Since taking over a small church, establishing a new direction,and leaving the previous flock I was privileged to shepherd, the question I have heard most often is, “How is the church going?”
I’m always faced with a choice in answering this. What are they asking? Well, most of the time, they are asking me how our 501(c)(3) is going. How is your non-profit organization? Meaning, do a lot of people attend your gathering? Are those people giving? And that’s as far as we’ll get.
Most of the time, I don’t answer that question. Most of the time, I answer the question they asked-“How is the church?”
“Well, they are great! We have seen some of them repent, some of them grow in grace, some of them starting to live on mission, and some of them run from the mission God has called them to.”
This makes people uncomfortable. I am usually greeted with “well how many people do you have?” When I answer 65-70, they get more uncomfortable and wonder why we’re so small. Then (this is a long hypothetical conversation), we move to- “Do you have a youth group? A men’s ministry? A women’s ministry? A small group ministry? A fantasy football ministry? A night gathering? A mountain biking club? A benevolence fund?”
My answer to all of those things is always no. No youth group. No men’s ministry. No women’s ministry. No small groups. No. No. No. No.
Then comes my favorite question- “Well, what do you do all week?”
Sarcasm wants to answer, “Nothing! Ha! I’m a pastor, I have coffee dates and read books in between long periods of meditation/naps.”
When I tell people we “are” missional communities, we don’t “do” missional communities, they are generally perplexed. So let me explain-
1) We don’t do affinity groups. That’s groups for men, women, teenagers, old people, or Koreans. Why? Because I believe that we all need to be learning from one another. Men need to learn from women and children and teenagers. I pastored teenagers for a long time in isolation. They’re scary. They need the wisdom of our elderly, the energy of our young adults, and the strength of our marriages. Our old people need the energy of our kids and the passion of our teenagers. Our women need the strength of our men. Our Americans need the work ethic of our Koreans (I couldn’t include them in the beginning and not in the examples!). We need each other.
Now that doesn’t mean that men don’t need other men or women other women. We gather men together to encourage each other and talk about dude things and women as well. But we want to be able to speak the gospel to all ages. Imagine how effective a missionary you would be if you could speak the gospel to anyone between the ages of 1-99 (Infants and triple digits excluded)? Instead, we teach people to be “specialists,” when life doesn’t happen “specially.” My neighbors are mixed ages with children. I want to be able to hang with all of them.
2) We are MISSIONAL COMMUNITIES. In other words, we are a people impacted by the gospel, living life as family together, as servants to a broken world, and as missionaries to our neighborhoods. “A family of missionary servants (who make disciples who make disciples).”
This means we don’t plan and organize a midweek gathering at our building. We train leaders to have people in their homes all week. Do they study the Bible? Sure. They also live out the mission of the Bible by serving their neighbors, neighborhoods, and others around them. I would say being a “doer” of the Word and not simply a “hearer” of the Word is a great way to study the Bible (James 1:23-24).
3) This doesn’t mean that I don’t care about “numbers.” As a human, I really want people to show up and hear me teach. But I don’t think the best way to reach non-believers is to hear me teach. I think the best way to reach non-believers is to train people to live amongst them, showing them Jesus through serving, and sharing Jesus with their mouths.
I want everyone I meet to know Jesus. And I want our church to grow through people who “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8) by rubbing shoulders with others.
If we are honest, most “church growth” is simply re-configuring numbers. Christians migrating from one place to the other. That’s not bad. But it’s also not the mission.