Finding the multi-site smile

There was an interesting discussion about the pros and cons of multi-site versus organic church going on between Neil Cole and Geoff Surratt last week – all started by a post from Neil Cole on the CMA Resources website (here). 
Geoff Surratt then responded (here)
Then Neil Cole wrote back (here)
….and then Geoff replied (here)
It’s an interesting discussion – and well worth the time to read all the various posts.
Any comments or opinions?  Who do you agree with – Neil, Geoff, both or neither?

Thinking about the ‘De-Churched’

Most of you who know me will at some time or other have heard me talk about my faith in and love for Jesus.  It’s not something I hide, but then again its also not something I force onto others.  I’m not a pushy Christian – one of those annoying self-righteous types who insist on hijacking every conversation and making it about sin and damnation.  I don’t have a hidden agenda.  My faith is what makes me who I am, and therefore it is important to me.  But this is my point.  If the gospel of Jesus is good news, then that is what I should be to others – good news – not a pain in the backside who is tolerated as long as I don’t mention Jesus.  I want my friends to know about my faith and see it as an integral part of me.  I want them to recognise that what and who I am has come about because of, rather than despite, my Christian values and motivation – as a consequence of my ongoing Christian journey.
I am not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and admit that there are times over the years (mainly at the end of and just after my University years) when the pub was more home to me than church, but I have never doubted God’s love for me and my need for Jesus.  I might have ignored God’s call on my life but I never denied it.  I might have ‘back-slidden’ at times (a phrase I really do not like) but I still felt the presence of Jesus with me.  I knew what I was doing was selfish and wrong, but I did it anyway.  And even when I was far from God, I still went to church – even then, I looked for fellowship.  I might have been a hypocrite, but I was trying to get back.  It was just that during that part of my life the world around me had a greater attraction than my faith.  What I found, however, was that no matter how hard I tried to run away from God, he wouldn’t let me go – and in the end I came back, tail between my legs, because I needed to feel again the love, hope, grace and forgiveness that only comes from staying close to Jesus.
But one thing I have never understood, and don’t think I ever will, is why apparently Spirit-filled, faithful believers just stop coming to church, no longer see the need for fellowship and never return.  I have seen it many times over the years, with even some very close friends just giving up on church.  They say they haven’t stopped believing in Jesus, they just don’t want to attend church any more.  More disillusioned with the sheep than dis-believing in the Shepherd.
It seems that this group of people are now coming to be called the ‘de-churched’, as Skye Jethani explains in his recent articles entitled ‘Who are the de-churched?’ posted on the Out of Ur blog:
“…..another new term is on the rise and gaining attention among evangelicals in North America. Those without a past relationship to the church are called unchurched, but there are many with significant past church involvement who are exiting. They are the de-churched.”
The two Jethani articles, found here and here, ask why this exodus of previously faithful people takes place, and after some discussion, and use of a YouTube clip of a Matt Chandler sermon extract, he comes up with two specific groups of dechurched:
“…..those who have left the church because they had received a false gospel, and those who have left because they’ve encountered the true gospel.”
The first group of de-churched people are viewed as those who have been:
“…..fed, knowingly or unknowingly, a false gospel of morality. They believe that if they just follow God’s rules he will bless their lives. When things fail to work out as promised, they bail on the church. Christian Smith, a sociologist of religion, has called this belief MTD—moralistic therapeutic deism. I prefer a more sinister and downright damnable name: Moralistic Divination—the belief that one can control and manipulate God’s actions through moral behaviours.”
As he continues to explain:
“The biblical understanding of a “wonderful life” looks dramatically different than the consumer culture’s definition of a “wonderful life.” If this assumption is never identified, named, and deconstructed, a person may hear “God love you and has a wonderful plan for your life” very differently than we intend. This is the problem we must begin to address if we hope to slow the exodus of people from the church. It’s not that we are failing to preach the gospel, but that we are failing to deconstruct the consumer filter through which people twist and receive it. The result is a hybrid consumer gospel in which God exists to serve me and accomplish my desires in exchange for my obedience—voila, Moralistic Divination.
When this consumer gospel fails to deliver on its assumed promises, as it inevitably does, frustration, disappointment, and disillusionment quickly follow. And the pool of the de-churched gains another swimmer. “
But then there is also a second group of de-churched:
“….that has not held to a false gospel of morality, and they haven’t walked away from faith in Christ. These Christians have simply lost confidence in the institutional structures and programmatic trappings of the church. For them the institutional church is not an aid in their faith and mission. Rather it’s become a drain on time, resources, and energy. It feels like a black hole with a gravitation pull so strong that not even the light of the gospel can escape its organizational appetite.
As I’ve travelled and encountered de-churched Christians, including some friends, I’ve found they tend to fall into three categories. (These are generalizations, as all categories are, but they may prove helpful.)  
1. The Relationally De-Churched
These Christians have come to recognize that human beings are the vessels of God’s Spirit and not organizations. They may have first engaged the institutional church because they longed for meaningful relationships with other followers of Christ. They may have joined a small group or found a tight network of friends through whom they lived out the “one another” commands in Scripture.
