Feb 26

Rev Gav

Co-Missional Church

FAB.church is a co-missional church and this article is a continual challenge and reminder for us all to think ‘out of the box’ and seek the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Chapters

Summary, Abstract, and Preface
1. Basic Assumptions
2. Our current model of church
3. Metaphors for church
4. Co-missional church
5. Transition
6. Engagement
7. Worship
8. Youth
9. Mega Church
10. Ecumenism
11. Numbers
12. Sustained Encounters
13. Leaders
14. And finally…
15. FAQ

Summary

This article is designed to be an easy-to-read, non-academic book for those who, like me, struggle to think and reflect about church and mission. Hopefully, it will be food for thought, inspire, encourage and open up a wealth of possibilities. It is not an instruction manual for a tried and tested off-the-shelf product, rather it is more like the blueprint for an experimental plane (I am the sort of person who would rather try and build and fly the experimental plane rather than buy an off-the-shelf clone).

Abstract

In this article, I will argue that God has a mission to reach every single person in our communities – that, as Archbishop Rowan Williams puts it — every person should encounter Jesus and be sustained in that encounter. Yet the model, in terms of both structure and mission strategy, we have for being church is not fit for purpose, and if we are to seriously engage with the mission of God then a radical shake-up of the way we be church needs to take place. I argue that it is reasonable to assume that God has gone ahead of us and that it is by looking at the dysfunctionality in, what should be a functional church, that we might detect signs of God’s plan to fulfil his mission. I then use this information to imagine what church might be like in the future.

Preface

This article came about after a good friend of mine asked me, quite rightly, “Can you identify what God is doing in your community and join in?” Despite being a bit of a Christian cliché, this was profoundly the most important question I could have been asked, after all, is it not my calling as a Christian, as Paul writes, to do God’s “good and perfect will”? And is God not active, alive and at work in the neighbourhood in which I live, work, play, and minister? And is not God living in me by his Holy Spirit? Therefore, it is entirely logical that I should be able to discern, without too much difficulty, that which ‘God is doing in my community’. Oh, how I wish that that were true! In fact, on the face of it, I find it quite difficult to discern what God is doing in my community. Yes, I can see the small sparks of light of God’s work in the lives of those around me, but these sparks seem disconnected from each other and I cannot help feel there is a bigger picture or plan that I am missing. I think that this is because I am so embroiled in life that it is very difficult for me to see the wood from the trees. My view is obscured by the pressing and often desperate needs of individuals and families, engagements that need to be kept, talks to plan, projects to initiate, projects to keep alive, a wife to be a good husband to, children to be a good father to, a dog to mow, a lawn to walk, and so on and so on. I am not saying that it is impossible to discern God’s will in the midst of a life fully lived – but in order to see the wood from the trees, one sometimes needs to ascend up the hill to a quiet mountain top. Only then can you see the valley laid out before you and identify certain landmarks and features. This article is an attempt to do just that. I hope, that through writing, ideas and patterns will come into view and that I will, as my friend asked, be able to identify what God is doing in my community.

Let me also add that I like to throw a lot of mud at walls and see what sticks. In this article, I will raise lots of ideas and questions. Some of them might be fantasy, some might be daft, but perhaps some of them might just be of God. I whole-heartedly expect the reader to weigh-up these ideas, challenge them and discuss them. This article is a starter for dialogue and not the final word.

1. Basic assumptions

A God of Mission

Here is something that we need to get into our heads – something that needs to stick there. I will space the words out, Rob Bell style to make my point.

[chew lip, then look directly into the camera]
God wants to reach everyone.
Everyone.
Doesn’t he?
[pause for dramatic effect]

God has a heart for everyone in your community – the old, the young, the able, the infirm, everyone. He does not only have a heart for the 100 or so Christians that meet on a Sunday in a parish of 8000 people (or the 20 or so Christians that meet on a Sunday in a parish of 2000 people).
Why then, does the church often not have a very large impact in our communities? Why is the church marginalised? Why does the church seem to be something to which only a handful of people belong? How come there are churches that are not growing, and worse still, churches that are shrinking? Why do people who do not go to church feel so disconnected from the church saying things like, “I’m not religious”? Why does it feel like an insiders club that takes place behind closed doors on a Sunday morning? Why don’t people feel like inviting their friends to church? And if, as statistics tell us, 70% of people in the United Kingdom pray, how come 65% of those do not connect with the 5% of Christians who think that prayer is a pretty cool thing to do?

