The Emerging/Missional Church – “They don’t have converts” Why Mark Driscoll Misses the point

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Thanks to Brother Maynard, I caught this vintage Mark Driscoll remark(as transcribed here.)

“And all the nonsense of emerging, and Emergent, and new monastic communities, and, you know, all of these various kinds of ridiculous conversations – I’ll tell you as one on the inside, they don’t have converts. The silly little myth, the naked emperor is this: they will tell you it’s all about being in culture to reach lost people, and they’re not.”

I get this kind of remark often in places where I speak. It usually goes something like this: “We love the missional theology. But does it work? How many converts have you had in your missional church? Is it (like it’s some kind of strategy) reaching the people you’re talking about?” And so it goes, the modernist drive to measure success raises its ugly head. Yet this does not offend me because these are important questions. For I believe if we are not seeing people transformed by the gospel then “missional” in the end means very little.

So my response to Driscoll would go something like this:

1.) I agree. There is a stunning lack of sustainable communities in the movements addressed by Driscoll and I think this is disturbing. The reasons for this are different though depending on who you’re talking about: emerging churches versus missional churches.
2.) Regarding missional churches, it is difficult to survive as a sustainable missional church (versus your standard Driscollesque mega church). Missional church ecclesiology is organic and incarnational. It does not fit easily with denominational expectations. This creates economic pressures for the missional leaders. I believe it takes 5- 10 years to nourish a missional community into a true functioning existence. This doesn’t fit with established denominational models of church planting (especially evangelical). This creates added pressures and less support for missonal church plants. Missional church plants therefore generally start out with alot of energy but often die by the end of year three. The planters have big dreams but soon burn out when the financial pressures and the long time it takes to see the work established gets to them. This is why we need support systems and ways of preparing missional leaders for these extraordinary circumstances. Al Roxburgh and Mark Bibby are working on this with their organization (Allelon).
3.) Regarding emerging churches/Emergent Village, I don’t believe they intend to plant church communities that would lead to converts. Instead at least Emergent, (and a lot of emerging folk depending on which stream you’re talking about) promote conversations (cohorts?). They seek to foster critique and seek “reform” within Christianity. I am not denying that there are vibrant emerging churches out there in the many different streams (our church has been accused of being an emerging church). But this is not their thrust. I also don’t see Emergent/emerging possessing a soteriology and church/culture commitments that would emphasize the idea of conversion (although I have heard Brian McLaren talk openly and freely about conversions within the belonging-believing conversation).
4.) Having said all this, the number of conversions for missional church communities could still match the mega churches on the basis of percentages (if we were counting). This is Brother Maynard’s point. I think that the missional communities that do persist may have a higher conversion rate than the Drsicollesque mega church. Missional churches are so much smaller. 6 conversions from a group of 25 over ten years would match (or exceed) the percentage growth of a typical mega church. I think it would be interesting to measure how much dollars per conversion are spent in missional churches versus mega churches five to ten years from now when conversions start manifesting themselves in missional churches. I know I am not supposed to think this way, but I still smile when I think that indeed missional churches could be more cost effective when it comes to conversions because we resist spending money on buildings, programs and the show.
5.) We must also recognize that “missionary conversions” take longer than mega church conversions. They are also more difficult to measure for often “conversion” happens as a process within a community (I could give you several examples within our own church). I argue that a conversion of a post-Christendom “pagan,” who has had little to no exposure to the language and story of Christ in Scripture, requires five years of relational immersion before a decision would even make sense. If you do not have this immersion/context, any decision that is made is prone to be a consumerist one. It in essence is a consumerist decision. It is made based on the perceived immediate benefit. It lasts as long as this perceived benefit remains important. It does not lead to discipleship.
I believe it takes five years to provide such a context for someone totally foreign to the gospel. I suggest therefore that true missionary conversions, which I suggest missional churches are after, take much longer periods of time than the kind of conversions that are most often generated through mega church. For I believe that the mega church is largely appealing their message to people who once grew up as a child in old forms of church and know the Story but quit going to church. These now “unchurched people” require the old messages to somehow be made more relevant. These unchurched need to be be “revived” or called back into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s just different and we should recognize that. We should also recognize there is less and less of these kind of unchurched people left to make church more relevant to.
The bottom line is then, if we would reach the lost souls of post Christendom, the church in N America must go missional, incarnational, organic. We must become intertwined with those we seek to reach. Yet this will take time and appear to be highly inefficient in the terms we have become used to in the church growth/mega church world.

This is why I believe that Mark Driscoll has missed the point. I think he speaks too boldly about the lack of conversions in missional and neo monastic communities. I think a helpful thing to do would be for Mark to take a survey of his own church and ask how many converts at Mars Hill heard about Jesus for the first time through Mars Hill? How many came from other church experiences? How many are ex Catholics who learned the entire Christian catechism and then walked away only to become Christians at Mars Hill. I know Seattle is considered post Christendom territory. I also know that Driscoll considers being Catholic the equivalent of being damned to hell. Could it then be that the majority of converts at Mars Hill are what remains of the Christendom generations: more like the mega church type of conversion I described above? Not to say this is not all valid work for the Kingdom. Yet it is different work. For, at least theoretically, these are people being converted from a different base than those we pursue in the missional church. Missional missiology is aimed at those lost in societies of post Christendom. And this kind of mission takes longer. To me Driscoll misses this point.

