We are in a series looking at past decades and their effect on the future. Every decade has brought a constant state of flux and a sea change in our society. We experienced huge political and social upheavals. At the opposite end of the spectrum, we also experienced gradual lifestyle changes that you don’t always notice when they’re happening – kind of like watching a child grow older. In this week’s message we focused on the 70’s.

But what about the church? What impact did each decade have on the church and are we prepared for the future?

Church was a lot different in the 1970’s than it is today. Men wore suits and ties. Women wore dresses past their knees and held their children’s hands as they walked to the church. The services were traditional and repetitive. As a result, you knew the routine after a few weeks of attendance. Because of the predictability, kids would often create their own drama. Like learning to impersonate the pastor and then waiting until when something was going on that attracted people’s attention, and in that spilt second, you lowered your voice, and said in your best pastor’s voice ‘hallelujah.” Or “can I get an amen.” Dad thought it was funny, mom did not and off to the basement you went to find a quiet spot where your pathetic cries would not be heard as mom played Onward Christian Soldiers on your backside.

Church was far more serious back then, not that we don’t take church serious today. But back then, for some reason, everything was funnier when you’re supposed to be quiet. It was nearly impossible to be serious even though you are trying to be.  Elderly Mrs. Finch had fallen asleep again and although you should not have looked, you already did and there was no way to stop laughing even as the pastor delivered a very serious sermon on Hebrews Chapter 10.

In those days, you went to Sunday School, stayed for the church service, then stopped for coffee afterward, then went to lunch with some church friends, then went back to church for choir practice, and then stayed for the evening service.  And you were always confused why the pastor referred to Sunday as a day of rest.

Here is why I bring that up. The 70’s church, for the most part, was concerned primarily with the spiritual development of the people who went to the church.  If the church were large enough it would support a missionary or even several. But after that, the church concerned itself with the zip code the building sat on. But consider for a moment how the world has changed. The world population in 1970 was 3.63 billion and the population of the U.S. was almost 205 million. Today, the world population is 7.04 billion and the U.S. population is over 314 million. The world population has nearly doubled in 42 years while the United States has grown 54 percent in that same time.  Those trends will continue with estimates of an additional 500 million people by the year 2020.

You don’t need those statistics to understand that the world is a big place and steadily getting bigger. My point is this: those numbers are the reason we as a church need to think larger than the neighborhoods that surround our present location.  Those numbers are why we view evangelizing and making disciples as the primary “business” of the church. And it’s the reason we look beyond our immediate area.

There’s a story in the Bible (Matthew 18:12-14) about a guy who is watching over 100 sheep and how one day he sees one of his sheep wander off and get lost. The story goes that he left the 99 safe sheep to go look for the lost one because that one sheep mattered.

We at Northstar have always looked for that lost one. You know, the one who has given up on “organized religion”, who says that the church is full of hypocrites who only want money, who think that they will be judged as soon as they walk in the door, These are the people that our heart breaks for. God doesn’t care whether people live next door or on the next continent. They all matter to Him and that is why they matter to us.  Over the last few years, we have felt the gravity of God pulling us away from thinking only inside our four walls or the surrounding neighborhoods.

Psalm 24:1 says “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”  This is, naturally, a large-scale perspective.  Imagine floating in space, looking down at the globe, and asking yourself, “What does the world need? And how can I fill that need?” Or, to give another image, imagine sitting in a room in which the walls and ceiling are filled with pictures of every individual on the globe. Now ask yourself, “How can I help them? What action could I take to benefit them?”

While we remain committed to the Panama City area, our congregation’s impact has spread far beyond the walls of our church, and Panama City into communities in Kenya and Haiti. Those two places first inspired our efforts to impact people for Jesus throughout the world. Before going to Africa and Haiti our outreach efforts were limited to local events and asking people to attend a Northstar service. When we first went to Africa, I worried that the problems in that country would prove to be too big for us as a church to handle. But each person that has gone to Kenya has said they will never be the same. And more importantly, they made a difference in the lives of people thousands of miles away. While we want to meet immediate needs, we don’t want to ‘blow in and blow out.’ One thing we wanted to make sure we were doing is creating a sustainable effort. We have discovered we could do so much more when we were receptive to the will and calling of God, regardless of where that leads us.

The church in 1970 worked for that decade, but these are different times, with bigger mission fields and bigger needs in every part of the globe. And our ability to focus inwardly has gone the way of plaid polyester suits.