I've been doing a lot of reading recently on organic and spontaneous growth among the churches and ministries of the world and it has me thinking a lot about the state of the American church. If we're honest with ourselves, we can probably say that it doesn't seem as though some of our well-intentioned efforts are really making much of a difference in our communities. Though we have huge churches in every major city of America, how many of us can honestly say that those communities look radically different than if those churches weren't present?
It seems that one of the reasons that this may be so is that we have created a country club environment in many of our churches. Now don't get me wrong, there are many solid churches that are doing some great things. But wouldn't we have to agree that most of the activities that our churches sponsor are really for those that are members of our "club?" Do our prayer requests primarily involve those already in the church or those outside of it? Does our giving to the church primarily go to activities within the church walls or outside the church walls? Not only that, but do most of the activities happen within the church's walls or outside in the community?
It seems that our members pay their dues, show up to club meetings when convenient and expect certain services to be provided to them. If we don't like the music played in the services, the color of the carpet in the foyer (foyer - a word we only use in the club), or if the club chairman (pastor) doesn't wear a tie, we just pick up our stuff and go find another club. We (and I include myself here) tend to think about what our preferences are rather than what might be most effective in reach our communities and our campuses.
Reggie McNeal, in his book The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church, outlines the difference between having a "Member Culture" vs. having a "Missionary Culture" within a ministry. He mentions six key resources for spiritual leaders (prayer, people, time, money, facilities, and technology) and how a membership culture and a missionary culture would view these differently. [For my purposes, I've replaced church or movement with "club" to emphasize the point.]
Member - prays for current members and "club" needs
Missionary - prays for the unchurched and outreach efforts
Member - recruits other members into "club" activities
Missionary - deploys others into the community
Member - finds time for "club" activities
Missionary - creates time for the expression of the ministry's mission
Member - raises money for "club" activities
Missionary - channels money to mission initiatives
Member - maintains the clubhouse
Missionary - seeks ways to move out into the community
Member - supports the "club's" existing ministries
Missionary - creates ministry opportunities in the world.
It's good to examine where are energies are being expended and who it is that we're really ministering to. It's seems like we erect these big, beautiful buildings out in the suburbs and shout to people that aren't listening, "Come join us -- we're really cool!" Maybe we should change our approach to go where the people are, meet them where they're at, and truly minister to their needs. We might actually have to do ministry outside of our church's four walls and instead of expecting people to come to us, maybe we need to go to them. That means have more Bible studies in Starbucks. It means doing more baptisms at the beach. It means service projects in needy communities (and not expecting people without cars to drive half an hour to hear about Jesus). It's the approach that Jesus took and I'm sure that He would honor our faithfulness in doing the same.