But over time it dawned on them—This small group is really my church. These are the people I am living out the gospel with. Why do we need the big institution?….
Ultimately the relationally de-churched leave the institution because the programs proved less effective at fostering faith and love than relationships with actual people. And the authenticity they crave and experience in their small group eclipses the relative shallowness of the wider church. Let’s face it—authenticity becomes more difficult the larger a group becomes. But it’s worth noting that these folks haven’t abandoned the church theologically, they’ve just redefined it apart from the 501c3 organization we culturally identity as a “church.” 
2. The Missionally De-Churched
“If the church were doing the work God appointed it to do, there would be no parachurch organizations.” Have you heard that one before? It’s a popular defense I heard many times while serving with a campus ministry in college—and there is some truth to it despite the self-righteous cheekiness.
If the relationally de-churched abandon the institutional church because they desire authenticity, the missionally de-churched leave because they are die-hard activists. They are driven to see the world impacted by the gospel whether via evangelism, compassion, justice, or other facet of God’s restorative work. They may become frustrated that the institutional church spends enormous amounts of energy and resources maintaining itself rather than advancing the mission.
I’ve had a few friends deeply involved in such parachurch groups confess that “even though we don’t take communion or baptize, in every other regard the ministry functions as my church.”
He also goes on to mentions his third category in this group of de-churched:
3. The Transformationally De-Churched
This category of people are those who have left church because they have found deeper healing and transformation through the ministry of parachurch groups than they ever experienced in conventional church.
As he explains:
“When deep life change happen outside the church, it can make you second guess the church’s vital role and….drop out altogether.”
These are all well and good – and I can see where he is coming from with all the groups and categories that he describes, but I can’t help but feel he has maybe missed some.
Reflecting on the friends that I have seen leave the church over the last twenty years, most of them have gone because they have been damaged in some way or demotivated and tired out by the practice of church life.
For those that have been damaged, often it is because of things that, on the surface, seem quite trivial, or that could be put right with some grace, understanding and forgiveness.
One family of close friends stopped coming to church because they had three children under five and found it difficult to get to church on time for the start of the Sunday morning service.  They frequently came in late – and the reaction of other church members meant that after a while they just didn’t come to church if they were going to be late – and then they just stopped coming.
Another friend was damaged whilst working for a Christian based organisation attached to the church, and the bitterness that resulted took root, ending up with him and his wife becoming very critical of the church and its workings, and eventually they just stopped coming.
I can also, unfortunately, give examples of people who have left church because they got demotivated or tired.
One couple I can think of now, were very active in the church but wanted more in worship than the church could offer them at the time – so demotivated and tired of trying to bring change from the inside of the church, they left to find more passionate worship at another church, but ended up after a while going no-where – even more demotivated and disillusioned they stopped going to church all-together.
However, I think Jethani’s conclusions still hold even for these additional groups:
When the church loses sight of this and begins seeing people as a means of bolstering the institution, it breeds cynicism. The faithful begin to feel like cogs in a machine, a means of production, human commodities. They don’t feel valued for who they are, but for what they can do, give, or contribute. And to be fair, this confusion between means and ends can happen in both large and small churches, in a megachurch or a house church.
The call then is too investigate anew our ecclesiology—both on the level of theory and practice. What do we really believe about the church? What is the proper role for structures and programs? What do we believe about God’s intention for his people and the role of spiritual leadership? And do our beliefs align with the structures we create and sustain?
Ultimately,  church is not about the institution, services, structures or programmes – its about Jesus and his people, living and loving in community together.
We need to keep that in focus – and be willing to consider changing what we do and how we do it in order to ensure that disciples can be disciples living and loving in Christ on a day-to-day basis – not just on Sundays!
For me, I see no reason why churches can’t just add to or change what they do to cater for peoples needs.  We need to listen to the voices of the de-churched rather than insist that they fit in with the way we do things, whether they like it or not.
I know this is a difficult subject for most small churches to come to terms with – but maybe looking to the experiences of the organic, and dare I suggest it, Emergent church movements might allow new ways to do church that will minister to the needs of those at the edge, and reduce the number of faithful people who get disillusioned and leave church all-together.
Maybe the time is coming when, as Neil Cole puts it in his new book, Church 3.0, we need to upgrade the operating system of our churches to become more open and flexible in the way we minister, to ensure that we maintain healthy disciples now, who are focussed on making new disciples for the future.  As he explains:
….we need to replace old ways of thinking about God’s church with new ones that can release the health, growth and reproduction meant to be characteristic of the church.
So, Skye, thank you for your articles.  I found them very thought provoking and they have motivated me afresh to reflect on the way I do church.  Maybe if we all did the same, we might be able to head off the next set of friends who become disillusioned, demotivated and ultimately de-churched.

