The Church is by nature #missional (Taken with instagram)
Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
These stats are taken from a friend’s Ph.D dissertation:
34% of the U.S. adult population has not attended any type of church service during the past 6 months
6 out of 10 unchurched people consider themselves to be Christian
1 out of every 3 is unchurched (73 million adults)
Since 1991, the adult population in the US has grown by 15%, and during the same period the number of adults who do not attend church has nearly doubled (39 million to 75 million)
Roughly half of all churches in America didn’t add one new person through conversion growth last year
Without a major shift in the way we ‘do church’ this trend will only continue. If we continue to wait for people to come to us in order to hear the Good News, within the next twenty years we will be a country with a Christian residue only. Live sent!
Recently, I’ve been reading selected writings by Roland Allen from his book The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church. For those of you unfamiliar with Allen, he was an early twentieth century Anglican missionary and missiologist who had a profound influence on Lesslie Newbigin. In many ways, much of the current discussion about the missional church finds its roots in Allen’s writings.
At any rate, Allen is obsessed with (in a good way) trying to understand how and why the early church expanded spontaneously, why the church was spontaneously expanding in the East in his day, and why this spontaneous expansion wasn’t happening in the West. Here’s how Allen defines spontaneous expansion.
I mean the expansion which follows the unexhorted and unorganized activity of individual members of the Church explaining to others the Gospel which they have found for themselves; I mean the expansion which follows the irresistible attraction of the Christian Church for men who see its ordered life, and are drawn to it by desire to discover the secret of a life which they instinctively desire to share; I mean also the expansion of the Church by the addition of new Churches.
Essentially, what Allen describes here is a CPM (Church Planting Movement) and a wonderfully concise description of ‘sentness.’ Allen’s analysis as to why this happened is as insightful as his definition.
The rapid and wide expansion of the Church in the early centuries was due in the first place mainly to the spontaneous activity of individuals. A natural instinct to share with others a new-found joy, strengthened and enlightened by the divine Grace of Christ, the Saviour, inevitably tends to impel men to propagate the Gospel.
As a pastor, one of the lessons Allen has taught me is that the pastoral task is not to control various ministries. Rather, I need to give up control and instead lead people to be compelled by the Spirit. Because we as pastors have excelled at structuring and programming the Spirit right out of our ministries we simply haven’t given the Holy Spirit the freedom to do what He does best—expand his Church.
Allen goes on to write:
No one, then, was surprised at the spontaneous efforts of individual Christians to convert others to their Faith. They probably thought it quite natural. Thus as men moved about there were constantly springing up new groups of Christians in different places. The Church expanded simply by organizing these little groups as they were converted, handing on to them the organization which she had received from her first founders. It was itself a unity composed of a multitude of little churches any one of which could propagate itself, and consequently the reception of any new group of Christians was a very simple matter. By a simple act the new group was brought into the unity of the Church, and equipped, as its predecessors had been equipped, not only with all the spiritual power and authority necessary for its own life as an organized unit, but also with all the authority needed to repeat the same process whenever one of its members might convert men in any new village or town. Thus the results of the spontaneous labour of any individual Christian were naturally and easily consolidated and established within the unity of the Church.
Sounds like a decentralized network of house churches or a cell church, doesn’t it? For those of us in the position of helping churches and denominations process what it means to be missional it’s helpful to appeal to Allen. We all want spontaneous expansion. A voice from the distant past sometimes carries more weight with skeptics than the current missional writers who are frequently viewed as following the latest fad in evangelicalism.
So let’s read Allen, let’s ask God to give us ears to hear what Spirit says to the Church, and let’s live out of our ‘sentness’ so that we too might see the spontaneous expansion of God’s church.
Here’s a little back story from Miriam’s blog about why we feel God is leading us to adopt. Miriam, thanks for posting this!
Here’s an even better video that describes the shift to missional. If you are in a position of helping your church transition to missional this is a great little resource to push the envelope and stimulate discussion.
Great little video depicting the kind of mental shift needed to live missionally. May God multiply this kind of church, the kind that sends out its members to reach people where they are at.
Check out Miriam’s new blog. She’s posting about our adoption journey.
There is some wonderful stuff in this message that fills out ‘sentness’ and why it’s important to the Christian life. Keller draws out the connection between sentness and joy among other things.
For those of you who connected with me at the Onward to Missional workshop at the EFCA Leadership Conference in San Diego last week, this would be a great follow-up message to listen to, especially if you’re still trying to wrap your head around what it means to live with a posture of ‘sentness.’
If as a church we keep sending out as many missionaries as the number of people coming into church through conversion so that our net growth is zero, would we be considered a healthy church under evangelicalism’s current church health metrics (buildings, bodies, budgets)? What if we never break the 300 barrier because of this? What might this say about our current standard of metrics? May God change the scorecard. Live sent!