What do you think?

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53 responses to “The Emerging/Missional Church – “They don’t have converts” Why Mark Driscoll Misses the point

  1. I often heard it said that It’s the stupid question that doesn’t get asked, So I’ll ask. How does Mark see conversion??

    I more inclined to believe that real conversion is more likely to happen in a ” missional ” church. I mean look at the disciples, this collection of misfits and join Jesus in sort of seminary on the road. There is no statement of belief, no signing of membership…they just join and follow. But, it is in this profound missional experience of Jesus, ” on the road “, out there in the world…where the rubber hits the road…is where real conversion takes place.
    In my mind if you can draw someone searching for a living faith of somekind into missional community heading the poor, healing the sick, seeking justice, restoring creation…they are going to see the redemptive imagination of Jesus. In the missional journey, conversion will be an evolution.
    I think conversion in a Driscollian type church may be seen as as very different from a small missional community that flys under the radar of detection…and its effect can’t be measured using the same tools.

  2. I think you’re onto something.

    I also really appreciate the lack of acidity in the tone of your writing.

  3. Ooops, my comment ( the first one ) David should have read ” feeding ” the poor. Heading the poor wouldn’t be very missional.

  4. As someone who lives in a community other people tend to call neo-monastic, it seems to me that (although some communities that use that name are also *churches* and this would not be true of them) calling for a monastic-shaped community itself to add new members by conversion growth from non-Christians would demonstrate a real lack of familiarity with how God has used monastic movements in history. Monastic movements are like a leaven of more specifically focused discipleship and prayer within the church, one kind of vocation among many possible ones. Driscoll’s remark is like critiquing, say, medical missionaries for not having conversion growth right into their medical mission team.

  5. Ron … I think I’m asking your same question in a different way. Thanks for the addition. And beth .. I would agree that there is a special vocation possible for monastic societies that might exclude explicit evangelistic pursuits. Of course many of the best missionaries historically have been monastic orders … Thanks for the insight

  6. Fascinating. Good stuff, David. Especially enjoyed yours and BM’s hypothetical on megachurch convert growth rate vs. missional/emergent.

    I’d be interested to know why you insist on “five years of relational immersion before a decision would even make sense” for someone totally foreign to the gospel. Certainly, all of us require “relational immersion” in order to understand the cost of discipleship more fully, but does that mean a total pagan can’t learn the shape of the gospel in six months or less and be called to a radical laying down of his life for Jesus and his mission? I agree that it takes time to build a context in which a decision makes sense, but five years? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


  7. I’m pastoring a church which is transitioning from a stance of tradition and 50 years of decline to missional engagement with our (rust-belt) community. So far, our growth has been almost entirely through two means: people leaving so that dead institutional structures can change, and baptism of genuine disciples who are now able to begin making disciples of others. The growth is slow, and often imperceptible by those who expect crowds. But things are progressing. I’ve been blogging about it on my site at http://www.matthewmthomas.com.

    BTW, I’m a Northern M.Div. from 2004. I’m glad to see that Northern continues to support these kinds of missional reflections as a part of its work.

    Grace and Peace –

    +Rev. Matthew M. Thomas

  8. I think, “Damn, that is one of the best posts I’ve read recently.” Thanks David, great response to the issue.

  9. great post. I have to wonder too where the people who are on the verge of walking away from the faith entirely out of disgust, but who find a place in emerging/missional churches fit in? There seem to be so many more sorts of “converts” once one gets past 20th century evangelical models.

  10. I recently viewed a video rant by Driscoll against ‘The Shack’, where he decried it for promoting modalism, rather than a correct view of the Trinity. I wonder if Mr. Driscoll is aware that he was able enunciate this concern because of the fruit of (gasp!) a non-protestant monastic order – the Cappodocians! The point (and I am not concerned about ‘The Shack’) – I wonder if the missional /emergent/new monastic movements might become to our time what the Cappodocian Fathers and other early monastic movements were to theirs – the communities that through searching and dialogue were able to present Christianity credibly to the prevailing non-Christian (of which post-Christian is a variant) cultures and philosophies, and who also shaped theological constructs that allowed Christianity to be guided for centuries. Some of the new communities may not have had a sustained existence, but the we are in no position to measure the long term effect and results of these efforts – especially in the context of networks such as Allelon and Fusion (Australian based), and in the hope and awareness that those of the faired communities will continue to strive and seek. And so David – I quote you from last week’s post – ‘Even if the path of Jesus is [seemingly] futile, wouldn’t we still walk it because we believe it to be the right way to live?”
    Also, In ‘The Celtic Way of Evangelism’ at p. 53, George Hunter contrasts the Roman Model of Evangelism:
    (iv) Presentation
    (v) Decision
    (vi) Fellowship
    with the Celtic model:
    (iv) Fellowship
    (v) Ministry and Conversations
    (vi) Belief, Invitation to Commitment
    He also cites a 1992 British study by John Finney that concludes that most people come to faith gradually through relationships. In my years of ministering to the broken through a criminal law practice, I long ago quit trying to measure how far along the journey of faith someone was – that sufficiency is God’s to measure , (and likely is measured on a something of a sliding scale due to grace). My concern as a sometimes guide/sometimes companion, always friend and occasional confessor, was the overall direction of travel. My call was to be faithful in the present moment, to be content simply to reveal Jesus, and then trust the Holy Spirit to effect the bringing about of faith in his timing and means. Could Mr. Driscoll not allow these movements that same grace as they minister within their communities? Or is it that he is ‘ye of little faith’?