Long Live Organic Church

Christianity Today‘s Mark Galli wrote an article in his online SoulWork column a couple of week ago titled Long Live Organic Church’.

In it he explains his rather interesting, if not a little negative, or maybe pragmatic, viewpoint about the future of the organic church movement and its main proponents, advocates and ‘thought leaders’, such as Neil Cole, Alan Hirsh, Bob Roberts and Frank Viola.  He expresses some admiration for them and what they dream to achieve, but also worries that the disappointment of experiencing inevitable failure will cause disillusionment with church in general:

“I love the passion. And the prophetic word to institutionalism …. and the vision to make Christ’s love and grace known to the four corners of the planet…..What I worry about is the coming crash of organic church. And after that, I worry about the energetic men and women at the forefront of the movement. Will they become embittered and abandon the church, and maybe their God?”

As he continues:

“That the organic church movement will crash, I have no doubt. Every renewal movement in church history has either derailed immediately or produced temporary renewal at the expense of long-term unintended consequences. Church historians tells us that in 11th- and 12th-century Europe, churches and chapels sprang up all over the continent, signaling a revival of faith after the centuries formerly called “the dark ages.” It was one of the most viral, church-planting movements in history. Unfortunately, it nurtured a fervency that longed to transform the world for Christ—which soon bore fruit in the Crusades.”

He follows this with what he calls a ‘more excellent way of love’, which basically means not to desire to change the world but to focus on obedience to God’s call on our lives and not expect too much, because if we do then we will inevitably end up disappointed:

“When the focus is on loving obedience to a loving Father, what difference does it make if it doesn’t seem to do any good? What difference does it make if the world or church is not transformed by our lights? When our motive is results, we are bound to be disappointed, because we live in a tragically fallen world that is stubbornly resistant to transformation. But when we focus on obedience to a sovereign heavenly Father, who in love is redeeming his creation in his own time and way (often mysteriously)—well, how could we ever be dismayed?”

What sort of gospel is that?  Just plod along and don’t expect too much because you’re not going to make any difference and you’ll end up disappointed.

I agree with his focus on love and expressing the purposes of God through our function as salt and light, and that our primary focus should be on obedience not making changes for changes sake – but does he honestly believe that Jesus doesn’t expect transformation as a result of the ministry of His church?

