The Church “On the Verge”

(The following excerpts are notes I’ve highlighted from “On the Verge,” written by Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson. Full credit for these observations goes to the authors. This book was written as an observation from a 2011 meeting of pastors from 12 megachurches across the U.S. who analyzed their ‘attractional” vs. their “missional”growth strategies.)

  •  60% of Americans report significant alienation from contemporary church growth models.
  • This means a greater number of churches are competing for the 40% who do relate to current growth models. The question posed is how do we reach the 60% who are alienated? Bringing them to church no longer works. We must take the church to them.
  • Jesus intended the church to be much more of a movement than an institution.
  • Christianity is designed to be a people’s liberation movement, a social force, a viral idea passing from one person to the next through the medium of gospel and discipleship, creating gospel communities in its wake, and yet by most accounts, most churches can be described as institutional in form and nature.
  • Jesus reserved his harshest criticisms not for the so-called sinners, but rather for the religious people of his day. It explains why he chose and empowered ordinary people and not the religious elite to take the gospel to the world.
  • Jesus is a big believer in the human imagination. His parables are a perfect example.
  • Imagination is soaked in possibility. It can see around corners.
  • In order for the church to move forward, it must continually look back to the original model of the 1st Century.
  • Organizations can, over time, develop into impersonal institutions that tend to impose conformity (that is, crush creativity). They can become controlling entities that resist the promptings of the Spirit and undermine the people dynamic of the gospel.
  • Again, 60% of America’s population (much higher in Europe and Australia) is increasingly alienated from the prevailing forms of the church. In missionary terms, it means they are culturally distant from us. We need to ask the question, what is the gospel for this people group, otherwise we simply leave them in the dust.
  • If we persist with the current status-quo, we are in effect asking the non-believer to do all the cross-cultural work in coming to church. WE are the sent ones – not them. What is church for these people?
  • The church doesn’t consist of its institutions; it consists of the people of God. We know this in our theology, but our practice is almost entirely at odds with this belief. We have so identified the church with its rituals, theology, denominational templates, symbols and professional clergy that we can’t see this remarkable truth.
  • God is not only the creator, but also creative and constantly creating and reimagining.

Enough to digest for now, I think.

—30—

What Would it Look Like if …

… we shattered our categories?

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.”Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States.

How do we get to the “secret heart” of Christianity? Many are finding it difficult in today’s church.

It’s the battle of two extremes – we are wayward sinners or moral insiders – or we seek one of two journies – the road of moral comformity or the path to self-discovery. Is there room for any of us who may find ourselves somewhere between the two extremes without people thinking we’re rebellious troublemakers?

The fact is, it’s easy to alienate ourselves from God by going either way for too long. Proof can be found in the well-known story of the prodigal son, in which most readers of the Word focus on the wayward son. That side of the story is easy enough. But what about the older son, the one who obeyed the rules, the one who conformed, and yet refused to attend the grand celebration hosted by their father upon the younger son’s glorious return?

The two extremes … where is the middle ground, and if there is one, is it the right place from where the Holy  Spirit wishes us to operate?

Isn’t it interesting in so many Bible stories that the people who were most intrigued by Jesus were the ones who were estranged from religion, as opposed to those who were immersed in doctrine and dogma? The rule followers tried to trick Jesus into a corner. Who is this man, they wondered?

I am one of those who finds myself in the middle – probably further to the right side of self -discovery than rule follower, but yet fascinated by what God’s Word speaks to me each day. In this position, it’s easy to become an outcast. Church friends wonder what happened to you. Why are you rebelling? What’s wrong with you? Do you still know Jesus?

Maybe it rings true with you.

Actually, I feel pretty good. I feel freedom. The sun and stars look different to me now. The North Star visible each night from my back yard reminds me that I do have a fixed point of light and a direction. I’m learning, discovering, hearing.

If it does ring true with you, then I believe we are not alone. I believe we are in the midst of the winds of change. God appears to be changing the conversation He is having with His church. Yes, God can actually “change” the conversation if He so chooses.

Less than a year ago, leaders from a dozen megachurches across the country came together for: “Exponential 2011: On the Verge Conference.” The church leadership in the conference represented some 80,000 members.

The church leaders, you see, were at a high level of satisfaction with their “attractional” strategies. And why not? They had grown exponentially. They were in “high cotton.”

But somewhere along the way, the “missional” aspect of service was lost. Too many people, too many programs and services, too much budget, too many decisions and too much baggage.

They had become “missionless.”

An interesting observation/prediction by two church strategists who helped facilitate the meeting is this: The prevailing church growth approach (or market strategy, if you will) will have appeal to about 40% of the U.S. population over the next 10 years.

So if the strategy continues to dominate, where does that leave the other 175,000,000 or so of us who aren’t drawn to that approach?

What if church looked not so much like a building, but a movement?

What if church looked apostolic rather than institutional?

What would it look like if we created demand, rather than competed for it?

What if we were On the Verge of something?

What if…

(Blogger’s note: Many of the ideas, language and concepts posted in this blog come from two well-written and thoughtful books: On the  Verge by Alan Hirsch & Dave Ferguson; and The Prodigal  God by Timothy Keller.)