Jurgen Moltmann (I always feel it is a good idea to start with someone far brainier than me) wrote, “The church of God does not have a mission. The God of mission has a church.” I love that. It is bang on. And God’s mission is very simple. God’s plan has never changed. He called Abraham to bless the word that the word might know that God is God. He called Israel to bless the world that the world might know that God is God. He calls Christians to bless the world that the world might know that God is God. The point of being a Christian is not just so we can be connected to God or go to heaven when we die. Yes, it is absolutely right, important and necessary that we are connected to Jesus, but the point of the connection to Jesus is so we can join with Jesus, as children of God, in God’s ongoing mission in the world.

Sadly, particularly in evangelical circles — the church stable from which I am from — our evangelism strategy has been focused on converting people so that they will not go to hell — as if that has been the purpose of salvation. This idea seems somewhat removed from the teachings of Jesus who seemed to focus, not on what people were being saved from, but what people were being saved to. Jesus was interested in whether people were connected to him and joining in with God’s purposes and plans for the world.

We are called to be agents or ambassadors for God. Jesus did not simply connect his disciples to himself — through his life, death and resurrection — and end the story there. No, he told them to go out and do good stuff – heal, restore, forgive, preach. This is salvation — a life connected to Jesus, turned around, and joining in. This is what Jesus called The Kingdom of God. Mission and church should not be separated.

Contextual Church

Secondly, the model of church we employ should depend on the context. I am not sure I need to go into great detail to explain my rationale for this premise, other than I argue that it is wholly biblical, rational and historical. The church has continually adopted and changed its method of ‘doing’ church throughout the generations since Christ. In fact, the ordinal from The Church of England states that priests should ‘proclaim Jesus afresh in each generation’. It is the same Jesus that we seek to proclaim, but the methods and approaches are up for grabs. I know I am going to labour this point but it is because the point is vitally important. It is down to those whom God has called to lead in a given area of mission — be it geographical or network — to discern, through the help of the Holy Spirit, the best model for mission and church in that community. Let me give you an example. It would seem highly inappropriate to employ a method of being church with elderly people in a rural English village that expresses worship through blessing the local school through DJing workshops! Similarly, it might not be appropriate for mission into the DJing world to insist teenage DJs recite the words from the Book of Common Prayer. Now, I know that the examples I have just quoted seem obvious; perhaps even bordering on ridiculous, yet nearly every church I know of adopts a one-size-fits-all approach.

A hundred years ago the church in England was very much a church context with one culture. Nearly everyone had contact with his or her local church — either directly or indirectly. We then moved from a churched context to a de-churched context. Twenty years ago, despite most people not connecting with church, they knew what church was about; they knew who Jesus was, and understood something about the Christian faith. This is why the Alpha Course works so well with de-churched people. We now find ourselves in an unchurched multicultural context. This means that in our communities many people have never been in contact with church and do not know who Jesus is.

Once, during some street ministry to young people, I asked a teenage girl who Jesus was. She thought for a moment, and asked, “Wasn’t he that guy who had all those locusts come out of his mouth?”

Also, culturally we live in a society with many subcultures — it is truly multicultural, therefore, we live in a society that is a mission context, but worse, it is a mishmash of mission contexts or a multiplicity of mission contexts.

The Massai Tribe in Kenya is an example of a single culture that had never heard about Jesus. To reach this tribe with the good news of Jesus, we sent and still send missionaries to them. These missionaries do not seek to change the Massai culture, rather to seed the gospel into that culture. In the same way, we need to send missionaries into our culture — the community on our doorstep is an unchurched people, however, unlike the Massai Tribe, our community is likely not just one culture but multiple cultures. The answer? We need multiple missionaries to our own communities.

