*This is the 8th in a series of entries inspired by books I’ve read on the subject of the “missional church.” Please read the ground rules before beginning. Also, try to read entries in chronological order as they tend to build on the previous entry, okay?
About 3 years of reading 12 or so books on the subject of the “missional church,” what are the firm convictions I’ve come to regarding the state of the church, the things we need to work on to not only be corrective but also proactive in moving the Church forward. Keep in mind, I’m speaking from the context I live/work in: The suburban American church. Although, you should realize that most of what I’ve come to would apply in any church anywhere in the world.
Today, I’ll start with the church itself, and tomorrow the individuals that make up the church.
First, I believe the effectiveness of the “attractional model” has crested and is now in decline. The day when you could attract crowds by the pastor driving a tank on stage or having concerts to bring in those that don’t know Christ or Super Bowl parties for the purpose of getting new folks to try out your congregation is heading towards demise. It simply doesn’t “work” in attracting people and the numbers bear this out:
Any growth individual churches experience is overwhelmingly “transfer” growth (people who already know Christ simply moving from one congregation to another) rather than “Kingdom growth” (a person who came to Christ as a result of that particular congregation).
The reality is that only 18% of Americans are attending church (possibly 10% in major metropolitan areas)–which is the lowest in American history–and obviously shows that the “attractional” way of doing business isn’t really attracting people. These numbers have been in decline and project to continue.
Second, I believe that well-meaning & well-intentioned attractional churches have unintentionally created spectators rather than participants. Simply put, people now attend church to “get fed” rather than to use their gifts and talents to further the Kingdom. People are wanting to grow closer to Christ and want to love Him and serve Him using their gifts and talents (more on that in a bit) and we bring them into an auditorium that seats 1,000, let them sing a few songs together, maybe even get them all communion in 8 minutes in plastic cups in brass trays, hear a 35 minute sermon using modern bells & whistles…then hustle them out so the next service can get a clean start. Then maybe they head to a Sunday School class or segregated ministry deal.
We’ve made this Sunday morning service the bell-cow of spiritual growth. SO much money, SO many resources of time & people, SO much energy each week, is put into what everyone knows is the least effective form of discipleship…but it’s seen as foremost. PLEASE HEAR THIS: The gathering time is vital to the life of the church body! I know that. But I think we’ve made it attractional rather than experiential for the believers who attend. We need to make this a time when people who’ve been worshiping by giving their lives as a service to Him moment-by-moment come together to transcend in worship of Him. So, what I’m suggesting is a re-focus of that time.
And, I believe that in many cases, the church is now driven by their ecclesiology rather than their mission. This means that the way they “do church” is now influencing their mission rather than the needed order of “Christology –> Mission –> Ecclesiology.” This means that the buildings/paid staff/programs now drive decision-making rather than vice-versa.
Third, I believe that God has gifted people with a “holy dissatisfaction” with the status quo…and these people need seats at decision-making tables. Too often, these people are silenced–both in active and passive ways–because they’re seen as “rabble-rousers” or just a fringe voice. The reality is the God has historically placed people who are designed by Him to initiate change and keep the people of God on their toes…especially challenging the ones in leadership. We need to be okay with this. Change comes from the fringe element…and these folks should be celebrated even when we disagree with them or their approach.
Fourth, we need to begin training the church at-large to be incarnational in how they approach ministry. This is where we need to keep in mind the “Red Ocean/Blue Ocean” mentality (in this instance, there’s only 40% of the population even open to the idea of attending church…so what are we going to do to reach that 60% that never will for any reason?).
This is where I’m often misunderstood, so please pay attention: I think this is where taking the current attractional model churches use and helping them re-focus their ecclesiology because their mission is following Christ a certain way. So, unlike some who are “missional” leaders (and there are varying degrees of people in the missional camp…I’ve been in conferences with some who want to scorch earth on attractional churches…not even kidding. Fun group of folks, though. I dug them.), I’m simply suggesting that the amazing resources of money and people found in suburban American churches can simply be refocused to get folks outside the four walls of their buildings and comforts and get serious about both the red ocean and the blue ocean.
Here’s what I mean (and special thanks to my friend Tim for helping me think through and clarify the following):
People are gifted with a spiritual gift to help the body mature, right? We all have different personalities and interests, right? Some folks are gifted to serve in the red-ocean church itself (internal). Some folks relate to and are driven by words (verbal). Some folks are driven to aggressively reach those in the blue-ocean who won’t go to church ever (external). Some folks are very practical in their approach (hands-on). And there are all sorts of extremes and degrees in-between the extremes.
So, for example, someone who rates high on the verbal-internal side of the scale might be a pastor or seminary teacher. Someone who rates a little lower on that same side of the scale in each area might be a Sunday School teacher. Someone who is high on internal-hands on might be a sound/AV person in a church environment. A little lower on that scale might be a person who organizes the supply closet for children’s ministry. Someone who is high on external-verbal might be a public school teacher/coach or corporate leader or missional entrepreneur (someone who starts a business to make money but promotes Kingdom values). Someone who is high on external-hands might be a missionary to Africa digging wells for clean water or might design a ministry to help strippers pay for college and get them out of the clubs (I know people who did that very thing, actually).
What I believe in is a “hybrid” approach, that the attractional church would begin to celebrate ALL of the types of ministries EQUALLY and actively train people to their gifting and interests and passions. I’m suggesting that those caught up in the ruts and traps that will eventually lead to their ultimate demise (in say, two decades if not sooner), that they re-focus their energies & efforts by…
…making sure that everything the church does is designed to sustain and further discipleship efforts. And, yes, that can be a picnic just for “fellowship” (but not for outreach). The key is not to be “all-business” but to realize that the main goal is to disciple folks using their gifts and talents and passions.
…by flattening the structures of “pro-pastors/staff” and “lay-leaders.” Sure, you need people who are gifted (high internal/verbal) to equip the Body to use their gifts and talents. But they should not be celebrated any more or less than the building maintenance staff or deacons (high internal hands-on). This would do two things: lessen the emphasis on highly charismatic teachers/leaders to take the major emphasis off that Sunday morning gathering as well as get everybody blowing and going in ministry.
…and getting people to grow deep in Christ…
…which is where I’ll finish up the series tomorrow. On how we get serious about that.
Now, any questions or comments? Please have at it, patrons. I’m having a lot of fun with this…but I’m not sure anyone else is. Feeling like a sermon/church geek today. Which is okay…but I’m wondering if maybe I should turn the Diner into a different blog & start posting on college football and movies.