  11. Oops. make that ‘in the hope and awareness that those of the failed (not faired) communities will continue to strive and seek. darn spell check!

  12. David,
    That was a great post. I find it interesting that Mark operates in a context that misses the point when he “Comes from the movement”. I use to get pissed off at him but then I realized he is just ignorant and never really understood.

  13. David,

    Thanks for the good post. I think it covers some very important territory. I agree with, and walk in your approach to conversion growth in the communities I’m a part of.

    I just have one area of pushback for you. Since we’re after missional lifestyles, meaning to study our culture(s) and respond well as any missionary would, what about the aspect of our culture that we’re becoming increasingly transient? Building five year relationships with people before you’re even at a point of having conversion-related conversations with them is wonderful, but in so many cases, we don’t have five years. People change jobs, changes houses, change cities. It may do well for us to live in tension with that by planting ourselves deeply in a community and refuse to move, but that doesn’t mean the people we interact with will do the same.

    So what do we do with them? Again, being oriented toward this the way you are, I’d say that this is one of the areas of importance of what Guder, et al call the “community of communities.” That way you could hand-off some of these transient relationships to other missional communities. Do you have any other thoughts on this.

    Also, in Driscoll’s defense, as a fellow Seattlite, I’ve met numerous people that came to faith at Mars Hill. I’d say the percentages of “conversion growth” have dropped the larger the church has grown, but it’s still happening. I cringe as much as anyone at much of what he says, because I OFTEN have to deal with the fallout from it in people I work with, but there is the other side of it, too.

    Thanks again for sharing this.

  14. I disagree with “counting conversions”.

    I largely disagree with e/Emergents.

    I never fully understood the Westminster Confession.

    I do, however, love seafood and one day hope to make it out to Seattle.

    Can I get an amen?

  15. Pretty sure Jesus didn’t call converts. He called disciples. He didn’t call for an intellectual decision, he called for a life shift. To talk about conversion without talking about discipleship that is relationally based really does miss the boat.

    And in the NT examples where lots of “converts” are recorded (like Acts 2), we’re talking about people of faith (Jews) embracing a holistic view of their faith (the Messiah came). The rest of what we see is all about relating person to person and calling people to a life shift (especially the Gentiles).

    If we are missionally going to present Jesus to a post Christendom world, we’re not really talking about converting Catholics or old church people who have a semblance of faith (like the 1st century Jews) and need to embrace a holistic view, we talking about finding people without any semblance of Christian faith (like the 1st century Gentiles) and calling them into a discipleship relationship with Jesus.

    What Driscoll and the mega church model does is great (people with a Christian frame work need Jesus), but when we’re talking missional discipleship making in a post Christian context, we talking about a very different kind of people. Let’s compare apples to apples.

    Thanks for a great post, David!

  16. “Regarding emerging churches/Emergent Village, I don’t believe they intend to plant church communities that would lead to converts.”

    Why are you using the word ‘converts’ like it’s a dirty word? How much of your post church-Christendom-emergent view is influencing the lens through which you see things? I’m guessing you don’t fundamentally have a problem with the word converts but personally you do?

  17. I’m obviously a couple days late to this conversation, but one thing I’m not seeing is an analysis of the Pauline missiology as it comes to bear on our present context/conversation. Good thoughts on Jesus’ method of disciple-making, but we in the postmodern missiological conversation tend to isolate Jesus from Paul with regard to methodology (not to mention theology!). Is Paul out of the question b/c of the peculiar apostolic nature of his unique mission? This is something I wrestle with.

    Very few of us are called to the same particular sort of mission Paul was, no doubt, and much less, Jesus’ unique mission. Imitatio Paulos and imitatio Christi in this regard both seem problematic as prescriptive paradigms for all disciples. So do we look more closely at the early church in general, and examine those other than the apostles? My thinking has been very influenced by Hunter’s as well, but how much do we understand about the way the first-century church (less the apostles) engaged in the mission? Acts 2 is naturally very instructive in this, esp. vv. 42-47. And this obviously looks radically different than the vast majority of our churches today.

