Below is my contribution to Rick Meigs’ Synchroblog – Rick thanks alot for pulling us all together today on this important topic!
It is really striking, these past couple years, how much the word “Missional” has taken a flight all its own. At times, the word has taken on qualities of being another niche kind of church, another approach, technique or strategy for doing church. Indeed, it has been strangely noticeable how “missional” has been a category of ministry presented at more than one mega-church conference. This concerns many of us who have used the word to describe a theology of the church. In a recent post of mine over at Out of Ur, there were comments which revealed just how confused the use of this word has become. The conversation generated over there suggested that many simply equate missional with being evangelistic Christians. I think both of these developments are a shame.
For me, I use the word to describe a specific theology of the church. This theology specifically a.) Sees the church as Trinitarian extension of the Missio Dei (mission is not a program of the church, it is the church) b.) Sees the church as the people of God driven to inhabit contexts incarnationally (as opposed to producing evangelistic strategies to get people to come into the church), and c.) Views salvation as a holistic reconciliation of the entire cosmos with God (as opposed to merely the penal satisfaction of God’s justice, although this is certainly part of it!) -Christ’s work recapitulates the undoing of all sin (personal, social, political, psychic etc.) until He comes. I consider the Gospel and Our Culture Network as the founders, with names like Roxburgh, Van Gelder, Guder, Hunsberger building on the work of Bosch and Newbigin. I consider Alan Roxburgh (again), Frost and Hirsch, Ed Stetzer, Martin Robinson, Dwight Smith and others to be key practitioners contributing to the furtherance of this movement.
All of the above is kind of basic and probably repeated many times over across this Synchroblog. So allow me to fill out a little more of what I think is essential missional theology/ecclesiology/missiology by answering this provocative question: Can a mega church be missional? As more and more mega-churches seek to organize and market “missonal” efforts in their own church contexts, I’d like to offer four reasons why mega-churches cannot be missional in the ways most of us on this Synchro blog are defining it.
FOUR REASONS WHY MEGA-CHURCHES CANNOT BE MISSIONAL
1.) Attractional Church Works Against Being Missional/Incarnational in almost every way. To be attactional means to center the church organization on your weekly gathering. Most resources time and money is put into making this gathering the centerpiece of ministry and the measurement of success. The attractional impulse is so magnetic that it pulls everyone and everything into its orbit. The church ends up attracting huge amounts of people from other church backgrounds and unchurched people who previously had Christian initiation but have since wandered away. And although there are many outreach activities, the church itself simply cannot be incarnational in the ways talked about by the missional authors. To be incarnational is to spend most of one’s time and ministry outside the four walls of a church building, inhabiting a neighborhood learning who they are, what they do and where the spiritual/holistic needs are. Its rhythm contradicts the rhythm of an attractional church. For to organize and sustain a ministry of 3000 or more (1,000 or more) simply requires huge resources, organization, volunteers to keep the machine going.
2.) Mega church is not reproducible. It was Alan Hirsch who said if it is not reproducible it cannot be missional, for to be missional is to multiply again and again and again. The resources both in money and people required to start a mega church at this level (thirty years into the mega church’s cycle) are simply so huge no one can expect to compete (of course none of us want to “compete”). And so the solution for mega’s is to open up a satellite church with the best programming money can buy. But such churches cannot hope to exponentially reproduce, because it costs too much money.
3.) Mega church is inherently built on Christendom. It packages a service to speak a message that they assume can make sense to anonymous guests. Missional assumes the opposite – that people have no language or history by which to understand the words “Jesus is Lord.” Therefore we must incarnate/embody the gospel for it to make sense. A packaged entertaining speaker/program every Sunday simply cannot do the job of communicating the gospel in post Christendom.
4.) Mega church tries to organize community among its thousands. It must inevitably offer a smorgasbord of “kinds of community” for parishioners to choose according to what best fits their lives. It cannot help but turn community into another program. Community is at the heart of missional. Yet it is a community of people deeply committed to pursue mission together in the neighborhoods. Alan Hirsch calls this communitas. This kind of community cannot be organized out of large groups of people through organizational structures. It must start on the ground, be organic and have strong leadership. This is nigh impossible in a mega church setting. It is intensely missional.
Now I must be quick to say, I believe the work of the mega-churches is valid and has its place in the Kingdom: the ministry to the dormant unchurched of Christendom. But for reasons stated above, the whole impulse of missional ecclesiology is radically different than mega-church. Do you agree wit me? that mega church is by nature contrary to the notions of missional church? What other reasons are there for why megachurch cannot go missional in the ways we’re all trying to hold onto in this synchroblog?
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