What does a bridge cost?

18 09 2008


Missional renaissance

9 09 2008

I just received an email from Leadership Network featuring four churches who have decided to move in a more missional direction.  I found the brief summaries of their stories both encouraging and motivating.  Change is not only possible but it can also bring more life to the congregation and the community:

Some strange and wonderful things are happening at Rivertree Christian Church.

After praying for 12 years about purchasing a local 85-acre farm and finally coming to a point in the congregation’s history where leaders thought they could pull it off, the church took a different direction.

Greg Nettle, senior pastor for the Massillon, OH church, explains: “When we announced that we’re not going to put up a $40 million campus…that we’re going to be committed to being generous as a church and give money away…people cheered in every service,” Greg says.

The announcement and the congregation’s response were unusual because such a turn of events is counterintuitive to most pastors’ dreams of growing a church, buying land, attracting even more attenders and seeing new Christians invite friends to help the church grow even larger.

Instead, some churches today are pursuing a different course that takes them out of the four walls of their church buildings and into surrounding communities. This adventuresome spirit is sometimes even taking them to other continents.

This shift toward first motivating church members to serve in their communities, rather than initially inviting community members into the church buildings is what some ministry leaders around the country are calling a missional impulse. And because this is not a new desire, but the revival of an old one, this ongoing transition is being called a missional renaissance.

The motivations leading today’s missional churches to adopt a more incarnational approach vary. And the leaders of these churches are motivated by a variety of influences – both internal and external – including Scripture, books, the example of other Christian leaders, or the success of a particular ministry within their own church.

Tim Senff, director of ReachOut , a ministry of Crossroads Community Church (Cincinnati, OH), identifies 2004 as the year his church began a serious movement toward more missional involvement with its local and extended communities.

The catalyst for the change was a building campaign in which church leaders decided to dedicate a percentage of the money raised toward practical assistance for others. Most of these designated funds helped the church build an AIDS hospice in Mamelodi, South Africa. Brian Tome, Crossroad’s senior pastor, had visited South Africa in 2003, and brought his passion for the project back to Cincinnati.

Crossroad’s leadership was surprised at the people’s response to the challenge and it began a season of change in the ministry emphasis of the church. Tim Senff reports that the congregation’s “Go Mamelodi” trips have “rocked the church” and “helped them to see the power of what the local church can do when they come together as a team.” Read the rest of this entry »

What if church was a way of life?

8 09 2008





Liquid church?  Networked church?  What are you talking about!?  Typically this is the reaction many of us have – especially those of us who have been part of the church in North American for more than a few years.  The thought of church possibly being something quite different just isn’t plausible – especially if what we have been doing “works.”  May I suggest these concepts are foreign because we have no alternate experience and/or we are so busy with what we know we don’t take the time to imagine or even investigate alternatives that may “work” so much better.

So what does a networked or liquid church look like?  The good news is that there are many examples of liquid/networked chruches.  The bad news (for us moderns that want to systematize everything) is that they are not models but ways of life.  Adullam in Denver, Colorado, is one such way of life.  Here is their story of beginning followed by a description of who they are – they use the term “village”:

Adullam’s story:

“Adullam began without a name and without plans to start a church. Hugh & Cheryl Halter and Matt and Maren Smay moved to Denver in 2003, after leaving their respective church plants to centralize their ministry of missional church plant training. They work with a missions agency called Church Resource Ministries and have spent the last four years training leaders in how to be “missionaries” in North America. While traveling and training around the country under the name “missio” they simply lived what they taught. The focus of our training is that you don’t begin with a structure or a church strategy; you begin with people. The missional flow is to engage culture, form community, and then structure congregation as people naturally draw together for God’s purposes in their city.

“The first year we simply lived out the gospel in our neighborhoods and it began to draw a group of people from our local Starbucks and began discussing what Jesus meant by the kingdom of God. As time passed this group began to grow and eventually we had to acknowledge that we were “church.” Hugh & Matt still lead Missio and spend most of their time training leaders. You can find out about Missio at www.missio.us. Adullam is not where we go to church. Adullam is our life, our friends, and the people we are on mission with. We can honestly say, that we’ve become church by trying not to do church.” Read the rest of this entry »

Liquid church

4 09 2008

Alan Hirsch posted the following on August 5:
When we use the word “church” it is very hard to get some kind of building out of our minds.  But this is not the way that phenomenal expressions of Christian movements experience it.  This is due partly to the fact that the early church didn’t have such buildings and the Chinese had all their church buildings taken away from them.  But it is also because buildings are not what is meant in any of the theological images of church in the Scriptures.  Since Constantine it seems that we have simply got it all mixed up.  On comparison, the Chinese church is much closer to what the New Testament intends, as well as more consistent with the New Testament experience, of church.  It is we who are inconsistent in this regard-it’s that simple.  So what do networks look like?