    Interesting confession by Beth re: the function of neomonastic communities, b/c I would argue that some form or other of intentional community is necessary for the mission of the Church, which is inherently both evangelistic and sanctification-driven. We need both communities of disciples sacrificially devoted to one another, to prayer, and to “the apostles’ teaching” (the Scriptures), and prophetic teacher-heralds of the Word by whose message people will be called (and some effectually so) to faith and repentance. These two can and must function together, in what, ironically enough, has been tagged by Driscoll’s church as “the church gathered and the church scattered”. If we neglect one or the other, then we end up with all these problems many of these conversations are trying (I assume) to solve.

    As an aside, comparing American churches in general to Driscoll’s is problematic, because of context. His model is very evangelistically-driven and his church has a high percentage of new convert members, because his territory suffers from extreme Gospel-drought. That same model will have a different effect in a more highly Christianized context. All in all, we cannot avoid the numbers issue, on two accounts: (1) because of love for the worship of God by as many as possible from all the nations, and (2) because of love for the multitudes of lost sinners who stand condemned (Jn 3:18) before God without Christ. Numbers represent real people with real lives and souls. Concern with numbers can but does not have to take our focus away from relational care of individuals.

  18. Good stuff-

    I am a few days late too. I really resonate with your belief that mega-churches (like Driscoll’s) draw off Christendom generations for conversions.

    My question is, what is the bigger ministry of the emergent church: post-modern non-christians, or disenfranchised Christians (who use to attend Driscoll’s church). If he can count Catholic converts, can emergent count mega-church converts? Food for thought.

    Personally, I have a lot of hope for the missional church. And though I do not know Mark Driscoll, I have experienced that most mega-church pastors want to be very missional. The problem is that they have a very poor paradigm for ministry and a reduced gospel (both rooted in Christendom).

  19. Not only does Driscoll want to be missional. He prides himself in being missional (by his definition) and leads conferences teaching others what it means to be missional. Different people have different ideas of what it means (and takes) to be missional. Missional ought to be shorthand for “Great Commissional”. Otherwise, the medium becomes the message, and we completely miss the point.

  20. I can dig that. I certainly don’t want set my preferred paridigm/medium above another person’s using words like “right” or “wrong”. However, the medium is part of the message and therefore VERY important.

    I think to say our paridigm for ministry, ecclesiology, etc. is nuetral would be a mistake. That is one of my huge problems with mega-church ecclesiology… multi-million dollar buidings are not theologically nuetral. It is a medium that speaks a very loud message.

    I don’t mean to put down or be negative towards these congregations (although sometimes I can be). I just hope we all realize that our strategies, ecclesiologies, etc., matter! They deeply affect our missional vocation and the gospel we practice and preach.

    Again, although I have overheard a lot, I am unfamiliar with Driscoll and his church.

  21. First, Driscoll’s comment betrays a complete ignorance of much of the literature of the missional church discussion (e.g. Guder’s The Continuing Conversion of the Church). He’s begging the question by operating with a defintion of “conversion” that the churches he is chastising are trying to call into question.

    Second, as a member of a “New Moanstic” community (though we were and remain a church for decades before that term was coined), I think that Driscoll’s comments roll off the tongue of someone who’s likely never had to submit himself to the disciplines and practices of a community that actually takes the shape of embodied life in the church seriously. For him the church seems to be about little more than decision cards filled out for Jesus. No wonder he sneers at churches that do not jive with his reductionist views.

    This is not to say that I’m a big fan of the emergent church (or whatever the hell it is), but I’ll take them over self-obsessed testosterone freaks like Driscoll anyday.

  22. The commenter above has gotten this all wrong.

    The book The Continuing Conversion of the Church was NOT written by Wayne Grudem.

    I also think you got it wrong by assuming that signing “decision cards” is a sign-post of the e/Emergent conversation. This shows a lack of understanding.

    Most emergents I know do not use these cards, but some have chosen to retain the altar call.

    Hope that helps.

  23. Bran, you misread halden. He’s not equating Driscoll, much less “decision cards”, with emergents. I’m doubting any church affiliated with Emergent uses an “altar call”. Almost anything centered on accentuating the one-time nature of conversion is going to be off-limits in any truly emergent church. But who gives a rip, really, what is or isn’t PC in an emergent church, as if they’re the new mediator of what’s acceptable in missional church.

    Emergent is not missional. Let’s just be honest about that. Just finished reading an interview/email exchange between Tony Jones and my friend Collin, and one of Tony’s comments was honest and helpful in leading to this conclusion. To quote him: “[Emergent] churches . . . do not think of their patterns of life together as an outreach strategy. Instead, the Emergent ethos grows out of (1) a dissatisfaction with church-as-usual, and (2) a desire to create something new and beautiful.” Again, let’s be honest about vocabulary. The missional church movement is unequivocally outreach driven (let’s not let the term ‘strategy’ get our panties in a wad. think ‘method’ or ‘effort’ if that helps keep your blood pressure down), although with a different modus operandi than the church growth movement. They/we both have the same essential goal, but have radically different convictions regarding how to get there. Again, the goal is the evangelization and sanctification of all people, i.e. “making disciples,” as Jesus said it.

    Dan, I’m with you that the medium is a VITAL part of the message, and can often be the most prominent message. The “media” of ministry is far from neutral, which is why we have to constantly reevaluate the faithfulness of our methods and expressions to Scripture in light of our time/space context.

    I wonder how many (Dan, thanks for your honesty… I’m not including you in this critique) criticize Driscoll after only having heard a YouTube clip of him, never having read a single of his books. It doesn’t take too much reading into his history with his church to see that megachurch ministry FAR from fell into his lap. The first six to eight years of his ministry were like working two full-time jobs… for the sake of reaching the lost and transforming the found. It is misguided, arrogant, and judgmental to caricature someone as power-hungry and egocentric (first off, it’s off limits for us as Christians to do so, period) when we don’t know the whole story.

  24. While Emergent may not be missional by intention, I think it would be unfair to assume that all emerging folks are not missional. These are not mutually exclusive. Emerging is a much broader category than Emergent.

    Certainly, not all emerging folks are missional just as not all missional folks are emerging but some emerging folks are missional just as some missional folks are emerging. 🙂

    Good thoughts overall.

  25. I have to wonder though, is it really possible to be missional without also being emerging theologically? For instance, as Beloved noted, Driscoll also thinks he is “missional”, but he means something entirely different by that than what emergent people mean by the term, because his theological rigidity has not led to any significant change in his assumptions about what the “mission” actually is in the first place.

    I guess that’s my point. Assuming you’re starting from a traditional evangelical point of view, unless you’re willing to go through the emergent process of rethinking your assumptions about what the point of the gospel is in the first place, what good will it do to become “missional”? If you think the “mission” is still just about rescuing as many individuals from Hell after they die as you can, and not about participating in the reconciliation and restoration of all things, then what good is it to be “missional”?

    I’m very concerned about the word “missional” being co-opted and “shrink-wrapped” (to quote Spencer Burke) by traditional evangelicalism to the point where it’s just another gimmick for winning more converts to an escapist theology. I already see this happening.

  26. Mike,

    I share your concern about ‘shrink-wrapping’ the term to basically replace church growth terminology. I also appreciate your distinction between the different understandings of the mission. This is no minor quibble, but the crux of church praxis. It’s “a hill worth dying on.”

    I am concerned, though, that you seem to think that conversion must be separated from the overall mission of redemption. You paint a false dichotomy. However, if you are simply exaggerating and saying that evangelicals place too much emphasis on conversion at the expense of the breadth of God’s redemptive purpose, then I resonate with that. However, it is worth noting that making everything a priority makes nothing a priority.

    What I see in many emerging circles is a swinging of the pendulum too far in the opposite direction: social justice over biblically defined evangelism. They are not mutually exclusive, and neither fulfills the Divine imperative in isolation from the other. I hope we can agree on that. Otherwise we are talking about two completely different religions: orthodox Christianity and paganism with a Christian tag.

  27. I share similar concerns to both “Beloved”and Mike. I share the concerns with “missional” being misappropriated. Lastly, I still see conversion as essential to the gospel. I see it as being anything but escapist when it is properly placed within the Kingdom of God. Thanks Mike and Beloved.

  28. Beloved, I’m not rejecting “conversion” at all. But my question is “conversion to what and for what?” That’s where I and traditional evangelicals differ – not on whether or not conversion is important, but on what we are converting people to in the first place. That’s why I don’t think one can safely separate missional praxis from “emerging” theology.

  29. Helpful clarification, Mike. Seems then that we would agree that conversion is entrance into the Kingdom or, as Paul puts it, “adoption as sons”. Would you say that evangelicals (well, Christians in general) ought to adopt more filial terminology?

    I do resonate with your strong aversion to presenting the Gospel as simply a ticket out of hell. But I also resonate with the tension that Jonathan Edwards experienced in light of the certain immanence of hell (however you may envision that). As he said (I paraphrase), preaching hell is not a sufficient motivator of conversion, but it’s a necessary and helpful tool for nudging (shoving?!) people in the right direction.

    There are certainly significant divergences of conviction on the following point, but it seems that God has taken into account mankind’s utter depravity when determining the motivators (i.e. ‘hedonistic’ ones) He uses to draw sinners toward Himself. It is poor theology (I believe) to assume that unregenerate persons will be motivated for purely righteous reasons (e.g. social justice or the missio Dei) to accept God’s offer of salvation (and the consequent, even concurrent, call to discipleship in the way of Jesus).