Often, in a geographical community, you find a mixture of different kinds of people — with different social-economic backgrounds, interests, ages, educational ability, and so on. In a single geographical community we have what we in the church would call completely different mission contexts. The point is that in a single geographical community, there is no single context for doing church. Yet the local churches often adopt a similar approach to doing church, and they often all attempt to reach or serve the whole community using a single method. Given that the method of doing church should be contextual, I cannot help but feel that such churches will have only minimal success in reaching their communities with the love of Christ. As Richard Wilson, former vicar of Twerton in Bath said, “Are you with me?”

I am going to suggest a strategy for doing church in contexts that themselves have a multiplicity of sub-contexts, but more than that, I am going to suggest that God has already gone ahead of us and is already doing something in our communities — something with which we can identify and join in.

2. Our current model of church

One parish one vicar

The current model of church in the Church of England is pretty much a one-parish, one-church, and one-vicar approach. This is what we call a centralised structure. In this one-size-fits-all church, and as I have already pointed out, the vicar needs to be super-human to be able to cope with the demands of leading a congregation with such a large ministry area. In fact, I would go further and say that this model of church cannot reach everyone with the love of Christ, and given our current social context, this model of church cannot sustain everyone in an encounter with Jesus. I hate to be the one who points out the elephant in the room that nobody is mentioning, but isn’t this kind of important?

The very gifted, capable and energy-filled vicars can, yes, hold together a large church. The danger is that the church is centred around this person and when the very gifted, capable and energy-filled vicar leaves and is replaced with someone less gifted, capable and energy-filled, the congregation cannot be held together and numbers begin to fall.

I am sure there are places in which this model of church works brilliantly and is able to connect and reach the whole community, but I expect that these are churches in small, rural parishes with small numbers of people. I think too, that the parish model worked well a hundred years ago.

Pat is an elderly member of St. Edith’s Church. “When I was a girl”, she told me, “the parish was much smaller and we had four curates.” The parish she is speaking of now has ten thousand people in it with one minister. When she was a girl it had about one thousand people in it with five ministers. Today the minister is swamped with funerals and the diocese are talking about making the minister responsible for the next-door parishes too, so he or she will be responsible for three congregations! Without a radical shake-up of the model of ministry in this parish, the church will not be sustainable.

Parishes have enlarged in terms of numbers of people, and there are fewer clergy in each parish, but what I find astonishing is that deaneries are merging parishes and clergy are expected to be responsible for even more people. I once met one vicar who was responsible for nine congregations! In some ways I think this is a good thing because it is forcing the issue. The model will become so unsustainable that change will be the only option left.

Event driven

One feature common to our current model of being church is that we are event driven. We do the whole Sunday thing. Now, there is nothing wrong with doing the Sunday thing. There is nothing wrong with events and a gathered church needs to gather. However, our way of doing church means that much of our time and effort focuses around the Sunday thing. It would be an interesting exercise to total up the number of human-hours it takes to prepare and deliver a Sunday service. The time it takes to keep, maintain and clean the building. The time it takes to buy and arrange the flowers. The time it takes for the music team or organist or choir to practice. The time it takes for the service sheets or news-sheets to be prepared. The time it takes to make PowerPoint presentations, writes talks, prepare intercessions, get tea and coffee sorted, prepare children’s work, and so on.

Sundays are geared to energise and prepare people for the rest of their week. They are often front-led and for whatever reason, are mostly non-participatory. The word ‘service’ should give us a clue to the nature of the beast. As a brain-stretching exercise, imagine if the Sunday gatherings were the other way around, and as the church gathered, were an expression of what had been happening in the community during the week? Instead of Sundays energising the week, what if the week energised Sundays?

