Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Please, no more doing church for 'them'

Ryan Bolger, co-author with Eddie Gibb of Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures responds to an email asking about how to start a service to attract people from outside the church.

His reponse: give up on this idea.

But what could possibly be wrong with starting a relevant church service directed to spiritual seekers?
Relevant churches are rarely even closely relevant. Most Christians don't even like them. They might be better than Mom and Dad's morning service, but they usually are quite irrelevant to the outsider. The church person cannot 'guess' what the seeker wants, undoubtedly getting it wrong. What Christians need to do is create meaningful worship through bringing their very own lives to God. Worship must reflect the culture of the community that is currently part of the church, not replicate current worship CDs, nor 1980s soft rock, nor 18th century hymns. Instead of mimicking other church cultures, the community collectively brings their own idiosyncratic ways of life to God, whatever they may be. Indeed, the church may have the stray outsider finding themselves in the worship service and joining the community. But if the focus is on them, simply to be relevant, their worship will satisfy neither the church members nor the outsider.

A focus on the church service as connecting point perpetuates the idea that following Jesus is about going to church. The community's life takes the form of American congregational religion rather than the fluid practices of the gospel, and this emphasis presents quite a barrier to the 'seeker' outside, as they need to be converted to the values of American religious congregationalism before they can come to faith. Thus, virtually all of those who are attracted to the relevant service were raised in church or are currently going to another church -- they are not the never-churched. In contrast, a missional congregation connects with those outside the faith by, well, connecting with those outside of the community in their world. Connecting happens not in a 'come to us' CHURCH service, but through 'go and dwell' church SERVICE, i.e. service in the community -- living alternative lives.

A focus on the service as connecting point perpetuates the sacred/secular split of modernity. When the bulk of the community's energy goes to maintaining a church service, it implies that the church service is more holy, more important, more worthy of our time than the everyday practice of our spirituality.

A focus on the service as connecting point perpetuates the clergy/laity split
-- there are those who 'do' ministry, and then there is everyone else. Instead, the role of the leaders is to facilitate the worship expression of the community as a whole.

A focus on the service as connecting point perpetuates the producer/consumer form of spirituality -- those on paid or volunteer staff produce spiritual products for passive spectators to consume. Instead, the church must create a context for the community production of worship -- we consume as we produce...
I think he's got a lot that's right here in this list.

One of the problems with "church" as we often unbiblically define "church" is that we make it do everything - as if an hour or 2 or 3 can be the only | key | main - teaching | worship | fellowship | encouragement | outreach event in the life of a congregation. It just cannot happen! & it cannot happen, because God never intended it to happen that way.

Mission lies at the very heart of God, but missional connection does not need to (probably won't) happen through a church service.

The corporate worship event is not, nor is it intended to be an evangelistic service. But if worship is really taking place, those who are guests of the community may find God in the service.

Mission happens in the world formerly known as secular, on their turf - not ours.


j mills said...


Let me draw out some comments for interaction:

"A focus on the service as connecting point perpetuates the producer/consumer form of spirituality"

Mike you wrote, "Mission lies at the very heart of God, but missional connection does not need to (probably won't) happen through a church service."

Some thoughts on consumerism and church services:

David Lyon (Sociology Prof. at Queen's U.) writes, "If the realm of religion is restricted to institutional churches and their social reach, then consumerism could be seen as an erosive force." David Lyon, Jesus in Disneyland : Religion in Postmodern Times (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 2000), 83.

I wholeheartedly agree that consuming church services is not healthy but I'm not convinced that being a consumer is all bad. Didn't Jesus come saying, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you..." (John 6:53, NIV).

In fact, if the Church became consumers of Christ they might also become producers of some pretty interesting things--love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness & self-control.

So, as I drink to diversity I dream of a day when the Church will consume Christ and produce service instead of consuming services and producing Christ for the "outside world".

The Righteousness of God said...

It is very simple...follow the Holy Spirit's leading. When was the last time a church worshipped in 'Spirit' and 'Truth'? When was the last time a church was truly a house of prayer for all? Plain, heartfelt, genuine worship. Like waves on the ocean...Holy Spirit lapping up waves of His Love and moving freely. Been my experience - church is driven primarily by those who are afraid to let God be God do what He does best. It is all about obedience and following His lead. It simple isn't done. If you find one...let me would be well worth the drive.
As for 'producing'for Christ...this is non sense...He is our life. We live 'from' Him. He does the 'work'. We rest in Him and follow his lead. Apart from Him we can doing nothing! Scripture is full of what God does...little as to what Man achieves. It is all about Him, His faithful love lavished unapologically upon us. Kind of like what will be realized in the new heaven and the new earth. If the church is uncomfortable with God now...they sure won't want to spend eternity with Him. Besides which - How can one love and worship someone they don't know?