    Secondly (I believe Dave addressed this in at least one previous post), emphasizing the call to discipleship/call to mission to an unregenerate person (I assume this is the emphasis you are contending for) in the Gospel message apart from the call to delight in God, our Supreme Delight and Priceless Treasure, would also be an insufficient Gospel presentation. But I’m with you on this: Gospel messages that exclude the call to follow Jesus in radical, whole-life discipleship are dangerously void of truth and have massive implications on the subsequent quality of discipleship, and thus health and witness of churches, and so on (Slippery slope?).



    (sorry for leaving my name ambiguous… wasn’t by intention)

  30. David,

    Great post and important topic!

    The first thing that came to mind reading Driscoll’s quote was the implicit assumption that converts in evangelical mega-churches are true converts that remain converted – whereas emerging churches can’t or don’t want to make converts at all. I’ve read somewhere that the percentage of people converted at evangelical churches who remain converted 5 years later is very low. So – in the end – after all the counting of conversions at mega-churches like Driscoll’s is done – are there really any more converts to show?

    Perhaps Driscoll would have been more on the mark emphasizing the global need for more and better disciples churchwide?

  31. I’m not so sure Driscoll is the one to be picking on. If you asked him if conversions were Mars Hill’s preeminent priority, he’d certainly say, “No, making disciples is. Conversion is simply the necessary starting line for the race of discipleship.” Picking on seeker-driven churches would be much more appropriate.

  32. Have you listened to Mark Driscoll’s sermons? He is not just about making easy converts.

    Also what is the mission of God?

  33. I’m wondering why it’s ok to accuse Driscoll of being ignorant and mean-spirited when the comments are in the exact same vein?

  34. Steve,

    With one possible exception, I don’t see anyone here accusing Driscoll of being ignorant or mean-spirited. Nor do I see the comments section here reflecting such an attitude towards him. Many people here are disagreeing with him, but that is not the same thing as being mean-spirited.

  35. Beloved,

    I don’t like the language of conversion for some reason – and I believe discipleship can, and often does, begin long before the conversion happens. One could argue that the disciples lived with Jesus more than 3 years before being actually “converted”… My reference to the words convert and conversion was taken from the Driscoll quote – not words I would have chosen for myself. But I agree with you that seeker churches are probably more susceptible to the fall-away “convert” problem than Driscoll’s church is.

    M. Van Drie,
    I haven’t listened to all of Driscoll’s sermons – enough to know he teaches hard teaching. Just don’t agree with some of it – and especially don’t agree with his critique of the emerging church – of which he is supposedly an insider. What IS the mission of God?

  36. “What IS the mission of God?”

    Did I not just ask this question yet you answer my other questions and comments. If people are talking about the mission of God, so I ask again what is the mission of God?

    “Just don’t agree with some of it – and especially don’t agree with his critique of the emerging church – of which he is supposedly an insider.”

    He used to be in the emerging movement. He talks about it and why he no longer is a part of what became the emergent movement.

    “after all the counting of conversions at mega-churches like Driscoll’s is done – are there really any more converts to show?”

    If you listen to Driscoll you would have a hard time saying that he was about people just being converted. He is by no way the easy believe-ism type of person. Rather about discipleship and becoming more like Jesus.

  37. M. Van Drie wrote:

    “Did I not just ask this question yet you answer my other questions and comments.”

    Because I’m more interested in hearing your definition than giving mine.

    “If people are talking about the mission of God, so I ask again what is the mission of God?”

    I’m not sure I fully comprehend the mission of God – but the mission for the church is to make disciples taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Off course the definition becomes murkier when we begin discussing the definiton of individual words like “make” and “disciple.”

    “He used to be in the emerging movement. He talks about it and why he no longer is a part of what became the emergent movement.”

    I’m aware of this…David started this comment thread with a post that included a comment from Driscoll professing to be on the inside.

    “If you listen to Driscoll you would have a hard time saying that he was about people just being converted. He is by no way the easy believe-ism type of person. Rather about discipleship and becoming more like Jesus.”

    I’ve mentioned before that I have listened to Driscoll – just as I’ve listened to Joel Osteen. Think they’re both great people – just don’t like their theology. I do like the cussing from the pulpit though.

  38. this has been an interesting thread to read through – thanks brothers for your input. We were just talking about some of this stuff this afternoon in the pub! The only thing I can think of adding has something to do with the mental picture that comes to mind from a mega-church conversion setting. I suppose it follows on from the contrast of the roman and celtic monasteries. [On my wedding day I said “I do”. Almost every day over the following twenty years, I’ve been learning what those two words actually meant.] I wonder what the response would have been if, at the conclusion to the ‘sermon on the mount’ jesus had said (as some of the disciples reached for their guitars) “ok – I’d like all those with their hands raised to come down the front here, and we’re going to pray a prayer …” Personally I decide to trust Jesus again every day – what helps a lot to make it real is having a brother or two who is willing to open their lives up as we travel together. Perhaps Jesus’ conversion numbers were not too impressive – and he had a fair bit going for him – seems to me he had something else on his mind.

  39. The idea that it takes 5 years for an unchurched person to become a Christian in a way that is not consumerist is pretty lol.

