Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Way of Anchor and The Present Future - Part Three

New Reality Number Two: The Shift from Church Growth to Kingdom Growth

Quotes from the book; my comments begin with an *

The church growth movement was a missiological response to the initial warning signs that the church in North America had lost its mission.

Certain tenets of church growth methodology met a fair amount of resistance from church leaders. One was the principle of homogeneity espoused by McGavran, that people want to go to church with people who basically are like them. This flew in the face of the notion...that America is a melting pot. Now the most prevalent view is that it is a mosaic, where individual cultures maintain their identity while contributing to the overall design.

Another highly debated aspect of the church growth school centered around the whole notion of growth. Church growth advocates argued that growth was a sign of life and was anticipated and even expected by God.

There were a lot of things right about the church growth emphasis. It provided a wake-up call to the church, introducing a tension against the church's accepting decline as inevitable. It asserted cultural relevance as a key component of being obedient to the Great Commission.

There were several things wrong with the church growth movement. A lot of "growth" was merely the migration of Christians moving from one church to another.

...we have the best churches men can build, but are still waiting for the church that only God can get credit for.

Wrong Question: How Do We Grow the Church? (How Do We Get Them to Come to Us?)
In their quest to be attractive to potential congregants churches added staff, added programs, added buildings, all to improve their market position. And it worked! A Lilly study released in 2002 found that one-half of churchgoers attended churches in the top 10 percent of church size.

Keep in mind all of this has been done with what result? Diminishing returns!
* This is the conclusion that gets to me. Some polls reveal church-attendance dropping below thirty percent, some lower than that. And this in light of the rise of fantastically amazing churches in California, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Texas, and even Indiana! Churches are bigger now than ever before! Yet less people are going to church.... In my ministry I'm meeting more and more people deeply wounded and disillusioned by The Church - big church, little church, any church. They thought they would get God's peace, that His joy would change their life, that they would have a new power to love the unlovable. Instead, the economy is tanking, their healthcare is more expensive, jobs are more draining and scarce, and their kids and spouse (if they have them still...) are a source of anxiety and disappointment. And the church didn't seem to help.

For those willing to take a fresh look at the demands for effective church ministry at the beginning of the third Christian millennium, a brand-new question now claims your attention.

Tough Question: How Do We Transform Our Community? (How Do We Hit the Streets with the Gospel?)
If they aren't going to come to us, then we've got to go to them. This is the crux of the issue. Churches that understand the realities of the present future are shifting the target of ministry efforts from church activity to community transformation.

The North American church culture is not spiritual enough to reach our culture.

The call to take the gospel to the streets is more than the call to think up some new evangelism or outreach program.

The church that wants to partner with God on his redemptive mission in the world has a very different target: the community.
* This conclusion also resonates with me deeply. At Anchor, from the beginning, we talked about how we wanted the neighborhood to be a better place to live because our church was part of the community. This desire drove a lot of our decisions: about renting the parsonage, developing a needy fund, starting and growing a youth center, tutoring, a kids meal program, outreach for troubled youth, drug prevention programs, attempts at a counseling center, home repairs, landscaping, trashpickup, community carnivals and barbecues, and maybe a couple of other activities. I love that we did this work. I think it was working, just very slowly. And now many of our leaders have migrated to other churches... hmmmm...what to do...

The consumer church sees resources plowed into community transformation as "diverted" from the church.

The mental model that many church members have for doing evangelism is for them to act like telemarketers.
* This is an accurate description of what evangelism seemed to be like for me, especially in college. Sometimes I think that my drive for knowledge of theology, philosophy, culture, ministry practices, etc was to help me develop another way to conceive of and do evangelism. I want so much - more than I know how to express in words - people to know God. It's just that the people I happen to know aren't open to telemarketers, gospel salesmen, churchevent promoters. But the people I know do have a desire to connect to God, they just need someone to help them along the way, not a salespitch. Though, ironically, it clearly works with some people...

This is what it's going to take to gain a hearing for the gospel in the streets of the twenty-first century - the smell of cleaning solution, dirty faces, obvious acts of servanthood.

Bottom line: we've got to take the gospel to the streets. This is the only appropriate missional response to the collapse of the church culture. We need to go where people are already hanging out and be prepared...
* My developing conception of Anchor is within this mindset of missional activity. That everyone who is part of Anchor - no matter where they are at in their trusting of Christ - would make missional choices in their everyday life. They would begin to look at people and circumstances with a missional attitude: what might Jesus want me to say or do that furthers His redemptive work in this world. Everybody can be a missional minister; it's not about professional training or credentials. It's about a man or woman looking around at the people they already know and wondering what God might want to do in and through them to further God's work in those people they already know. How hard is that? Everybody could do that...

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