Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Different threshholds and ways over them
Willow Creek auditorium – you can remain relatively anonymous in a congregation of this size. Many bring their friends, knowing that it will be a quality experience for them. Less well known is that the church relies on a huge network of small groups to grow its members.
FRIENDSHIPS can and do develop around the context of the church building, and the life of the church generally — if it has a sense of mission. That’s one of the reasons we are working on opening our own building for purposes other than Sunday congregation gatherings.
Having a sense of mission is important. It’s what the church is for. Some want to say it is for fellowship, meaning the love shared between members. Others would highlight our call to glorify God. It is difficult to genuinely glorify God if we internalise it! How do we extol God’s greatness without finding ways to tell others about His goodness and what He has done for us in Jesus? What is fellowship unless it is a demonstration to those perceiving it that living under the lordship of Jesus is not restricting but freeing, a good and secure place to be– this must be part of the mix. The enemy will always work to try to take what is good and push it out of balance. Fellowship and loving friendships are good — but pushed too far can become exclusive. Both worship (looking up) and fellowship (looking in) without the breadth of mission (looking out) are subtle but deadly church killers.
Over the past 30 years or so there have been a number of moves to lighten up on the importance of church programme and attendance, and focus much more on people in their various degrees of lostness that Jesus died for, and wants to reach with His love. Willow Creek is an intentionally evangelistic ‘sowing’ model of church. Another model is where the church is comprised of small groups or cells which are themselves missional.
It should be said that the world’s largest churches, North Point, Willow Creek and Saddleback among them, all rely on small groups as the engine room of life, growth – and mission. Where the small group is the church as much as the Sunday experience, people start to find their way in through the groups. This happens as the groups (or cells), develop their own network of befriending and pray intentionally for their own friendship contacts. Some of these will be some way off, needing many contacts and a lot of soaking in prayer, anticipating lots of small steps along the scale, before they even look like giving their lives to Jesus. Others will be ‘men and women of peace’ in Jesus words (Luke 10:6) who are almost waiting to be asked.
A recent survey (I’m not sure whether this was in the US or the UK) came up with the surprising statistic that 8 out 10 people would consider coming to a church event if they knew they would be made welcome, and if they were asked. So there are a couple of conditions there, the first one more difficult to satisfy than you might imagine, but on the other hand, what an encouragement!
If you align this with an emphasis on groups having a missional culture which is seeking to pray down barriers and invite people to non-threatening, home based small gatherings, something emerges that begins to look like a strategy. If the church-building-on-Sunday threshold is too big a jump, then easy-access events in the church at other times coupled with a rather different home group or cell approach look like well placed stepping stones.
If the survey is only half true, what an encouragement to develop a more outward-connecting culture that sees church as existing for all these other people, and adapting what we are already good at, to connect with them positively.