    That said, I’m not sure that judging the ‘missional’ church by results is the best thing.

  40. “That said, I’m not sure that judging the ‘missional’ church by results is the best thing.”

    It depends on what you mean by ‘missional’ Some of the churches that call themselves missional have nothing to do with the mission of God. However others do.

  41. I don’t have the strong sentiments that you seem to have against Driscoll, I find that there are people all around me in ministry (including myself) who seem to think that they have found the “right way” to do ministry.

    As a “missional church” pastor who discovered after five years that I was one I find that I am much to busy walking with Jesus and the people in our community to get upset about what the megas are doing. God has put me where I am and I will do it.

    We have had over 200 conversions, and 100 baptisms for a church that has never been viable. Most of those people have moved on, either out of the area or to churches with nicer programs.

    At first this was really hard for me and I would get quite angry at the churches that specialized in stealing Christians from other churches, but then I realized that God was at work in those churches, doing things that I couldn’t do in mine. And I quit worrying about it. If the Holy Spirit is real I need to trust that He is in control and not me. Sure, I’d love to take an equity line on my treasures in heaven to buy some stability for our ministry but maybe this is the kind of stability God wants our community church to have.

    I do have a question though, why do we have to wait five years to build the type of relationship where we have earned the right to share Christ with someone?

  42. Sam & Anicius,

    My point about the 5 year time line was that many mega-church converts are gone after five years. For some, it probably means they moved on to a church with “deeper” teaching as they’ve now matured far beyond what the shallow seeker sensitive services offer. For many – it may likely mean they’ve tried church and have now left the church. For the rest – I hope they’ve left because they were called to serve somewhere else in the kingdom.

    The seeker church I attended for a time had a huge front door – we were seeing alot of conversions – but there were a number of backdoors through which people were continually filtering.

    Just read an interesting section in Wolfgang Simson’s Houses that Change the World where he quotes statistics regarding conversions by total numbers and percentage for churches ranging in size from 50 to 2000. Counterintuitively for some, the smaller churches produced a much higher conversion rate – suggesting that mega churches may actually be hindering kingdom expansion…to the extent people can hinder kingdom expansion.

  43. I agree that the smaller churches have a much higher conversion rate then larger churches. Christian Schwarz in his book Natural Church Development provided statistical data that showed that churches with less than 100 people had far higher conversion rates than the megas and actually suggested that it might be a good idea to split up the big churches. I think that the larger churches are more likely to attract Christians rather than the unchurched.

    It does seem strange to me that David thinks that missional churches take longer to bring a person to a place of conversion. I have found it to be just the opposite. Unchurched people are looking for authentic faith and have their BS meters finely tuned. When they sense that what is happening in a church community is real and that the Good News actually is good news they tend to commit.

    The hard part is that the process often begins then and does take longer because we are not retelling stories that they heard as a child but are telling the whole story. Additionally the people I tend to come across haven’t developed any spiritual “habits”, they have quite a few other habitual distractions that don’t make them good church goers. That doesn’t mean that they haven’t become a Christian.

  44. The study by Christian Schwarz formed the basis for one of Simson’s chapters in Houses that Change the World…interesting stuff.

    “The hard part is that the process often begins then and does take longer because we are not retelling stories that they heard as a child but are telling the whole story. Additionally the people I tend to come across haven’t developed any spiritual “habits”, they have quite a few other habitual distractions that don’t make them good church goers. That doesn’t mean that they haven’t become a Christian.”

    I agree with all of this…but the mere fact that some non-churchgoing folks show up to our house church doesn’t necessarily make them Christian either. But it does mean they are disciples…which is a designation I prefer over Christian these days.

  45. Yes, I agree with you concerning the status of people who show up, whether at a house church or a mega, that does not make them Christian. Maybe christian, not in relationship with God, but in relationship with the people or programs around them.

    This is what I find interesting about being a “pastor” of a missional church. I get to lead without any real power of my own, just the power of the Spirit, and it goes where it wants.

    It seems that the word “disciple” works better, there is outward action with the understanding that the soul is still unknowable. It is between the follower and the followed. And so it seems that “disciple” works better outwardly. Yet, “Christian” seems to have a deeper and more personal meaning (at least in the context of a relationship with God and not with people).

    Yet we do not know, so we know in hearts we are Christians and seek to make disciples that know for themselves.

  46. Living in a Missional/Emerging Church Plant within the United Methodist Church, I cannot tell you how you have hit the hammer on the nail! Big time! Great response! And I just wanted to share one way that I have explained “Conversion” to the older generation UM pastors and laity.

    “Most churches and traditional church plants focus on the “conversion” first and then take the “converts” through a long/lifelong understanding of discipleship. If Discipleship is becoming a “student”/”apprentice” of Jesus, then in the missional “model/way of being” their understanding of discipleship happens first, and then in (as you say) 5 years of wrestling with God and the Bible and doing it within community, the “decision” of “conversion” Is made with pure conviction and depth. They know exactly what they are getting into and how important this relationship with Christ is, but are already living out a lifestyle of Christianity. It is not an emotional response or a pressure tactic. They really know, and are living lives that are constantly search to know Jesus more just like a student/apprentice would do with a teacher, and therefore being a Disciple in the truest understanding.

