I just got finished looking over at Out of Ur where my original post on Mark Driscoll (from a couple of weeks ago here at “reclaiming”) was re-posted. You remember I tried to make the case that all converts are not necessarily the same in terms of time and context needed. (YES THEY ARE THE SAME IN GOD’S SIGHT!). I argued that emerging/emergent, neo-monastic communities and megachurches (yes I still believe Mars Hill is a megachurch) aim (intentionally or unintentionally) at different contexts, and in some cases for different purposes. Well, there were alot of comments over there. There were many that I think merit a response. I could not answer as many as I wanted to over there in a comment (because there’s a limit of 1500 words) so I thought I’d respond in one post over here. So for what it’s worth, here goes. The quote from the comments is listed first, and then a SHORT response is offered.
From Leonard: If missional churches are not lasting for more than three years then they need to be rethought as to how they are planted, who is planting them and exactly what their mission is. If churches are not making converts in this culture then we need to ask hard questions about boldness, about methods and about not being distracted from the truth that brings grace.
DF: Leonard, I think we agree. I think it is the expectations placed upon missional planters from exterior sources that inhibit their success. Too often missional church plants have expectations laid on them regarding numbers and finances that come off the church planting scripts of traditional churches in Christendom America. We need to prepare missional church plant leaders to set entirely different expectations (including being bi-occupational, indeed self supporting) See my post on this. Your second point reverts back to my suggestion that converts take more time in post Christendom.
From Mike h: 1) The author talks about how difficult it is to develop a missional community. But then the word “organic” is used in the same sentence. One of the beauties of the organic church is not how difficult it is, but simple. I don’t see how developing a complex megachurch is easier than starting an organic missional community.
2) It also seems (from the same paragraph) that the difficulty is getting the missional community large enough to support the “planter”. Is that the goal? If the goal is to get missional communities large enough to support a “planter” than I agree it’s difficult. But if the goal is to incarnationally help a group of people live the gospel, does the require a paid leader?
3) The author states “The conversion of a post-Christendom “pagan,” who has had little to no exposure to the language and story of Christ in Scripture, may require five years of relational immersion before a decision would even make sense.”
I’m not sure where the 3-5 year time frame came from. But it would any less time for a megachurch to reach them, than a missional community?
DF: Mike, again I think we agree. If church is organic, and self-sustaining from the beginning, it should by definition be less difficult. Nonetheless, my experience with church planters is they continually have expectations placed upon them that they are not prepared to fend off. Most are not prepared for the financial and social pressures they will face doing church missionally.
In regard to your second question, I never said that the missional community needs to get big enough to support the “planter.” Anyone who knows me knows that I argue for a sustainable missional pastorate whose support from the church comes only from necessity, as he/she must be released for more ministry at the call of the community.
In regard to your third question, I tried to outline in the post why I think mega church conversions are different. The dynamic of a large church of 2-3000 or more and the attractional reasons for being there (9 times out of 10) generate a person already familiar with the gospel. A pagan however who knows nothing (at least in an orthodox way) would (9 times out of 10) not be attracted to a large service and would inherently need a whole new level of immersion in the gospel story for a decision to be anything more than a consumerist one. These statistics have been borne out in places like C Pritchard’s study of Seeker Services which you can get a Amazon.
From Willy: For goodness sake, this article clearly indicates one of the major problems with all these types of discussion on Emerging Church, namely that everyone seems to have a different definition of what it means to be “missional”.
To my mind Mars Hill is a “missional” church in so far as they look at themselves as being missionaries to their locality.
DF: I agree Willy. I didn’t really define missional here. I didn’t have the space. But let me say that all churches that are Christian in anyway would assume they are missional on your terms. I am following the work of Darrell Guder et al. (GOCN), Alan Roxburgh (Allelon), and Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost. These authors and churches emphasize incarnational forms of church versus attractional, the church as Missio Dei versus mission being a program, organic forms of missionary living in the neighborhoods versus ministry set in a building, and many other notions that they exegete NT forms of church as a minority presence in society. (For a better definition listen to Alan Hirsch at Out of Ur here)When you describe missional in these terms, I take it Mars Hill simply doesn’t fit. I’m not accusing of them of being apostate or lacking in ecclesiology. I just assume a church with systems and organization sufficient to funnel 7,000 people through their walls cannot operate in this missional fashion. The point of my post is that conversions will look differently and be of a different kind between the two different contexts.
From Willy again: Oh, and another thing, when Jesus simply called the disciples with the words “follow me” he didn’t seem to worried that they were making a “consumerist decision”.
DF: Jesus asked them to “hate their families” and “pick up their cross” and follow him. Enough said. Luke 14:26-27
From Melody: “But missional missiology is aimed at those lost in societies of post-Christendom with no understanding of Christ whatsoever. And this kind of mission takes longer.”
Jesus’ ministry lasted for only three years before he ascended back into heaven and look at the number of converts in that time. He walked up to total strangers and said, “Come, follow Me”, and they did! No building of relationship first. All of the relationships Jesus had with believers occurred after their conversions. In fact, according to Matthew 4:17, the first word out of Jesus mouth when he began his ministry was, “Repent…”
The apostles got right out there and preached the gospel to a culture that had NEVER heard any of it. People were converted on the spot. Wow!
DF: OK â€¦ but really, we are not given that much information in the gospels on Jesus’ background relationships with the men that became his disciples. Some, who became his disciples after the ascension were indeed his very own brothers, James being among them. It is very likely he knew all the men he said “Come, follow me” to.
Even if he didn’t know any of them, all of the disciples and the vast majority of converts, even into the Gentile territories, were Jews, well schooled in the history of Israel and the coming of the Messiah. They knew the entire story and what they were saying yes to!
From Dan Kimball: I was on staff at a megachurch for over 10 years and very familiar with the whole scene – and we planted a new church 4 years ago. I don’t see the way it was described of the differences between megachurches and small churches in conversion. Whether a large or small church, when you listen to the stories of how the Spirit moved in the person life, each story is unique. The Spirit does the convicting and drawing someone to Jesus and uses all types of things, from music, to conversations, to altar calls, to Scripture etc. which happens in small churches, medium sized or megachurches.
DF: Dan, I think you know that I certainly agree that every conversion story is unique. I agree that the prevenient work of grace in the Spirit is what guides it all. What I am pointing to here is the difference between someone converted from a previous background in Christianity and someone who has had no knowledge or language to understand what following Jesus as Lord might even mean. When someone has known the whole Scripture story of God in Christ as taught say in a high church catechesis program but never made (or was asked) to make a decision, there remains sufficient background to understand who Jesus is, even if they have gone through a horrific life in between. When someone however, has no knowledge of Christ, except maybe from the Oprah show, the challenge to invite him or her into Christ is totally different.
My experience is, that the majority of attractional conversions are of the first kind. Other statistics exist that also prove that the majority of mega churches land sons and daughters of high church traditions who left and went astray. There is nothing wrong with these conversions. I am just contending that the other kind of conversion, where they know nothing, takes longer.
I have statistics on this. I have missionary histories that study pioneer missions in people groups who have no exposure to Christ ever. They all suggest that post-Christendom type conversions are different, requiring more time and relationality. In other words, if we send a missionary team into Muslim country, we should not expect a 6,000 member church in 6 years or else call it a failure. We should not expect 500 conversions in the first five years or cal it a failure.
Having said all of that, all conversions are good, and a glory to God. It is just when we say that emerging/missional churches do not have conversions, we should be able to make some of these finer discernments. eh? Continued Blessings on your ministry at Vintage Faith Church!
Peace to all, and thanks for the great conversation.