Mission Minded: Bringing Church in America out of a Social Attraction and into Commissional Servitude. (Part 1)
The Church in America, Today
We are over half way done with the second decade of the Twenty-First Century and yet still, the United States is the most Christian Nation on Earth, by population.
But she is bleeding out; slowly dying.
Many factors are playing a vital role in this exodus of sorts and like an onion, there are layers upon layers of key variables that make up this equations. What we are seeing is a shift in the individual church-body. Gone are the days of Preachers being totally devoted to their congregation as a duty and career with the congregation paying his salary and providing his home. Today's Pastor is living a bi-vocational life. The once considered healthy, 100-200 member congregation is fading away. You are seeing either a Megachurch or a Microchurch. 500+ Members at one, 15 at the other. Economically, there seems to be a bright outlook for one and bleak for the other. I argue that the driving force behind the singular growth of a "Megachurch" and the fleeting population of everything else is due to the fact that our Churches are Attractional Churches, and have been this way for quite some time.
The Attractional Church is really the name I'm giving to the "Traditional" American Church. This model of Church has some very distinguishing features you would come to recognize. Tom Gilson, a popular Missionary with Ratio Christi, has done a fantastic job formulating the identifying markers into clear, identifiable blocks.
The foundation of the Traditional (Attractional) Church that you and I know is predicated on Sunday Morning Worship. Its the busiest time for the Church and has the most traffic. For most, this is the time of the Sermon and the only Sermon they will hear all week (or month....or year) from the place designated for communal worship.
Built upon the block of the Sunday Service is the Staff and Ministry teams. This building block method is listed mainly from level of importance to least important, but could be used to satisfy the most used to least used as well. The Staff and Ministry teams are vital to the Church, apart from the Grand Sunday Service.
Your Small Groups, Youth Groups, and other Ministry Groups would make up the third tier of this block system. Usually meeting on Wednesdays or Sunday Mornings, also once a week.
After the Sunday Service, Staff, and Ministry Groups comes the Values, Philosophy, and Theology of the Church. Lets face it, we want you to come on Sunday mornings, meet and greet the staff so they can place you into the proper ministry and then we just want you to plug right into whats going on. Us church folks love to use "plugged in" when it comes to getting you active. Once you get settled in and find a place then we can slowly endow you with Church Values and the Theology of what is trying to be presented so we dont overload you and run you out of the Church!
Last but not least....well actually yes, it is least.....is our Mission Team! Pay $2500/person and you get to spend 6 days/7 Nights in a hotel in Jerusalem or Wales or, if you are adventurous, Panama where you'll go and mentor the deprived, help build schools, paint some buildings, play kickball, have a barbecue and do some small group ministries with the children. After all, it is our job to Share the Good News to all Nations! (I'm being quite facetious at times, if you could not tell. Being honest....but facetious).
Tom puts it in a nice equation for us.
Church = The Worship Service
This is the foundation and bedrock of Church. Its what most Christians love and dread about their life choice. As long as the preacher does not take too long doing his alter call, you'll be back at home in time for Falcons Kick-Off. Pre-Game show if you're lucky. In fact, we mine as well scoot on out while everyone's heads are bowed and Mrs. Doris plays "Come As You Are" so you'll beat the traffic out of the parking lot. *Dont shake your head like I'm speaking crazy talk. You know EXACTLY what I'm talking about.*
The Roots of the Church Have Withered
There was a time in these lands where everyone in and outside of town but apart of the Parish or Colony was Christian. In fact it use to be illegal to NOT be Christian with the sentence of either death or excommunication from the colony which was essentially a death sentence in itself.
People who weren't in the Urban areas use to be very far out of town and it was a big deal to go into town. It took a lot of time and preparation to get the family dressed up, work and chores completed and dedicated time to take the long trek, sometimes hours long, ride into town. It made more sense for the Community to make the Sabbath Day the day they would get together as a communal family and worship together. They took their Sabbath seriously. Essentially the object of going out and witnessing to your neighbor did not "apply" to you. Between trying to be self sufficient and, depending on where you were, not get killed by the Native Heathens or the outcast bandit, there was not anyone to evangelize outside of your own home. What was different back then was it was the Fathers job to make sure his kids knew their Bible, the school made sure they could read and write, but the Father had the responsibility of teaching his household not just about the Bible but set the example.
Fast forward 200 years or so and the ritual and tradition of Sunday Service still applies. The people multiplied and the towns expanded and not everyone is part of the Church body though.
But that is not a problem.
We just leave the responsibility of doing the lords work to those who's JOB is doing such, like the Pastor and Missionaries. I mean, what on earth are they doing with my weekly tithes, if not their job!? (sound familiar?)
The Lack of Personal Responsibility Feeds the Hunger of the Attractional Church
Lets be candid, can we? For once, lets be open about this kind of stuff.
