about insurance or lawsuit related issues.)
Over my twenty-plus years in pastoral ministry I have served on church staff that sought to maintain status quo at times. I've also experienced moments that could be described simply as "risky endeavors."
I have not taken a survey. I have not studied the data on this. I'm speaking simply from my personal perspective and what I discern to be true about the church where I pastor.
The church that refuses to take risks soon becomes irrelevant to the community in which it lives.
It seems to me that most every church plant and new start, and I'm not just talking about new churches planted recently, but when legacy churches began decades and maybe centuries ago, there was great risk involved.
Maybe risk isn't the word the comes to mind, but it is accurate. At some point in the early part of the 20th century, in the community where the church I pastor is located, a woman began hosting a Bible study for children on her front porch. This Bible study was the genesis of what became First Baptist Church of Orange Park. Now, Mrs. Clarke likely didn't see that Bible study as risky, but looking back at the circumstances, it was. There was a need revealed to a woman who loved her community and area children. Like many planters in today's culture, when you throw out a crazy idea like a group gathering to study the Bible, there is no way to know who will show up or even if the effort will take root.
In this case, it did. There were other factors at play in the birthing of the local Baptist church, and hindsight is always 20/20, but at the time, there was no way to know if a church would be birthed and if so, would it mature.
Here we are a number of decades later and as I look back at our storied history, it is truly miraculous that we still exist. Like many churches, there have been some great chapters, but just as many terrible ones. When I was called to pastoral staff here back in the mid-1990s, this church was still healing from scandals and pastoral failings from a decade earlier.
We took risks for the sake of the Gospel
In a different era, under the leadership of Dr. Allen Harrod, our Senior Pastor at the time, this church took some significant risks. Dr. Harrod's leadership in this time was essential. He led a church reeling from scandal and poor theology into an era of growth and solid Gospel footing. Facilities were built. Others were upgraded. Ministries were developed and not unlike the birthing of this church decades prior, no one really knew how these new efforts would pan out.
Eleven years ago I was called to serve as Lead Pastor here. Since ministry options and new ideas had become the norm in our church culture, risk was not viewed as our enemy. It was not something viewed as frightening. This is likely due to the many new steps taken under the tenure of Dr. Harrod.
I think back to events and ministry options we began under the title "This is an experiment. Let's see if it will work." In truth, we were seeking to discover ways to continually look outward in a church culture that defaults to looking inward. The biggest challenge was revealed quickly.
Most people avoid risk at all costs
This is true for people in the church as well.
If your church has an influx of "transfer members," which many legacy churches do, there is a tendency for transferred fear (or risk-averse culture) to infect a growing, outwardly-focused family.
Yet, as one wise senior adult told me years ago, "It's not that we're so afraid of new things. We just need you to lead us into understanding what it will mean and why it's worth the risk."
That's the role of the pastor/leader.
So, as I look back over the years, I remember some pretty risky efforts in ministry (at least for us) that slowly moved our church to begin to live more missionally while presenting an attractional God to those who never even knew He existed.
There are numerous things that precipitate a risky choice in church life. In most cases, it's the revelation that to do nothing new leaves a local church just going through the motions and eventually wondering why they aren't growing or living effectively on mission.
As I read the Bible, I see numerous risky steps taken by men and women of God. In each case, whether it was Moses speaking boldly to Pharaoh, David stepping in front of a giant with little more than a sling, Esther approaching the king, or even Jesus declaring his role to the religious and political leaders in Jerusalem, these were only risky from the human perspective.
Taking risks for the sake of the Gospel is not to be done apart from prayer.
So, take some risks. Dare to step out. It's when you're at your best as a church.
Our latest risky endeavor is GameDay Church. Check it out here - gamedaychurch.org.