One of the great strengths of the American church culture is the diversity. Traveling around the country, especially in the large cities, one captures the multiple expressions of the Christian life just by reading the names of some of the churches.
- Undenominational Holiness Church
- The Cowboy Church
- Run For Your Life International Chapel
- End Time Evangelistic Pentecostal Church
- Church Meat of the Word Sanctuary and Fellowship
- Ram in the Bush Christian Center
- The House of Prayer and Refuge
- Cross of Christ Deliverance Temple
These reflect a certain generation and identity. Now the new church names are simpler but much more mysterious, such as,
- Epiphany Station
- The River
- The Flood
- The Bridge
- Imago Dei
- Corem Deo
- Passion City
- Renaissance Church
- Out Post
- True North
- The Cause
- The Intersection
- Element 3
- The Exchange
More than denominational identity, there is now competition to set oneself off from denominational labels. In some instances, this is so much so that one can hardly discern what denominational distinctive separates a church from the rest. They all just about look, sound and feel the same. Denominational ties are hidden until one becomes a member or a leader of the church.
So, one good thing that can be said about the American church is this: It’s not afraid, for the most part, to experiment. In fact, it could be argued that whole denominations or church movements have been built upon the charismatic entrepreneurship of a certain individual or group. This has made the American church flexible and changeable. However, is it changing fast enough today to keep up with the changes coming upon American culture?
In this series of blog articles, I have argued for a need to re-think how we plant churches today (Church Re-Formatted 1); that our focus should be on the fringes of our culture. This is the fastest growing demographic and the least reached. I have also attempted to give examples of how others in our past (Wesley, Booth, and Taylor in Church Re-Formatted 2) give us great examples of how this can be done. More importantly, I hope to inspire others that it can be done and must be done again.
For instance, my community has witnessed a number of church plants in the past several years. I have had a chance to interact with some of the church planters and pastors. Almost in every case, the church plant was just like every other church already in town, reaching the same demographic and hoping to grow large enough to be self-sustaining (which usually translates into being able to pay the church planter or pastor, at least). Only a couple of these plants have made intentional efforts to reach a non-churched or unreached sub-group of our community. (My community is the Tri-Cities of Washington State – Kennewick, Richland, Pasco – whose population is 250,000+ including surrounding communities.)
To think missionaly about church planting in the U.S., especially in large cities and urban settings, the question must now begin with, “Who has God called us to reach?” It may be that there is an unreached demographic or multiple demographics that are ready for a church plant. Answering this question will help answer the next questions: ”Where will we plant a church?” and “How will we plant it and what will it look like?”
As suggested before, this may take a church planter or urban missionary into some unfamiliar territory. However, it is precisely that ground that must be affected in our American culture. These places remain the least reached and least affected by church efforts and witness. They are also the fastest growing areas of our American society.
Some church leaders have begun to identify these places in our American society and call the church to action. The scholars and authors I particularly have gleaned from are Leonard Sweet, Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. They have borrowed the sociological term “third places” (coined in 1989 by urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg) to help the church think about the gathering places in their communities where people already gather. The point is that this is where God’s people need to be present. Instead of inviting the community to join us, we are invited to join our community. It is in these places where God is “seeking and saving the lost”. This is called the “attractional model” of evangelism versus the “missional model”. To get a sample of this, take time to watch Michael Frost’s presentation below…
The missionary model requires church planters and leaders to ask the “Who?” question. This sets their compass for everything that follows. The model that Jesus gave us and used when he sent out the twelve apostles and later the seventy is pictured for us in Luke 10:1-8. Rather than call a community to come hear them, the disciples were to go be in the community and among its members.
The way they did this was to identify a “person of peace.” This person of peace was someone who was receptive to the message of the kingdom and who was also a person of influence in the community. The key to the relationship to the community began with this person of peace. It would be this person who would open or close the door to the rest of the community. It would be through them that the gospel message would be most effectively communicated to everyone else.
What would happen if a small group of Christians decided to plant themselves (church) among a group of unreached people? Suppose they began by looking for the most receptive community leader or influencer? What would happen if that community leader/influencer was won to Christ and then discipled to reach and tell the others in his/her community? Suddenly, it is not outsiders bringing a message, but an insider who is bringing the message; an insider who knows the group’s language, values, ideals, and challenges.
Granted, if you are hoping to plant and soon develop then next mega-church, this may not be for you. That will require you to compete with the other pop-culture churches in the community. However, if you are looking to start something new that will reach new people and change lives, well, then, this may be how you will need church to be re-formatted for you. It will no longer exist to only meet your needs. Instead, it will exist to be a mission outpost in the center of a group of people who are far from God and far from what is familiar to you. Someone needs to go. Will you?
©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, May 2012
- Church Re-Formatted 1 (weatherstone61.wordpress.com)
- Church plants take innovation and that scares people (johnscheepers.wordpress.com)
- Church Plant Critical Mass (ryangear.com)
- “So you’re a church planter…” (missionalview.wordpress.com)
- Planting Churches that Connect (bobcornwall.com)
- MinistryMatters: What is Your Church Structured FOR? – Guest Blog at UM-affiliated website (hackingchristianity.net)
- 5 Biggest Church Planting Mistakes (tallskinnykiwi.typepad.com)
- Your Church Will Die (Part 4: The end is near) (geoffsurratt.com)
- We Are More Alike Than We Think (cindyholman.com)
- Church Re-Formatted 2 (weatherstone61.wordpress.com)
- Whites in the Minority — Sightings (Martin Marty) (bobcornwall.com)
- 150 Million Non-Adherents Can’t Be Wrong (americansecularist.com)
- American church: Not dead yet (tallskinnykiwi.typepad.com)