A close friend I have known since I was 11 years old now runs one of the finest fusion restaurants in Gainesville, Florida, named Dragonfly Sushi & Sake Company. When he started the restaurant in his mid-20s, it was a huge risk (and risk is such a small word for how great and terrifying it can feel) and the restaurant was of enormous personal and professional cost to him and his partner as he started it.
I don’t think we had much of a chance to speak for the first two years he had the restaurant. He was married to his work through that time working on every facet of food, ambience, management, seeking out capital — forsaking evenings, weekends, family vacations, personal relationships, literally everything it seemed. When we did get the chance to speak, my heart welled up with admiration for this friend, and I could tell that he was really becoming quite the savant when it came to the restaurant business, business in general, and in many ways, life.
When I told him of my concern for his life and the way the restaurant seemed to dictate every hour of every day, including holidays and most especially his evenings. He replied, “This may not last that long. Restaurants don’t usually tend to have a long life cycle — 7 years is usually the window of opportunity.”
“So you’re going to do this for 7 years?”
“We’ll see. We’ll see what happens, everything is just working out the way it is and if another opportunity opens, we’ll see when we get there, but we don’t ever want to assume we will last 7 years, most likely we will have to reinvent ourselves.”
Reinvention is not seen as a terrible thing to my friend, it is seen as an opportunity, whether driven by the market or his capabilities, it is an inevitability.
In a recent conference at Northpoint Church, Andy Stanley makes the remark that many churches have little incentive to change and do not plan to do so. They simply open the doors and keep everything the same for as long as they can. They can actually resist change if what works for them in the beginning seems to work well. In other words, they presume a static environment for the long-run, which implies that they are reactive, but never institutions to instigate change.
This is counterintuitive to our contemporary lives and while businesses have to adjust or phase out, churches can go as long as they have a supportive constituency, er… I mean community. But think about it, we don’t stay at the same companies like we used to. We are much mobile than in past generations, and being children of immigrants and entrpreneurs, we don’t stay in the same cities. Seasons of our lives can be tied to specific periods, i.e. high school = 4 years, college = 4 years, first job = 4 years, dating = 4 years, seminary=3 years … if churches are to be places of growth, perhaps it would be good to define those seasons as well. Otherwise, we assume that church is the constant from cradle to the grave, but the reality is that we see our parents far less than we used to and we are more willing to leave for opportunities that will improve our personal circumstances than ever. The average tenure at a job is below 5 years now and for positions of ministry, I hear that it’s even lower than that.
What if we had short-run churches to begin with? Short-run churches could play a specific role with a specified target audience for a life cycle of say, 7 years. I think playing for the short run increases the focus of a ministry, allows for the development of specific skillsets, and addresses specific concerns for an audience, while equipping them with the understanding that this church will not be there forever as a crutch, but is going to be proactive in sending them back out into the world or into other churches, where they can grow in other areas.
It could be akin to a parachurch in focus and people churn, but be a place that isn’t outside the sphere of the traditional “local church.” Instead of wondering why churches are losing ground in the long-term, why couldn’t they operate with a short-term mentality? Wouldn’t we be more daring by doing so? Wouldn’t the standard of excellence be higher, because from the outset, a defined timetable places a constraint on our goals and measurement for growth with a full anticipation that we are doing this in order to send the members back out into the larger community? Isn’t that what the first disciples were? Could this kind of community be what Bonhoeffer was involved in when he wrote “Life Together”?
I think this is a great auspice for the Asian American church: to address the wounds, dysfunctions, unique giftings and twilight people mentality of the 2nd generation. The perspective however, would be to launch them into the greater circle of the church and to not get bogged down in long-run, tossed-by-the-waves-of-the-market type of church.
By the way, if you’re ever in Gainesville, try the Dragonfly.