Collectively lets just lay this right out there. Repeat After Me: I, the average person sitting in the pew every Sunday morning, have NO clue what on earth the Head Pastor actually does all week, apart from Sunday morning. The only thing I know to expect is for a 45 minute presentation to be given after the band or choir has tugged at my heart strings for a bit. And boy, don't he DARE have the audacity to leave me with some Guest Speaker who I can tell is using some sermon he's given a hundred times and is totally reading it, word for word, like its Moby Dick.
But lets not stop there. Repeat After Me: I, the average person sitting in the pew every Sunday morning, have NO clue what on earth I, myself, am actually suppose to do all week either, apart from Sunday morning.
Ok, so yes, I know the Pastor keeps reminding me to find a closet to do some quiet time and wait for some whispers, read my Bible when i wake up, because if I try at night, I'm passed out by the third paragraph; second paragraph if its Psalms....that's why I always skip that book.
But that's about if. I mean, I do not have a Ph.D or anything so its not like i can be a part of the Ministry Team. And good lord, if they actually knew what I do all week....nope, I'm not even the type of person that needs to do anything like that. And no way am I going to be watching those kids all morning in the nursery. I came to listen to a message, not baby sit.
Am I reaching anyone here?
The sad reality is that, truly, no one has a clue what is going on and what it takes to make a Sunday morning happen. The lack of knowledge and responsibility of the congregation feeds the need for the Church of Today. We survive off of what I call Congressional Subsidy. We have no job to do,spiritually or within the Body of Christ, so all we know is show up Sunday morning for the weekly, Holy Sustenance. Pastor said its free.
Maybe if we stayed around long enough or even asked if there was anything we could do, you could find out just what goes on.
This is not what this article is about though.
What this info IS meant to say is our purpose and design is not ever being lived out or used. But what the American culture, lifestyle, ritual, and EXPECTATION is of Church fosters nothing other than what we define as Traditional Church.
When we go to Church, its because our parents picked it, if we are young. And they picked it for the same reason why the young will more than likely pick a church as they get older and on their own.
We go into Church with this one very same concept; the vast majority does, at least:
What Does This Church Have To Offer?
You want to know how Churches in America get big? The amount of Programs they have to offer i.e. the amount of funds they have to offer said programs. Also, there is something biblically they wont teach on. Megachurches will always leave something out of teaching or just wont touch a subject to rub someone the wrong way. Seeker Sensitive Churches especially.
This is the culture we live in! We love our amenities. The more things a Church can offer you, the more attractive it becomes and the more likely you are to attend.
Did the light bulb just go off?
The Attractional Church. Its designed for America.
And its a vicious, nasty, web of lies that is crushing the hearts of its own people and vitally important community. The effect it is having on this nation is a cataclysmic death sentence to American Christianity.
Decline of Christian America
Chopped Down or Pruned: Either Way, You Are Going To Get Cut
So whats they remedy? Whats the solution? Whats the Silver Lining?
Well to be honest, lets start with a different question. A question that is probably much easier to answer than the solution to a gorged and dying race of people (1 Peter 2:9).
Does this at all surprise you?
I feel like this has been in the works since the 60's (I blame you, Flower Child); like watching a train coming. I hear it, the ground shakes, I can see the light, but what was once moving at walking speed is now in full gallop, getting ready to "grab another gear" as Dad would say.
So yes, I think there is a solution. The Bible makes it clear that Christianity will never sustain at being the Worlds Religion and considering the US is not even mentioned in Scripture by name or symbol, you can bet that there is not some spectacular system in place that will turn the US into the New Jerusalem.
We can do one of two things: We try our best to pry the Church we already have up off the Railroad Tracks and keep adding more programs and building additions to the budget to give the congregation a fundraising goal to meet.
Or we let the train keep truckin' and blow right through the Church. My bet is the Train Wins. The Church is already drowning in the current state its in. Obviously, what we have been doing is not working. Let me add to what I just said. What WE have been doing is not working. Don't go and start thinking the "Bible Way" is not the answer. That is not what I'm saying. In fact, I think the "Bible Way" IS the answer!
"Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit." (ESV) John 15:2
Guys, if its not working and not fruitful, you wont have a choice, God will cut you (the Church) down. And guess what? Even if you are being fruitful, he's going to prune you back. Either way, you're getting cut! Just know there is Pain for a Purpose and both solutions lead to the Glorification of His Will.
Have you ever been given a math problem and with that math problem, you are given the Template Equation to help you solve the problem? How many times have we been a page or two deep in those long equations and the numbers just don't come out right and we have to trace back up to see where we went wrong? Sometimes its not even worth your time and you have to crumble up the paper and start from scratch, all over again.