Mission

I will never forget when a church leader preached about the way we have done evangelism — where the church is like a castle and every so often we lower the drawbridge, rush out, grab some non-Christians, hit them over the head, drag them back into the castle, and raise the drawbridge. Our mission strategy has been to get people along on Sunday. This is what is called an attractional mission strategy. Even though we know in our hearts that being a Christian is not about going to church, we still measure our success by our Sunday attendance. If there was ever an appalling strategy for mission then it is to try and get people to come along to a Sunday! Let’s face it and be brutally honest; unless you have grown up in the church, church is weird. Urban D, the leader of Crossover Church in the USA said, “There are only two places people see pews. In a church and in the court-room.” He has got a point. The style of language is often different from the rest of the world. The style of music is often different from the rest of the world. In a culture where most people have never been to a church service, it is an alien environment. And yet, this has been our primary mission strategy. Even if we do cool events out there in the community, and we are passionate about seeing people connected to Jesus, our end goal has been to see people come along on a Sunday. Are we completely bonkers or what?

The way the The Alpha Course is often implemented, is a good example of a church engaged in an attractional mission strategy. Before I get hounded for slating the Alpha Course, let me assure you that I do not think there is anything wrong with the content of the Alpha Course. Okay, so the talks can be a bit long and cerebral, and its discipling focus leans towards knowledge rather than action — but it is a useful tool in the mission bag. Anyway, a typical way in which Alpha is used, is for the church to decide to put on an Alpha as its primary mission strategy. It decides to put on a course and then invites anyone or everyone into the church to attend. If people come along, and they complete the course and decide to join the church, we find them something to do in the church. We put them in a house group, we get them to come along on Sundays and we get them involved in a church role. I question the effectiveness of the blanket-use of Alpha in this way. Have we not done just what the previous preacher warned us about? Have we not just taken someone out of the world and dragged him or her over the drawbridge of our castle?

Worship

I am not sure if there is a job more difficult than leading worship in a typical Anglican church. Oh yes, there is — being a youth leader. Okay, apart from being a youth leader, there is no job more difficult than being a worship leader — but I’ll come on to that later.

The worship in the parish church is often incredibly narrow. In the Church of England we have a one-size-fits-all liturgy, and our music is either organ-led hymns or middle-of-the-road rock music. It is true to say that quite often, for this style of worship, the Church of England does execute it very well.

However, for many people, worship means songs. I am not sure when ‘worship’ came to mean the singing bit in a service. I know that many clergy and pastors know that worship is not just the singing bit, but over and over again, I hear the leader say, “We are going to have a time of worship and then…” where ‘worship’ means singing. This reinforces the idea that worship equals singing. Now, I love singing, and I love singing with a large group of people, however, we need to come to the realisation that this is an alien concept to a large number of people. Combined with a mission strategy that gets people into a Sunday service, often the first thing an unchurched person encounters is an expression of worship that involves corporate singing. Worse still, many of our modern worship songs are incredibly, how do I put this — lovey dovey. I often cringe when I see someone come along to church for the first time,  and they have to stand there feeling uncomfortable while we sing, “I love you Jesus, you’re my only one. Kissy, kissy, smoochy, smoochy.” Okay, so I added the kissy, kissy, smoochy, smoochy bit, but you get the point?

3. Metaphors for church

In this section I am going to describe two metaphors for the church that will introduce us to some key concepts in understanding our missional context for church. The first metaphor — the church as a garden — will hopefully help us recognise the need for conditions for discipleship and the structures for ongoing care. The second metaphor — the church as computer — will hopefully help us understand the difference between an attractional and an incarnational model as well as the difference between a centralised and distributed mission strategy.

The Church as a Garden

I am a pragmatist and I make no apology for the fact. I think logically. I need to understand the structure of things. I think in straight lines and I like to put things in boxes. I am Spock! Do not misunderstand me — I love creativity and abundant organic growth. It is just that one cannot exist without the other. For example, as I write this I am listening to one of Mozart’s vespers on my iPod — quite possibly one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written. Yet, underpinning the music is a set of rules — borders if you will. Some of these boundaries are non-negotiable, for example, musical notation and the rules of harmony and dissonance, the physical range of the instruments and voices. Mozart was also influenced both consciously and unconsciously by somewhat softer boundaries such as his cultural context, the music he listened to, history, personal circumstances, and so on. The point is, that without these boundaries, Mozart would not have been able to create music that transcends generations.