When the focus is on loving obedience to a loving Father, what difference does it make if it doesn’t seem to do any good? What difference does it make if the world or church is not transformed by our lights? When our motive is results, we are bound to be disappointed, because we live in a tragically fallen world that is stubbornly resistant to transformation. But when we focus on obedience to a sovereign heavenly Father, who in love is redeeming his creation in his own time and way (often mysteriously)—well, how could we ever be dismayed?

I wonder what the world would have been like today if the Apostles and early church has taken a similar view?

To be honest though, I think I get where he is coming from, that as Christian people in a fallen world we should be good news to people and not expect reward – the fact that we are being obedient in serving others should be enough . 

But is this really all God has planned for us and His church? 

Personally, I don’t think so, and I think that the likes of Neil Cole, Alan Hirsh, Bob Roberts and Frank Viola are with me on this one.

Thankfully, Neil Cole and Frank Viola are much more articulate than I am – and they have responded to Mark Galli’s article, Neil Cole with five posts on his blog, Cole-Slaw (here, here, here, here and here) – the first of which has also been reproduced in Christianity Today (here), and Frank Viola in on his blog, Reimagining Church (here) – also in Christianity Today (here).

All five posts are worth reading and make a coherent and convincing rebuttal of Mark Galli’s original post.

Mark Galli seems to have resigned himself to the conclusion that the expression of church that we see today is the best we are ever going to get – that somehow we shouldn’t expect any more or anything better.  And yet many, many Christian people want more, expect more and are finding more through ‘organic’ expressions of church.  To quote Frank Viola as he considers organic church as a movement:

“I believe it would be more accurate to say that there is a phenomenon today where countless Christians are leaving institutional forms of church and exploring non-traditional forms of church in pursuit of authentic, shared-life community.  I’ve been gathering in organic expressions of the church…for the last 21 years. And from my observations, many of the people who are leaving the institutional form of church presently are leaving because they are following a spiritual instinct. They are saying and thinking, “There has got to be more to Jesus Christ and his body than this.” Or as Reggie McNeal once put it, “A growing number of people are leaving the institutional church for a new reason. They are not leaving because they have lost their faith. They are leaving the church to preserve their faith.””

Rather than accepting the status quo as inevitable, maybe we should be on our knees pleading with God to send revival to our churches – to breath life back into our traditional denominations and expressions of church!  Who says the organic church has to be separate from traditional church?  Who says it is bound to fail?

The story goes that Rodney ‘Gypsy’ Smith, the noted evangelist from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, often pleaded with God to do great things by drawing a circle around himself with a piece of white chalk and praying, “Lord, send a revival, and let it begin inside this circle.”

Sounds good to me – now where’s my chalk?


10 types of emerging church

I saw this post about types of emerging church on the Tall Skinny Kiwi blog earlier today and thought it was worth sharing.


I think it is interesting to see so many styles and flavours of church springing up all over the place as a reaction to the failing ‘traditional’ model of church.  We are no longer living in the time of Christendom and we need to realise that church structures that worked when we were living in Christendom do not work in a pagan, pluralistic and syncretistic culture.  To survive and grow we have to change, whether we like it or not!


As he comments:


“A decade ago, these emerging church models would have horrified your grandfather, especially, if he was anything like the every-Sunday-morning-Presbyterian that my grandfather was. Today, the controversy in most places [depends where you live] has subsided to the level that no one will call you a heretic or the anti-christ if you start up a church that looks like one of these models.”



Accountability Group Questions

I have been thinking about accountability groups lately, and mainly about how accountability questions in a small group context can be used as the basis for ongoing discipleship, both for not-yet, new or established Christians.

Using accountability groups to support discipleship is certainly not new.  John Wesley used a very similar method to great effect in the eighteenth century as a fundamental part of his church planting strategy during the Methodist revival.

Here is a set of questions that have their origin in the spiritual accountability group that Wesley started when he was a student at Oxford, called the Holy Club. The first list appeared about 1729 or 1730 in the preface to Wesley’s second Oxford Diary. Similar questions appeared in his 1733 A Collection of Forms of Prayer for Every Day in the Week. As late as 1781, Wesley published a list of questions like this in the Arminian Magazine:

1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?

2. Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?

3. Do I confidentially pass onto another what was told me in confidence?

4. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work, or habits?

5. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?

6. Did the Bible live in me today?

7. Do I give it time to speak to me everyday?

8. Am I enjoying prayer?

9. When did I last speak to someone about my faith?

10. Do I pray about the money I spend?

11. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?

12. Do I disobey God in anything?

13. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?

14. Am I defeated in any part of my life?

15. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?

16. How do I spend my spare time?

17. Am I proud?

18. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisee who despised the publican?

19. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I going to do about it?

20. Do I grumble and complain constantly?

21. Is Christ real to me?

I think this list is brilliant – and real food for thought.

Here is another set of questions also developed by Wesley for use in Methodist class meetings and band meetings, which were small groups focused on accountability. Before joining these smaller groups, each member stated their willingness for the following questions to be asked of them at any time. These are hard hitting questions which are designed to be direct and straight to the point – no messing around here!

1. Have you the forgiveness of your sins?

2. Have you peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ?

3. Have you the witness of God’s Spirit with your spirit that you are a child of God?

4. Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart?

5. Has no sin, inward or outward, dominion over you?

6. Do you desire to be told of your faults?

7. Do you desire to be told of all your faults, and that plain and home?

8. Do you desire that every one of us should tell you from time to time whatsoever is in his heart concerning you?

9. Consider! Do you desire we should tell you whatsoever we think, whatsoever we fear, whatsoever we hear, concerning you?

10. Do you desire that in doing this we should come as close as possible, that we should cut to the quick, and search your heart to the bottom?

11. Is it your desire and design to be on this and all other occasions entirely open, so as to speak everything that is in your heart, without exception, without disguise, and without reserve?

Taken from The Works Of John Wesley, Volume 9 (The Methodist Societies History, Nature, and Design), Edited by Rupert E. Davies, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989, pp.77-78.

The following questions were also developed by Wesley, and were asked of every member at every meeting.

1. What known sins have you committed since our last meeting?

2. What temptations have you met with?

3. How were you delivered?

4. What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?

5. Have you nothing you desire to keep secret?

Taken from John Wesley’s Class Meetings: a Model for Making Disciples, by D. Michael Henderson, Evangel Publishing House, 1997, pp. 118-9.

In a similar vein, the following questions are taken from Salvation Army Orders and Regulations for Soldiers, 1950:

1. Am I habitually guilty of any known sin? Do I practice or allow myself in any thought, word or deed which I know to be wrong?

2. Am I the master of my bodily appetites so as to have no condemnation? Do I allow myself in any indulgence that hurts my holiness, growth, obedience, or usefulness?

3. Are my thoughts and feelings such that I wouldn’t be ashamed to hear them published before God?

4. Does the influence of the world cause me to act, or feel or say things that do not show the love of God?
5. Am I doing all in my power for the salvation of sinners?

6. Am I fulfilling the vows and promises I have made before God in the past?

7. Does what I do as a Christian match what I say about being a Christian?

8. Am I conscious of any pride in my life?

9. Do I conform to the fashions and customs of this world or do I show that I despise them?

10. Am I in danger of being carried away with worldly desires to be rich or admired?

Here is another interesting list from the Men of Integrity website.  These are specifically aimed at men, but can very easily be adapted for any accountability group:

1. Have you spent time with God on a regular basis?

2. Have you compromised your integrity in any way?

3. Has your thought life been pure?

4. Have you committed any sexual sin?

5. How much time did you spend in prayer this week?

6. Did you pray for the others in this group?

7. Did you put yourself in an awkward situation with a woman?

8. What one sin plagued your walk with God this week?

9. Did you accomplish your spiritual goals this week?

10. Are you giving to the Lord’s work financially?

11. How have you demonstrated a servant’s heart?

12. Do you treat your peers and coworkers as people loved by God?

13. What significant thing did you do for your wife and/or family?

14. What was your biggest disappointment? How did you decide to handle it?

15. What was your biggest joy? Did you thank God?

16. What do you see as your number one need for next week?

17. Are you satisfied with the time you spent with the Lord this week?

18. Did you take time to show compassion for others in need?

19. Did you control your tongue?

20. What did you do this week to enhance your relationship with your spouse and/or child(ren)?

21. Did you pray and read God’s Word this week? What did you derive from this time?

22. I what ways have you stepped out in faith since we last met?

23. I what ways has God blessed you this week? And what disappointments consumed your thoughts this week?

24. Did you look at a woman in the wrong way?

25. How have you been tempted this week? How did you respond?

26. How has your relationship with Christ been changing?

27. Did you worship in church this week?

28. Have you shared your faith this week? How?

29. What are you wrestling with in your thought life?

30. What have you done for someone else this week?

31. Are the “visible” you and the “real” you consistent?

32. Have you been truthful about everything we have discussed?”

The questions I use are from Church Multiplication Associates, ten questions that are listed on a Life Transformation Group card which I keep my Bible. The questions are as follows:

1. Have you been a testimony this week to the greatness of Jesus Christ with both your words and actions?

2. Have you been exposed to sexually alluring material or allowed your mind to entertain inappropriate thoughts about someone who is not your spouse this week?

3. Have you lacked any integrity in your financial dealings this week, or coveted something that does not belong to you?

4. Have you been honouring, understanding and generous in your important relationships this past week?

5. Have you damaged another person by your words, either behind their back or face-to-face?

6. Have you given in to an addictive behaviour this week? Explain.

7. Have you continued to remain angry toward another?

8. Have you secretly wished for another’s misfortune so that you might excel?

9. Did you finish your reading this week and hear from the Lord? What are you going to do about it?

10. Have you been completely honest with me?

I use this list for convenience, and also because the same card has Strategic Prayer Focus statements on the reverse of the card, so making it multipurpose.  However, I like the Wesley’s Holy Club questions quoted earlier, and feel that they fit with contemporary culture.

Neil Cole also specifically mentions a shorter list of questions that he uses regularly:

1. What is the condition of your soul?

2. What sin do you need to confess?

3. What have you held back from God that you need to surrender?

4. Is there anything that has dampened your zeal for Christ?

5. Who have you talked with about Christ this week?

A good number of the lists given above can be found in Neil Cole’s book Cultivating a Life for God, Church Smart Resources 1999 pp 125-131.

Which ever list you use, and I would recommend that you use one of them even if you are not part of an accountability small group.  The lists developed by CMA/ Neil Cole are a good place to start since they are clear and easy to use.  Remember, accountability questions are not asked to make you feel guilty or to judge or condemn you.  They are asked in order to encourage deliberately discipleship, actively encouraging you to dig deeper into the faith, to hear the Word of God and to act upon it.

A rethink about doing church

Recently I made a decision to back out of all of my commitments outside of family and work. I needed some space to rest, think and recharge my batteries, because I was spiritually and physically tired.  My motivation was on a low ebb, which is not like me at all. I am usually Mr Vibrant, full of energy and enthusiasm, wanting to get on with things, not wanting to wait for people to catch up, but pressing on for the goal dragging everyone else with me. I wasn’t depressed or anywhere near a breakdown, I just needed some time out, time to evaluate where I was at, and some space to look to the future.

So I resigned as an Elder at my home church, and slowly but surely reduced my work load to give myself more time and space.  Firstly, more time to spend with my family, but also more time to spend with God. It’s amazing how easy we neglect the important things in life when we get busy!

Now I am a lot more refreshed and my batteries are recharged. I am ready to get going again. I am starting to feel inspired again.

This could be a good thing or a bad thing. For me, it’s great because I feel that I have purpose and direction again, new vision and motivation to spur me on to greater things, but my friends and family will have to come to terms with me going on and on about the things that God is putting on my heart. The thing is, I always get excited, and that excitement just has to come out, usually with me bothering people until they’re willing to listen.

So, what am I inspired about? What am I now bothering people about?

Mainly about missional, incarnational church, and about whether the way we do church reduces or removes the impact of the Gospel in our postmodern, post-Christendom world?

