I love the Church.



…the Church.

I guess sometimes the nature of my blog entries causes people to ask me why I don’t even LIKE the Church. I kind of understand that. But, as I’ve said before, the spiritual life doesn’t have to be POLITE. I mean, look at the prophets in the Old Testament, fuh cryin’ out loud. Paul opposed Peter TO HIS FACE. Even Jesus flipped over the tables in the Temple not once, but TWICE (making a whip out of a curtain on one of those junkets). And since when did asking honest questions for people to wrestle with, based on my observations, become even the remotely equivalent of any of those things? The very nature of the questions is to make people who ordinarily wouldn’t be aware of the state of things to become aware of the state of things.

I mean, the movie Moneyball and the book Good To Great were about organizations that needed to think beyond their current way of doing business to become what they wanted to be. The book is geared toward corporations who turned things around, and the movie is about a baseball team who couldn’t spend as much as the ones in larger cities finding a way to compete with them. In both cases, they had to assess where they were and then figure out a way to excel given their realities. In the baseball movie, they decided to get players who scored runs (isn’t that the object?) rather than high batting averages or home run hitters.

And, thankfully, I’m not a lone voice in the wilderness when I talk about the Church in decline. The numbers are in and aren’t even in dispute. Yes, even in the Bible-belt here in Texas. Sure, there are lots of large megachurches but those numbers are smaller than they were and dropping. Slowly, to be sure. But it’s noticeable.

So, it’s nice to read a book like On the Verge: A Journey Into the Apostolic Future of the Church (Exponential Series) by Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson who not only see the problem, but see the Church as the solution as well. Earlier movements (think Emergent) took a more “I’ll take my ball and go home” approach which always caused me trouble even if I was drawn to some of their methods.

Well, Hirsch (An Australian who feels called to serve the North American church get mobilized to work towards solutions) and Ferguson (a megachurch pastor in Chicago who successfully redesigned his church to get on mission) have put into words what I’ve been trying to say. It’s nice when it’s coming from two others who love the Church, too.

They use a business term, “RED OCEANS,” to describe the “known market space.” Apparently, it’s a term industries use to talk about the entire potential customer base. So, for example, if you’re Kimberly-Clarke and you’re selling toilet paper or paper towels, what percentage of America (or the world) is possibly going to buy your product? That’s the “red ocean” that the sharks are going to get into and fight for…so it’s all the other paper companies vying for the chum in the red ocean. So, let’s say that 90% of Americans need those products, and there are 100 companies who make those products, then they’re all fighting each other to get that business.

The other term, “BLUE OCEANS,” is the unknown market space, hence no competition. Lots of room for growth and innovation and creativity because it hasn’t even really been explored yet. It’s a potential market.

So, in church terms, it goes something like this (based on Bible-belt estimates): There’s roughly 40% of the population that are the types of folks who will live in a community and be open to finding a church. This isn’t the attendance, mind you, just that 40% represents the total RED OCEAN that are even open to it. Generally, it’s assumed that 25%-50% of that RED OCEAN will act on that latent desire. So, you have all these churches offering programs and ministries and revamping worship services and all that in an effort to attract from this base. Practical numbers: My town has roughly 70,000 people. That means between 14K and 28K are open to going to church. My guess is that weekly attendance is closer to 17K-20K.

That means there’s a BLUE OCEAN out there between 42K and 56K for the Church to be innovative and creative with our mission. But the status quo isn’t going to reach those people. Most, if not all, the churches in my area are very, very good at serving the RED OCEAN scenario. And they’re very, very good at resources and training and all that. Hirsch and Ferguson put it this way:

This is exactly the issue we face. We are all competing in the red waters of the 40% while the 60% remains largely untouched. It’s time for some value innovation. Christian churches with a strong sense of missionary calling–while maintaining best practices in what they do–will also venture out to innovate new forms of church in the vast uncharted territories of the unchurched populations of our day. To do less is to fail in our missionary calling.

And, this is where the fun part comes in.

See, the authors use the example of Einstein talking about imagination being more important than information.

In my terms, we grow out of our Sesame Street/Muppets and crayons and into desks, meetings and spreadsheets. It’s more fun to dream of exploring the BLUE OCEANS. Even the authors highlight that, too:

To overcome the fact that most contemporary churches focus on the same diminishing 40% of the population (and therefore against each other for the same slice), we must have more than one arrow in our ecclesial quiver. The way to have a really good idea is to have many ideas, and the answer to the diversity of Western culture is diversity of church expression. One size will not fit all anymore. If our only answer to the strategic challenge we face is another tweak of the same institutional paradigm that got us here, then we must expect to be (and will be) sorely disappointed, and church attendance will continue it’s long-term trend of decline. We need a blue ocean strategy…there is no silver bullet, but there is a silver imagination.

So, today, let’s assume that our RED OCEAN is uniquely positioned to do something unique and creative and start to work on the BLUE OCEAN, okay? I mean, if you’re reading this, you’re probably entrenched in the RED OCEAN, no?

And, you’re given a box of crayons and a sheet of paper to draw and dream and create your very own “silver imagination” to explore and develop some sort of arrow in your quiver that will forge new ground into the BLUE OCEAN…

…what does it look like? If you can’t dream it, well, we can’t do it.

So, get out your crayons and draw, patrons!