Countless articles, books and papers have been written on the subject of “rethinking church.” In fact, when I typed those very words into Google, I got 3,520,000 results! Well, make that 3,520,001, because I’m about to add my 2 cents!
I guess you could say that rethinking church has been kind of a hobby of mine for the past 4 years or so. For starters, let me summarize the typical approach of churches for the past hundred or more years regardless of denomination, worship style or translation preference…
Get “those people out there” (lost, sinners, pagans, etc.) in “here” (to the church building) where hopefully they will hear the Gospel, give their lives to Christ and become faithful church members. How churches get the people into their facility differs greatly, but most churches try to lure people to their building with some sort of program–VBS, Awana, a concert, special speaker, revival services, contemporary (or traditional) worship services, fill in the blank. Its church members become the ambassadors for the church’s programs or services and are encouraged to invite people to events and services at the church.
This is not a bad approach and it has worked remarkably well for decades. The problem is that this is not what the church was designed for. It just happened to work because we lived in a culture that predominantly held to a Christian world view. As we all know, that is not the case anymore. It is no wonder that church attendance is rapidly declining and conversions often measured by number of baptisms is also declining.
You’re probably wondering, “So, what was the church designed for?” I’m glad you asked! First, it is important to understand that the Great Commission was not given to the Church. It was given to individual followers of Christ. The Church was designed to be a place of gathering for followers of Christ for teaching, training, encouragement and community as believers pursued carrying out the Great Commission where they live, work and play.
There is much talk about the “missional church” and “getting outside the walls of the church.” I applaud these efforts because at least it is a little bit of progress away from the mindset so many churches have that says “they know where to find us.” However, I would contend that churches aren’t missional–people are. A church that creates ministry opportunities for its members–even if it is outside of the church–can still miss the point. If churches are not equipping believers to live a missional lifestyle–living as a missionary where they live, work and play–it’s just another program. And it is likely that our programs extract people out of their own context and the ministry God wants them to have.
Now, I am in favor of churches that design externally focused ministries as long as it is with the goal of exposing and training its people to a missional lifestyle. I also believe that a local church should also band together to serve its community–feeding the poor, doing acts of service, etc., but it should always be done in the name of Jesus and not the name of a particular church (another subject entirely!).
The problem is that we have gauged the success of the church with bodies and bucks. So, if that is your measurement, the more bodies in the building and the more bucks in the collection plate, the better your church is doing. And, admittedly, the “attractional” approach is much more successful at supporting that type of bottom line. However, it fails abysmally at making disciples.
The slow, steady way of making disciples is the way of Jesus–He lived His life in deep community with 12 men who spread the Gospel to the entire world. Isn’t it mind boggling to think that you could actually trace the spread of the Gospel that penetrated your heart back to one of the 12 disciples? It is slow and steady, but could you imagine if every follower of Christ took seriously the Great Commission to make disciples where they live, work and play? The Gospel would spread virally around the world which is exactly what happened in the early church.
Until the Church shifts its focus from running programs to building missionaries, we will continue to see rapid decline. That’s why I think it’s time we rethink church.