I have been reading a lot about church and mission, and there seems to be a common theme throughout, that in order to be truly ‘missional’ the church needs to find the right balance between being ‘attractional’ and being ‘incarnational’.  The discussion in the blogosphere seems to be about whether the church should be one or the other, attractional or incarnational, but I can’t help but think that she should be both!  Mainly because an incarnational church, where disciples are living, serving and ministering in real life community (or communitas to use Alan Hirsch’s phraseology) will be attractive.  People are drawn when hearts are sold out for Jesus, when His disciples kneel with bowl and towel in hand to serve those in need, befriend the outcast and share the lives of the lost and the lonely.

This is powerful and this is attractive because it changes lives for the good, not only those who are being served but also those who are doing the serving.  I think this is what Jesus would have called ‘attractional’ church, attractive to others because He is in the middle of it. He never had a problem pulling a crowd.  He is attractive.  He is the reason that people pay the price of discipleship and become part of His bride, His body, the church.

If the way we do church is stopping us from taking Jesus to those who need Him, then no wonder our churches are not attractive. If we spend so much time focussing on our church programmes that we don’t have time to tend the sick, feed the hungry, release captives and be good news to the poor then we need to change, and change quickly.

Somebody once said to me that the phrase “we have always done it this way” is the final call of a dying church.  This is so true.  Some parts of church life are timeless and ageless, but some parts need to change to make sure our worship is appropriate and vibrant for every age, culture and tribe. In fact, we can change more than we think since most of what we do seems to be based on tradition anyway. I found Frank Viola and George Barna’s book ‘Pagan Christianity’ a real revelation.  The fact that very little of what we do in ‘traditional’ church life is based on the Bible or the practices of the early church is actually quite frightening.  However, it does mean that little of what we do is set in stone.  Most of it can change.

Within this context, the whole idea of organic church, liquid church, simple church, what ever you want to call it, makes a lot of sense.  I love the subtitle of the Neil Cole’s book ‘Organic Church’, which is ‘Growing faith where life happens’.  This is what it is all about for me.  This one small phrase sums it up perfectly.  This is what Jesus did and this is what Jesus wants us to do.  This is what being church is all about.  Being where life happens and growing faith in others.  Not just on Sunday mornings, but 24/ 7 and 365 days per year, anywhere and everywhere.

That is the main problem.  So few of us in the church are willing to step outside of our own cosseted and comfortable environment. Are we willing to go where ‘real’ life happens?

I am constantly amazed how many Christian people don’t know anyone outside of their church social circle.  Their friends are Christians, they only go to church events and meetings, and don’t really associate with their neighbours and work colleagues, never mind about less fortunate people within their wider community.  This in of itself is not wrong, it just means that they never come in contact with people who don’t know about Jesus.  In the old days, everyone was taught about Jesus, everyone knew about the Cross, but times have changed.  Our society doesn’t perceive a need for Jesus and yet is slowly degenerating and falling apart without Him.

What makes it worse is that we spend so much of our time and energy trying to keep our church programmes running that we don’t have any left to go where life is happening.  We put all of our effort into putting on a decent show on Sunday morning but then wonder why nobody shows up to see it.  We run evangelistic events that make little difference because they don’t scratch where it itches, because they don’t grow faith where life happens.  We expect the “unsaved” to come to us so we can tell them about Jesus – but they just don’t want to any more.  Its as simple as that.  So we wait, absolutely convinced that some will come eventually.

Maybe a few do come, but not enough to stop the rot.  Not enough to stop our churches from dying.

The longer we wait, the smaller our churches become as we grow old and die together.  Nice, friendly people who have no impact outside of the walls of the church buildings in which we sit in every Sunday!  All the while our communities drown, desperate for our help and care.  A world that is lost and in pain.  A world in need of a Saviour.

We can’t wait for them to come to us any more.  We must go to them.  How can we stand by and watch the pain and suffering.  We, the church, must step out of our comfort zone and start to make a difference, by becoming incarnate, and being attractive by growing faith where life happens.  If a more organic approach to being church allows us to be mission focussed, and gets us out of our buildings and into our communities with more time to serve, then what are we waiting for?  Lets get on with it!