Peter Ward has written an excellent book exploring the theological, ecclesiological, as well as sociological dimensions of networks. Following Zygmunt Bauman’s brilliant analysis of culture in terms of liquid and solid modernity, he uses the term liquid church to describe the essence of what a truly networked church would look like; a church responsive to that increasing fluid dimension of our culture which Bauman called “liquid modernity.” He contrasts liquid church with what he calls “solid church.” To simplify this, solid church is roughly equivalent to what I have here described as institutional church. Because of the continuing existence of solid modernity he does not counsel the total abandonment of solid church, but he does suggest that it is one of decreasing effectiveness. Solid church is related to solid modernity. And solid church has generally mutated from its original basis into becoming communities of heritage (that embody the inherited tradition), communities of refuge (a safe place from the world), and communities of nostalgia (live in past successes). He suggests that almost all manifestations of solid church fall into one or more of these categories.

He says that “the mutation of solid church into heritage, refuge, and nostalgic communities has seriously decreased its ability to engage in genuine mission in liquid modernity.” This is so because the church finds itself increasingly stranded from its surrounding culture. He remarks that this has seriously damaged the gospel genetic code of the church because the church cannot truly be and become itself in such a condition. Solid church has mutated the gospel code because it has by and large ignored cultural change and found itself changed in ways that are less than planned or perfect. In catering to the religious needs of some (largely the insiders) it has as a consequence failed to respond to the wider spiritual hunger of not-yet-Christians. What is more, “the mutant genetic code within these kinds of churches means that they are a poor starting point for a new kind of church that connects with the flow of spiritual hunger evident in our societies.” This highlights the need to engage liquid modernity with a liquid form of church. Liquid church is essential because it takes the present culture seriously and seeks to express the fullness of the Christian gospel within that culture. The defining element of this is church as a living, adaptive, network highly responsive to the deep spiritual needs and hunger expressed in surrounding society.

Read the rest of this entry »

The collaborative potential

3 09 2008

If you wiki “Web 2.0” you will read under the Definition section: “Web 2.0 has numerous definitions. Basically, the term encapsulates the idea of the proliferation of interconnectivity and social interactions on the Web.” It changes communication from “one-to-many” to “many-to-many.” Wikipedia itself is one of the clearest examples of a Web 2.0 creation and the power of collaboration. Other examples include facebook, ebay, craigslist and flickr.

When I think about the potential this platform offers to connect us collaboratively I picture a dam opening up – releasing vast amounts of previously untapped resources. Tapping those resources can be pretty risky and failure is more likely than success. But, if you keep imagining and trying different ideas something may grap hold and then mountains will move.

So here’s where I see the connection to the church. When was the last time we asked “them,” the congregation, to collaborate with “us,” the leaders?  In the past this was practically difficult and thought by some to not even be appropriate (having determined that God only speaks to leaders). So why not move in this direction now? Well, the same old reasons apply – we are risk adverse, don’t like change or losing control and there will certainly be ideas that fail. What remains lost by not moving in a collaborative direction, however, is that the congregation will continue to sit and wait for the leaders to figure it out – and the leaders will be figuring it out without the resources available from the congregation.  More on all of this in a new post I’ve been working on and will complete in the near future.

Let me revert to the Web 2.0 discussion by introducing, if you have not already heard of him, Clay Shirky.  Recently Clay has been getting much attention with the release of his new book Here Comes Everybody and his many speaking appearances, including Colbert, and being featured on Ted and RAS.  The following video is his presentation at the Web 2.0 Expo in April 2008.  The title of this talk is “Gin, Television and Social Surplus” in which he explains how the Web 2.0 platform is releasing what he calls the “cognitive surplus” and the impact that has had and will have on our society.  There are a few other excellent Clay Shirky presentations online – I’d particularly recommend the presentation about his new book which you can watch here. 

“The PCA: A Missional Church?”

2 09 2008

Church denominations have meetings periodically and the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is no exception.  The PCA has an annual “General Assembly” which is a great place to catch up with friends but where there seems to be little forward progress made on reaching our culture with the Gospel.  I must confess that I have very limited experience with such meetings (I have attended only one – I think it was in 2003) but I have reviewed the summaries of some of these meetings and they don’t appear to vary much (here are the “highlights” from 2008).  Two years ago, however, there was a message that needs to not get lost in the annals of the denomination by Randy Pope who addressed what it means to “become all things to all men in order to win some to Christ.” Here’s what he had to say about how to do that in the context of present day western culture:

download mp3

“The King isn’t waiting on us”

2 09 2008

Reggie McNeal is a well respected guy from the Southern Baptist tradition.  He holds an MDiv and PhD from Southwestern Theological Seminary and has a couple decades of experience leading in the local church.  In addition to teaching at Fuller Theological Seminary he does a lot of traveling and speaking primarily to churches and denominational gatherings in assocation with Leadership Network (he will be speaking at the Catalyst Conference this fall).

Reggie’s message is best for those of us who have spent more than a few years in the institutional church in North America.  He addresses our need to rethink ministry with a real focus on the kingdom of God – to shift from looking at the kingdom through church lenses to the church through kingdom lenses.

The following audio is from his talk at the Reformed Church In America’s leadership conference earlier this year.  If you would prefer a video format it is available here:

download mp4