I’m reading a great book at the moment, called the shaping of things to come – by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. And it proposes this: Christendom, something that began when Constantine made Christianity the main state sponsored religion of Rome, is a mindset that is now dead.
What do they mean by that? When the Church began part of the culture and was government backed then it became less missional in it’s outlook. The church stopped going out to the people because the people came to the church.
The church was part of the state – the western world WAS Christendom. It was not just a religious community, but a part of the very fabric of the world. The church was not a movement subverting the system, it was the system.
The church was so important to the way people lived – it was central to the community. And for a long time that’s the way it was. But not anymore.
The church is no longer state backed like it was. It is no longer the system. It is no longer the focal point of the community. We are once again on the outside.
This can be a good thing, after all the outsiders of the early church changed the world. However this is not a good thing if we still continue to operate in a Christendom mindset, assuming people still look to the church in the way that they used to, as it won’t work like that.
So – how do we do church in the post modern age?
First we need to stop acting under a false assumption. We are not the centre of the community anymore. We do not have a position of respect in the minds of most people. It’s not the package that’s the problem, it’s the fact that Christianity is not on the radar for most people. We might not want to accept this but it’s the truth.
Too often we operate under the assumption that if we get the package right, the people will flock to us. That all they are waiting for is for us to get the music right, to have dynamic preaching, to have a great looking building that people will come to us, because all they’d been waiting for is for us to get slick.
That may have been the case in the past. But the church no longer holds the same position in people’s minds. The “all we need to do is be attractive and they will come to us” is a false assumption.
Most churches that get this slickness right and have great music and “inspiring teaching” see most of their growth through transfer – other Christians coming in because they are excited by the package. (That’s not to say they never see people come in, a crowd attracts a crowd, and the more people you have the easier it is to mobilise some of them, but generally this is true). Most non Christians don’t’ decide to go to church because they’ve heard that the music is really good, or because they have a video projector, or because the choir all wear matching outfits.
We need to move away from the Christendom mindset that “they will come to us”, because Christendom is dead. Instead we are on the outside again and need to adopt the early church model of “we will go to them”.
Attractional outreach needs to be replaced with Incarnational outreach.
What does this mean practically?
The traditional “gospel” outreach meeting is not the most efficient way to reach people. Clearly, we have so many gospel meetings that have no none Christians in them.
Does this mean we abandon it? No, there are people in our church today who were saved that way. It might not be the most effective way, but it still sees results. We currently have a “guest service” once a month and often people are saved in them. However I wouldn’t say this is the norm and those we do see saved are in the ones and twos, rather than the tens. (You can multiply these numbers to match the size of your congregation – percentage wise it’s normally pretty small.)
I think we need to relook at how we do “outreach”. Holding a meeting and waiting for the people to come to us is not the most effective form of outreach and should not be our MAIN form of reaching out.
I remember doing “outreach” meetings in Wolviston. Renting a community centre and holding pretty much a normal meeting that we’d invited people to with a little singing and drama thrown in. And nobody turns up. Again, we run under the false assumption that it’s just a matter of getting the package right and the people will come to us. This is attractional thinking. We take our Church model and just put it into a different location and people don’t turn up.
We held a number of outreach meetings in Redcar at the Red Barns hotel, often there were no new people in. During one of these meetings I was really hot and thirsty. So when the tea was served afterwards I wanted something different – so I went through to the bar to grab a coke. When I got there, I noticed that in the room next to where we met, were around 20 non Christians, all of whom seemed to know each other and were regulars. The people we were trying to reach were at the other side of a wall and had no interest in what we were doing next door and they had been there every week that we’d held an outreach and I’d never had a conversation with any of them. We expect them to come to us, yet we do not go to them. I left the bar with my coke, really thinking that somehow we’d missed something.
I wonder what difference it would have made if those outreach meetings were instead a time when 20 of us sat in the bar, drank soft drinks and got to know these guys? Listened to them. Talked with them. Were Christ incarnate to them – cared about the things that were going on. I wonder if after a few weeks of that if they’d start to wonder what we have that they do not.
Instead of waiting for the world to come to us, let’s get involved. Let’s take it to them. Our church has a couple called Colin and Maureen who have a ministry that reaches out to the drug addicts, homeless and prostitutes in Middlesbrough. They listen to them. They chat with them. They pray with them. That is outreach. Over the years they have brought more people than anyone else I know to gospel meetings. But you know what, when people they bring make a decision – it’s not just because of the gospel meeting. It’s because of the groundwork that has already been done. In church – the decision is confirmed and followed through for the most part. That is outreach. That is getting involved.
We run a family centre – that is outreach. That is getting involved. What a way to be Christ to people. Put a load of Christian workers in there, every day with the purpose to be Christ incarnate to the families who use the centre. What a difference that would make.
We are currently looking at training some of our members to be CAP workers. I couldn’t be more excited by this. Not only is this a vital chance to be able to help people who are struggling with debt, but it’s a chance to pray with people – to show them the love of God. To get involved in their lives. We will see salvations through this, I have no doubts. CAP is an amazing evangelistic tool.
This is what it’s all about. We need to be looking for more ways to get involved with the people in our community and showing them Christ in us. That’s’ the most effective outreach programme we can have. Instead of waiting and hoping they will come to us, let’s go to them.
Does this mean we don’t have “guest services”? By no means – if all our members are active in missional church – then we have a place to bring people to cement and confirm the decisions that are made in the home. How do we enliven a gospel meeting? By ensuring that we are always making connections, sharing with people and as a natural progression bringing them along with us.
This has to be more effective than spending our time a whole room away from the people we are trying to reach.
We do evangelism training at the moment – which is great. But in addition to this then there needs to be added a mobilisation. Where we are mobilised in groups to reach different areas and different groups of people, in new and creative ways. And that’s a key – to send people out together. You need to have backup in what you do. Jesus sent the disciples out together.
A friend of mine sings worship songs in his local pub to reach the community he lives in. After starting well he began to get discouraged, as he was not seeing the fruit he had hoped for. So he put on a meal and invited his whole church and those he was reaching at the pub.
And what happened. None of his church turned up and he was gutted. We can’t go this alone. We need to do this together. We send people OUT and we send them together.
What does it mean to be an active Christian? Going to church? No, church attendance is not in itself a virtue. Being active is growing and learning, but also in reaching others. So if the main form of outreach happens outside the church walls, what does this mean for the Sunday meetings?