I know a lot of people who have been deeply blessed by the education and ministry of Cascade College. I have visited the campus many times and participated in campus ministry events, seminars, and training events. I know some of the faculty and staff and they are good people. I find myself troubled that such a great institution is forced to close its doors.
Stan Granberg, former faculty member at Cascade College, writes an incisive and challenging call to churches of Christ to see this event in the Northwest as a symptom of what is happening in our fellowship across the country:
December 2, 2008
“Closing strikes blow to Pacific Northwest” is the lead article in the December The Christian Chronicle, On October 27 the Oklahoma Christian Board announced that Cascade College would close its doors on May 31, 2009. The Cascade College administration and board and the board of Oklahoma Christian worked with integrity as they made this decision—still—it is a sad one. Here are two quotes from the Cascade website (www.cascade.edu) that explain the closing:
“The college is closing because, after many years of effort, it has not been able to identify an academic operating model that is compelling and sustainable.”
“In addition, we have seen a significant decline (down 40%) over the last 5 years in enrollment of students from the college’s primary constituency—Churches of Christ.”
Cascade College began in the fall of 1994 on the campus of its predecessor Columbia Christian College, which was founded in 1956 and closed in 1992. There are many reasons that can explain the closing of these two in the Northwest United States. But for me, there is one compelling thought:
Cascade’s closing is a real life analogy that represents the health and well-being of the Churches of Christ on the west coast.
The two quotes above are really quite revealing. The first quote speaks of developing an “operating model that is compelling and sustainable.” Cascade College, like many of our colleges and state university campus ministries, began and operated on the premise of being a safe place for our children to explore their faith as they transitioned into adult life. Fair enough. I experienced that myself at Harding University and accepted that mission with joy when I taught at Cascade College. While that “closed-system” model worked in the 20th century, it does not seem a viable model for the 21st century.
Twentieth century America was a “Christian” century in our country. Christian faith and church was an active and vital piece of the social fabric. That’s why there was such an explosion of new churches across America following World War II, of which we benefited dramatically. But in the 21st century Christianity is relegated to the outskirts of Western society. We’re no longer in a majority position, but a minority one.
Here’s what this means, we must see ourselves as a missionary force in our own country rather than a maintenance force. Our schools and our churches are challenged to shift from a stance of preservation to one of being salt and light, yeast and leaven, among God’s lost people. Our reason for existing is challenged to reorient itself from “maintaining our own” to serving others so they can experience the redemptive presence of God in their lives.
The great thing about this is that those of us who have jumped into this new, 21st century paradigm find the biblical relevance of such missional living amazing, almost intoxicatingly so. We are seeing the living hand of God active and engaged in people’s lives. He is showing himself in the most unexpected events, among the least expected people. We are seeing that God lives!
The second statement refers directly to our fellowship. The number of Cascade College students coming from Churches of Christ dropped 40% over the past 5 years. Why? I know of six congregations that closed in the Northwest in the last two years. We expect to hear of this in greater numbers and more rapidly in the next ten years. There is simply neither the numbers nor the will within our fellowship in the Northwest to sustain an institution like Cascade at this time. Will there ever? That’s one of the decisions we face.
“Hey, but Stan, that’s just the Northwest. We’re doing just fine here in our church.” Consider this. Since about 1985 Churches of Christ in America have been on a growth plateau—same number of churches (about 13,000), same number of members (about 1,300,000). Consider this though. In 1985 the US population was 238 million people. Today it is nearing 306 million people. That is roughly a 30% increase in number of people. That means for the past twenty-three years while we stayed at our 1985 size our impact on the people around us devalued by 30%. Did it hurt when you saw your 401K devalue by 20% this year? A 30% devaluing of our spiritual relevance ought to drive us to repentant tears.
Jim Collins in his brief volume “Good to Great: The Social Sectors” speaks of the need for organizations to “confront the brutal facts.” If the facts above did not speak clearly enough, let me do so now. As a fellowship we are at a watershed time. We are at the point to decide whether we will face the new world around us with the creative abilities with which God has so abundantly endowed our fellowship or we can choose to ignore the brutal facts and stay warm in our blanket of complacency. It’s our choice. This is the time. There are no tomorrows left to us.
And by the way, expect to read of more school closings. Am I being a rainy-day prophet? No, I just know the numbers. It’s time to make a change. The world lies before us; God walks among us; a great heritage lies behind us. Why wouldn’t we want to attempt good and great things for God?
What can you do? Kairos is working with over a dozen new churches with more in the planning stages. We have planter couples who have been assessed, who are moving into their respective mission fields, who are looking for churches to partner with them financially and physically to plant these new churches in new places for new people. Is your church ready to take on the missional role of a partner church to support these couples?
Would you, personally, be willing to support these couples financially? On their prayer teams? As a spiritual mentor to one of the men or one of the women?
Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org if God is moving in your heart and you want to do something different. Become part of a growing movement of missional people and churches who have already made the decision to be 21st century Christians for 21st century America.
Kairos executive director