I think we have come to the end of this American Christianity Experiment..er..Equation. We've been staring at the final solution that we came up with for the past 50 years, but instead of being the proper students that we should have been by going back and seeing where we went wrong, we've stood fast by our work and have screamed at the Teacher telling him his equation isn't correct!
The equation we have been using is Church = Sunday Service.
I think we all know who the Teacher is I am referring to. But I think we are obscure about this equation. The Equation I'm talking about to fix the Church problem is in fact:
Church = Mission
Moving Towards the Missional Church
What is the Missional Church? What does it look like?
Again, Tom Gibson does a fantastic job of laying out the building blocks of the picture of what the Church Models look like.
The Foundation of the Missional Church; the most important aspect of the Church, is predicated on The Mission. Well what Mission? Jesus tells us in Matthew 28:16-20 what are Mission is in what is described as the Great Commission:
16But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. 17When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. 18And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
So in other words, the foundation of the Missional Church is to Make Disciples! Turning a confused, unworked, and unconnected congregation into a house full of disciples.
The next level and most important aspect of the Missional Church is for those disciples to learn the Cultural Philosophy of their community, find where their Theology is, and learn to take that info to submerge themselves in that community to be that beacon on which they guide those out and into a personal relationship.
The next building block, according to Tom Gibson, is to train Leadership teams to go out and lead that mission. Tom and I disagree on this aspect. I think part of the Discipleship Process should be folding in leadership. Personally, before outreach into the community happens, Discipleship training must not just cover a servitude attitude, but also building up leadership qualities so that unintended false teaching and a negative representation of Christ isn't held because of sub-par standards of the Ambassador of Christ. I would switch box/level 2 and 3.
The fourth level of importance in the Missional Church is once those Disciples are made, trained and reaching out to the community, there needs to be a community of small Churches that are built right where they are. These are small, intimate, come as you are, raw and real house churches that are biblical in stature. This was the way "church" was conducted in the Bible.
Lastly, Weekend Worship Service rounds out the level of importance of the Missional Church.
This model is almost shocking to see as it flips the concept of what we know as Church right on its head. What use to be focal point is now least worried about!
"So the last will be first, and the first last.” Mat. 20:16
I figured that to be an appropriate scripture for what I'm conveying. Most of you reading this model will probably not understand what to do at this point. And that is completely ok. Its going to make you uncomfortable, especially the elders who are adamant about change.
So if we are putting very little stock on Sunday Worship, then what are we going to do? What will Church look like?
This is where you have to data dump what you think Church is because of tradition and start looking at what Christ and the Apostles declared what it is and what it is not in the Bible.
The Traditional (Appealing) Church says "We market to the community to come to church by making outreach programs and have dinners and functions that are fun and attractive to the intended community. We want them to come to Church."
The Missional Church says "We want to market our congregation of Disciples by having them be in the community and forming relationships with them. We want to show them by our interest in their well-being that they matter and we can be an example and point in the direction they need to go on a daily basis, not just on Sundays. We dont want them to come to Church, we want them to be the Church with us."
Is American Christianity Ready To Go Missional?
Now that we can see the difference in how we are and where we are directed to go using biblical inferences, the real conundrum is whether or not the Church is ready for such a drastic shift. The shift is vitally important to happen RIGHT NOW. I think this gaping hole we have in the Church today needs more than for the Church to apply pressure. I think its such a drastic need that we need to take drastic measures and put a tourniquet on to stop the hemorrhaging.
The biggest hurdle I see is not on the side of the Congregation. I think the Congregation is fleeing in vast numbers from the church because they arent involved thus are not part of the Body. If you never use your legs they will wither away and become useless. Why should they stay if they are not being used and nurtured like intended? I believe the change in attitude will be a gust of new life and spark a deep revival in our nation. Where I believe the hurdle will come in is at the Leadership level. I just dont think we have the amount of quality leaders in place at the moment to facilitate such a shift and encourage such a movement. We are on the right track if we can just suck it up and acknowledge the equation isnt the issue but our work. Lets follow the equation as instructed rather using our own and as promised, the pruning will result in a deeper harvest.
I think we cant go wrong using a Biblically designed model of Church. Its obvious the Church we know of is withering away. The issues surrounding the solution to this issue is just as complex and layered as the issues surrounding the problems with our Attractional Church model.
I will be talking about what those layers are later on in the week and into next week. Identifying the Type of Church Model we need was just that; identifying the Problem. We talked partially about the elements that make up the Missional Church and they need to have their own Hub for context and clarification.
Upcoming Hubs in the "Missional Minded" Series:
- Painfully Christian: The Cost of Discipleship
- Mission Critical: Why the Missional Church Movement Has the Wrong Target
- Shackled to the King: The Servitude Leader I'm Commanded To Be
Are We Ready To Go Missional?
Do you think the Church in America is equipped and ready to become Missional?
© 2015 Andrew Palmeri