    This explanation has helped tremendously in the past and present, but I am currently at the end of my 3rd year, and the funding will be dropping by 25% in Jan. and I am looking into working at the Apple Store or Starbucks, just because I believe so much in this way of being the church!

    Thanks again for your blog post, and I would love to interview you for a podcast that I am a friend are doing… go check out the website and let me know if you might be interested in being interviewed via Skype or phone for the podcast.



  47. I am wondering if the conversation is talking about the difference between how to grow two very different and good things in the garden (tomatoes vs. potatoes)?

    For example, is the poor farmer growing “missional” potatoes, in a field that has never grown potatoes, doing a bad job if you can’t see his produce?

    Compared to the guy with cherry tomatoes exploding all over the place he sure is, but is it fair to compare two different things that often us the same tools and words, but simply use them very differently.

    I mean, I just went to a produce growing seminar and they told me how to stake up the plants. How do you stake a potatoe (not to be confused with steak and potatoes)?

    I am more curious about how not to go crazy waiting for a freakin’ potatoe emerge? Any thoughts on how to not sell out my soul in the neverland between emerging and emerged?

  48. The bottom line is that Christians are supposed to go and make disciples. We are supposed to multiply. There is nothing new under the sun. There is no new theology, but the context has changed. The answer, in my opinion, is not to invent new kinds of churches. I believe this just dilutes the body of Christ and separates the dynamic Christians from the ones that are stagnating in their walk with God. The answer is to wake up the traditional church by encouraging belivers to actually put their faith to work, take their faith to work, find somebody to build a relationship with, share the gospel, and disciple them to maturity, and then they should do the same.

    The reason why emergent churches, megachurches, etc have been popping up everywhere is because the church has neglected true spiritual upbringing and stressing the importance of discipleship and actually being one who disciples others. The traditional church, on the whole, has done a poor job of helping people understand the gospel as well. This doesn’t mean we need new churches, we need more dynamic movements within the church to stir up a fire for God.

    I believe this starts with Men stepping up to lead their families and their communities. You convert the men, you will convert the entire family.

    1. I am in agreement with you, we do not need new kinds churches, we need to sire up the fire of the Holy Ghost in the churches we have and convert the men and women and then the family will be converted. We need the fire that fell On the day of pentecostal (Acts 2:1-3) when the Holy Spirit fell and they all begain to speak in other tongues, we need Revival here in North America. We need the Fire of the holy spirit to fall not only in Seattle, Washington but in North America. We are getting away from Alta call, we are getting away from Sunday School, Night service on Sunday and Friday night. I am from the Old Church, these are the things that made us strong and kept us focus.
      I understand that we are in a new day and we have to change with the time. But Jesus word does not change. What happen to those Spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit gave us to function in to build up the church(1 Corinthians 12:4-11). As Paul tell us in 1 Corinthians 12:12-19, we are one body baptized into one spirit, we need each other to function. We have forgotten why we are called to ministry and why He has gifted us and why we are called to carry out the Great Commission.

      In Matthew 28:18-20 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the hole Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” He did not tell us to established different name churches, it does not mean anything if we are not carring out the Great Commission. If The Holy Spirit give you the vision to do a thing, He will also give you the provision to carry out what He send you out to do. He commanded that I go to Malaysia to get one person, He gave me the provision to go over there to do what He sent me to that Muslem country to do, I was received in love, because I went as a servant and my approach was in love.

  49. David, thanks for the post. I’ve enjoyed the provacative discussion. It seems to me that we need to stop trying to define the one and only right way to do Christianity and instead follow God where God is moving. To maintain humility by admiting that we don’t have everything figured out (whether “we” are emergent village, mega-church x,y,or z, or catholic), we are able to hear God’s voice rather than our own.

    and my response to Anonymous –
    I am curious as to why you single out men as the ones needing to be converted first. Certainly, in Western cultures, men tend to “lead” the family because of cultural and religious pressures. Of course, the historical context in which the apostle Paul expresses the woman’s role in society must be taken into consideration when determining whose supposed to be leading who, if at all (check out N.T. Wright on women in the church).

    In many cultures, women are the spiritual leaders of the family. In fact, in my own family, I was the first to ‘convert’ and then my mother and father followed. It seems that when you adopt this narrow view of how the gospel is to be shared and spread, it reduces its power, universality, and equity – that Jesus came for everyone (Galations 3:26-29).

    I agree that Jesus asks us to make disciples. I would love to know your thoughts on what it means for Christians to “put their faith to work.” What does it truly look like to introduce a “more dynamic movement within the church?” And, are missional/post-modern/emergent or whatever you want to call these groups, potentially stirring up a fire for God?

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