When I started pastoring 14 years ago, I started in a small church. It was obvious that if we were going to last, we would have to attract people to join the church. One of my assumptions was that it was important to get people out there to come and join the church. Our church was in a very defined community within Toronto, which allowed me to get involved with the community on boards, and to get to know people on their terms rather than expecting them to come to church. I found that this went a lot better. It’s a lot harder to get people to come to church than to go out and meet them, and begin to build a relationship with them. Still, I suspect that I spent more time trying to get people to come to church than to get church members into the world to bless the world. Even at Richview, we have focused on the attractional model of church. Build it and make it desirable enough and they will come. One of the changes in my philosophy of ministry has been to move away from the attractional model. Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch write in The Shaping of Things to Come:
…church leaders as well as Christians in general have regarded the church as an institution to which outsiders must come in order to receive a certain product, namely, the gospel and all its associated benefits. In our view, the church should be missional rather than institutional. The church should define itself in terms of mission – to take the gospel and to incarnate the gospel within a specific cultural context.
Reggie McNeal expresses the same thought differently when he says that the wrong question is, “How can we do church better?” The better question, he says, is, “How do we de-convert from Churchianity to Christianity?” This process wasn’t a neat one for me. I probably moved away from the old attractional model without landing firmly on the missional model for some time. This is still working itself out, especially in our practice. Part of this coming year is going to be devoted to helping each person discern what shape this will take in our own lives. The biggest change for me has been to see the use of spiritual gifts differently. I used to think that the gifts were all to be used to support the church’s ministry. I now believe that many are going to exercise their gifts for ministry outside the walls of the church – coaching soccer, inviting people into their homes, serving on community boards. This too is part of the “work of the ministry.” There are more changes to talk about, which will come over the next couple of days. It’s exciting, though, to recapture a vision for what a traditional church can look like when it develops a heart for going out there, building relationships with the sort of people Jesus did when he was on earth.