July 18, 2006
Axis Denied (part 2): What should we learn from the demise of Willow’s Next-Gen ministry?
In part one Dan Kimball, pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, discussed the inherent difficulties of the church-within-a-church model that has been popular with churches wanting to reach the next generation. In many cases the divergent values between the mother church and the alternative "Gen X" service cause friction - with the younger leaders usually getting burned.
Seeming to contradict Kimball's experience, Scot McKnight reports that Gene Appel, a pastor at Willow Creek, said "that it was Axis that had led to dramatic changes in the rest of the church." And Willow had adopted enough of the younger generation's values "to call into question the viability of Axis having a separable service." Was Axis really a victim of its own success?
In part two, Kimball shares his story of leading a Next-Gen ministry within an existing church, and bids a heartfelt farewell to Axis.
What is the answer to the church-within-a-church dilemma? I don't know. For me, after leading an alternative worship gathering within a church for many years, we finally planted a new church. Like many others who launched an alternative gathering within a church, we realized that tension eventually arose because of the value and philosophy differences needed to minister to different populations. It turned out that our mother-church (which is a wonderful church) did not want us to truly change beyond just the worship style itself. We were expected to conform to the systems and values of the mother church. We found that it just couldn't work, because the need for different values and philosophy of ministry from the mother church was the very reason we needed to start the new alternative gathering in the first place.
I truly wish these alternative worship gatherings and ministries within a church could work, but they usually don't. I have hope for the future with them, as senior leadership in some churches is open to what it really means to launch something that is "alternative" in more than just style of worship. I believe that it is possible to have both generational and worldview(s) differences within the same church. But it is important to recognize that having an "intergenerational church" is not about just seeing people sit in the same worship service for 60-90 minutes. We do that in movie theaters, and that is not community. Intergenerational relationships occur outside the worship gatherings, so focusing all our energy on the worship service does not produce an intergenerational church.
Axis certainly served a purpose, and I remember when it was thriving. I was close to an Axis staff person and heard about the wonderful things going on there. But Axis is now the latest story of yet another alternative gathering, a church-within-a-church, biting the dust.
Oh, Jesus, lead your church. Keep our own human egos and control issues out of the way so we can let others lead who are in tune with different cultures that we may not be in tune to. May we yield to those placed in leadership above us if serving on a staff. This is your church, Jesus, may we never forget that and may we serve you in the way you want us to for your Kingdom and the mission.
Farewell Axis. Cheers to you. You served a wonderful purpose in the Kingdom and helped many, many people through the years and inspired so many of us to experiment with launching new gatherings. Thank you, Axis (and Willow Creek), for pioneering new ways of ministry. Your influence and inspiration continues to spread wide.