Are your singers regularly off-key or flat? Do you have musicians who struggle to keep up with chord changes?
What about poor sound, poor lighting and a mediocre team running it all?
A lame website? A church sign that’s advertizing out of date events?
Yep, you got it… YOUR CHURCH SUCKS!!!!
Well, at least that’s according to an increasingly infamous blog post doing the rounds at the moment. In his article, 7 Signs Your Church Is Honestly…Mediocre, Canadian pastor Carey Nieuwhof identified a series of key indicators of church averageness. It’s not quite 50 shades of grey. More like seven shades of suckiness.
According to Niewhof, some of the fault for a church’s mediocrity is down to sloppy admin and IT and a talentless worship team, but most of it is down to your mediocre pastor. He/she is responsible for two of the seven reasons. Niewhof says that in mediocre churches the pastors are (a) resigned to mediocrity and (b) too afraid to change. (I know they sound like the same thing, but, hey, these listicles have to have seven points so we might as well give pastors a double serving of shame).
And to think people regularly accuse missional thinkers like me of being too critical of the church!!
In fact, central to the missional vision is a belief that every church has within them all the resources they need to become all that God wants them to be. Far from shaming churches about their mediocrity, we are regularly affirming their God-given potential.
My friend Alan Hirsch says that within every spirit-filled believer there resides the potential for a church planting movement:
“I believe that every believer has the potential for world transformation in them. If you think that is such an overstatement then think of this: every seed is a potential tree and every tree is a potential forest. All the potential of a forest is contained in that one seed. In the same way, every believer has the potential for world transformation. There is an ‘ecclesia’ in every one of us and in every ‘ecclesia’ there is a potential for a movement. When we begin to see the church this way, everything changes. It is a massive shift in the way we see ourselves as God’s people.”
That’s pretty empowering, isn’t it?
What, I hear you ask, with no musicians? No website? No excellence in production values?? How could that be possible??
Missional thinkers and practitioners like Alan Hirsch are completely committed to helping congregations recognize that all the potentials of movement are actually latent within them. In other words, the seeds of our future are already contained in the womb of the present.
Unlocking that potential won’t involve distinction in platform ministry.
Let’s face it. You can hire musicians and web designers and sound and lighting crews. But mobilizing a missional movement will involve unlocking the missional imagination latent in every single believer.
Sadly, those still committed to the attractional church growth model are putting all their eggs in the church marketing basket, as though you could entertain people into mission. It feels like the biggest challenge for these pastors is to address congregational boredom. And so much of it seems to be driven by an anxiety that Christians will up and leave for somewhere better.
Christians have been fed a diet of infotainment wrapped up in ecclesial event management. No wonder we’re passive consumers. Breaking that spell won’t be easy. But you’ll never unleash the missional imagination latent in every church unless you do.
Here’s a few suggestions for how to do it.
Awaken people to the mission of God:
Don’t hire staff to lead the mission. And don’t make the mission all about the church. It’s about the glory of God. As David Bosch once wrote, “At its heart, the gospel is news about God’s action and his reign, not his institution”. I believe all Christians share a desire to serve God, use their gifts, and make a difference in the lives of others. Awakening them to this need, by reminding them that mission is about alerting others to the reign of King Jesus, and by stimulating a personal search for their own calling to that mission, affords them dignity and respect through giving them responsibility for their faith. No amount of production values can compensate for a congregation of passive attenders.
Don’t build an audience, foster a missional community:
We have a responsibility to ensure that people are not isolated but have the opportunity to explore their search for their missional vocation with caring, supportive sisters and brothers within their community. We only discover our gifts and callings in relation to others, never alone, and never just in an online survey.
Use an action-reflection model of learning:
Don’t put all your hopes in the sermon. The most effective contact with others will include learning through doing. Indeed, experiential learning is the most effective kind. People will believe more in knowledge they have discovered themselves than in knowledge presented to them by others.
Appreciate the whole person:
People are responsible when given responsibility, dignified when given dignity and respectful when respected. As pastors come to understand their congregation’s life situation and respond from an awareness of their physical, emotional, mental and spiritual capabilities plus the constraints of their social environment, it will give them a greater sensitivity and appreciation of their readiness to pursue the mission of God. It will also allow bespoke structures to emerge that are suited to your specific community.
Challenge people to think:
As an educator I’m convinced that it is more desirable to have people confused and working toward understanding than for them to think they know it all. People who think they know it all are the most fixed people I’ve met. Learning about life and mission is more effective when it is an active rather than a passive process. People can be trusted to think for themselves and the Spirit can be trusted with their growth as missional disciples. You don’t have to spoonfeed them simplistic bullet points. You have to stimulate them to grow and encourage them to put themselves in challenging situations. Good leaders enable new futures to emerge by disrupting patterns through the appropriate use of conflict and uncertainty; whereas traditional leaders create knowable futures by minimizing conflict and eliminating uncertainty.
Your church band might be pretty average. The website might look tired. The sound and lighting crew might not know what they’re doing. But you can fix all these things and still have a congregation of passive, un-missional people.
As Alan Roxburgh and Scott Boren write,
A missional imagination is not about the church; it’s not about how to make the church better, how to get more people to come to church, or how to turn a dying church around. It’s not about getting the church back to cultural respectability in a time when it has been marginalized…. This [missional] imagination turns most of our church practices on their head. It invites us to turn towards our neighborhoods and communities, listening first to what is happening among people and learning to ask different questions about what God is up to in the neighborhood. Rather than the primary question being, ‘How do we attract people to what we are doing?’ it becomes, ‘What is God up to in this neighborhood?’ and “What are the ways we need to change in order to engage the people in our community who no longer consider church a part of their lives?’ This is what a missional imagination is about.