Bill Kinnon gets it half right

My friend Bill Kinnon is a provocateur. After he posted yesterday in response to a comment by Tim Keller, I emailed him and said, “Is nothing sacred?” Bill knows I’m kidding…sort of.

Bill argues that good megachurches like Redeemer in New York and The Meeting House in Toronto (did you really just link the two, Bill?) are unintentionally built around the personalities of their preachers. In contrast, Bill writes:

Missional (organic/incarnational in Tim’s comment) is not a methodology. It is not a pragmatic approach to growing the church that is used as the best model and method to reach a particular people group. At its best, missional runs counter to the consumer culture, realizing that much of the West is long post-Christendom. Missional believes that Aslan is on the move and that we are to follow the Spirit into the mission field which is our very own culture.

Bill’s both right and wrong, but I’m not sure I completely buy his argument here. He’s much more hopeful about organic churches than I am, not because I’m against being missional. Quite the opposite. But as I’m going to point out, organic churches market just as much (inadvertently) as megachurches, and they suffer from the same core problem: people. Missional does not necessarily equal organic, nor does mega necessarily mean non-missional.

Here are two thoughts I have in response to Bill’s excellent post (and I mean that):

All churches market. I recently met with a graphic designer and challenged him about logos. “Aren’t logos passe?” I asked. “They seem so consumeristic.” The designer agreed, but then argued that the most subtle form of branding is the most dangerous, because they pretend that they’re not doing it. He was talking about the No Logo brand. Books like No Logo and magazines like Adbusters are their own kind of brand, except they pretend that they’re above it, which is a lot more disingenuous when you think about it.

My point isn’t to pick on No Logo or Adbusters. It’s just to say that you can’t not build a community around something. It’s clear that people are drawn to churches like Redeemer and The Meeting House because they both have gifted teachers. But we can’t pretend this doesn’t happen with more organic churches. People are drawn there for all kinds of reasons. You can’t avoid it. As Ed Brenegar says in the comments:

By branding them mega-, missional or emergent, they are playing into this consumer game. They are trying to segment the marketplace by their ideological and organizational distinctives.

This should lead to some humility as we critique each movement’s weaknesses. Weaknesses exist in every model of church – and our model may share in these weaknesses more than we realize.

Structure is not our biggest problem. I get that we are always looking to structures to solve problems. There are better and worse structures. But I’m increasingly convinced that structures aren’t our biggest problem.

An organic church can be designed for mission, but they still have one problem: people. The same problem, by the way, that megachurches have. You can structure for mission all that you want, but until people develop a heart for mission, it won’t make a difference.

On the other hand, you can have people on mission within a megachurch. The structure may get in the way, but it doesn’t have to. And when it does, missional people won’t let it stop them. Organic vs. megachurch is not the issue. People are the issue.

One of my friends got talking about church one day, and said, “People are only part of the problem.” We started laughing and thought that would be a great church tag-line. “Come to our church, were people are only part of the problem!” But that’s not a bad statement. In every type of church, people are a part of the problem, and a pretty big part at that. The solution, then, is also going to be people who repent and get on mission.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t strengths and weaknesses to both kinds of churches. It’s just to say that we can’t hold one up as the solution and the other as the problem. The solution may be to keep our heads down and actually focus on what is the real issue, rather than worry about the strengths and weaknesses of each model. Our biggest need is repentance because Aslan is on the move, and we’re awfully slow to follow. This is true in every model of church, organic or otherwise.

As Brenegar writes of his own church:

…the church I attend with my family is really unaware of why it is a healthy church. They just are. There is an intentionality about what they do, but it isn’t something that they are interested in promoting. There is no conscious programmatic marketing of our church to the outside world stating we represent whatever it is. As a result, we are far more diverse economically and politically, though not sufficiently racially, than most churches I know. We are happy, growing and learning to be the church in a new era. I know the secret why, but I don’t want say so because then we might become recognized in a way that would be unhealthy for us. The last thing we need is to be self-conscious promoters of our branded approach to being a healthy church.
Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Liberty Grace Church in Toronto. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada