New Reality Number Two: The Shift from Church Growth to Kingdom Growth
Rights and Wrongs
There were a lot of things right about the church growth emphasis. It provided a wake-up call to the church; it introduced missiological principles and practices to evangelism. It called attention to the growing diversity of the American population and 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 are seeing the closing down of the mom and pop operations and more openings or supercenters.
We are watching the development of a church culture that is parallel to American pop culture. We are seeing a rise of a “celebrity-status” church culture. While we are creating “stars” we are also creating losers, pastors and church leaders who are not serving in high-profile, high growth churches.
Wrong Question: How Do We Grow This Church? (How do we get them to come to us?)
The “Seeker” driven began to focus on methodology – how to catch peoples’ attention, sign em up, keep ‘em busy, and get ‘em to contribute money, talent, and energy to church efforts.
Keep in mind all of this has been done diminishing returns as a result. It has worked for some churches and they have grown, but as a whole, the statistics are telling us that church attendance is declining.
Tough Question: How Do We Transform Our Community? (How do we hit the streets with the Gospel?)
Churches that understand the realities of the present future are shifting the target of ministry efforts from church activity to community transformation. The world does not want what the typical N. American church has to offer. We can keep trying to get them to want what we have or we can start offering what they need. They need what people always need: God in their lives. Is our church culture spiritual enough to reach our culture?
We need to seek out a missional spirituality. Missional spirituality requires that God’s people be captured by his heart for people, that our hearts be broken by what breaks his, that we rejoice in what brings him joy (see Luke 15).
Do we have this problem: We’ll do this community stuff after we’ve handled all our internal needs, staffed all our programs, funded the services for club members, and paid salaries for ministers who spend their time almost exclusively on church members.
How many church activities (while good) are justified when there are people who have never been touched with Jesus’ love.
Jesus’ strategy was to go where people were already hanging out (see Matt. 10 and Luke 10). Maybe we need a church (type group) in every mall, every Wal-Mart supercenter, every Barnes and Nobles. McDonalds puts most of its new stores in places where the people already are: hospitals, schools, food courts, gas stations.
When we run out of space, why don’t we use the facilities that don’t use their space on Sunday mornings? Putting these small groups in such places (or even in places like Barnes and Nobles) and making them outreach oriented.
Are we afraid of not knowing how to engage people in genuine conversation? Is it because we fear rejection? Do we fear that our story is not compelling enough? Do we equate evangelism “programs” with selling a product?
Bottom line: we’ve got to take the gospel to the streets. McNeal is talking about an intentional 24/7 church presence in the community, not tied to church real estate: office buildings, malls, school campuses, sports complexes, storefronts, homes, apartment buildings, and community centers. We need to go where people are already hanging out and be prepared to have conversations with them about the great love of our lives.
They’re not coming to us. We’ve got go to them.