I love gardening. I am not a great gardener and I have much to learn, but I can make a garden look beautiful. I spent two years working hard to develop a community centre garden, and as I write, the garden is in full bloom and looks stunning. However, a garden has a great deal of order to it. There are different areas — each with distinct characteristics. There is the lawn, the flowering borders, the play area, the sheds and water butts, the paths, the patios, the fruit patches, and vegetable plot. There are the pots and hanging baskets, the little stone walls, and the trees. The garden needs constant care and attention. Weeds need pulling, damage needs repairing, plants need watering. Yet, if it was not for all this order and maintenance, there would be less growth, and the garden would not be so beautiful.

I think the garden is a great metaphor for the church. I wish I could take all the credit for this incredible metaphor yet it was Paul, not I who wrote, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.” And Jesus used the metaphors of seed planting, vineyards, and harvesting throughout his ministry.

If the church is like a garden, and the plants are people — beautifully diverse with masses of room for potential growth and development, then it becomes clear that we need to figure out two things. Firstly, we need to identify the different conditions in which growth can take place. Secondly, we need to establish the boundaries and structures for ongoing care and maintenance that will enable the plants to flourish. Let me make this absolutely clear because this is of paramount importance. Plants need different conditions in which to grow, and they need to have boundaries and on-going care and attention. I know that this might sound terribly obvious, but it begs the following question. Why do we insist that people in the church find and develop their Christianity in one set of conditions, with one style of worship, and with one type of structure for ongoing discipleship, pastoral care, and support? Is this not like having a garden with just a lawn, or just a patio, or just one giant vegetable patch? If we did this, would we not create the conditions to grow just one kind of plant? The problem is that the inherited model of church in a given geographical area employs a one-size-fits-all approach to ministry – and this goes for the non-denominational churches as well as the established denominational churches.

The Church as Computer

Computers have always fascinated me, a bug (excuse the pun) I caught from my father who studied computer science in the early 1970s. I remember the excitement when we got our first home computer with two millionths of the memory than the Apple laptop on which I am writing this.

Back in the early days of computing, computers were big. They would fill a room or even a small building. This was the era of the mainframe computer. Often the mainframe sat in a hallowed area. Only specialised personnel, wearing white lab coats, would be allowed to go into the same room as it. You would make contact with the mainframe through one or more terminals stationed around the building. There was a limit to the number of terminals that could access the mainframe simultaneously. If you wanted to run a program then you would have to buy some time on the mainframe. When your slot came, you would feed in your carefully punched cards or tape and wait for your results to be printed or displayed. To access the mainframe you had to have expert knowledge of the programming language and how to use the specialist technology.

Today, we have a mainframe sitting on every desk and in almost every home. Computing has become available to all. The computers come in a variety of flavours — games consoles, handheld PDAs, desktop PCs, laptops, netbooks, and smartphones. The world of computing has moved from a centralised model to a distributed model, but more than that, to maximise market penetration, it has also moved from an attractional strategy to an incarnational strategy. In other words, rather than all gamers using mini clones of the mainframe for gaming, computers have clothed themselves as game consoles. Instead of using a clone of the mainframe computer to story your events, the computer has clothed itself as a diary in the form of a PDA.

Therefore, instead of being one church we need to move to there being many churches, and instead of all the churches looking the same (clones), they need to be different expressions.

Summary

To summarise, the church (leader) needs to:

  • Identify the different conditions in which spiritual growth can take place.
  • Establish the boundaries and structures for ongoing spiritual care and maintenance.
  • Move from a centralised model to a distributed model of being church.
  • Adopt an incarnational strategy rather than an attractional strategy for mission.

4. Co-missional Church

What is clear is that the current church, and the models or structures that it employs, is not reaching everyone in a given community. The question is; how does the church fulfil the mission of God to introduce everyone in a given community to Jesus and give them the opportunity to join in with the mission of God?

Given that our society is multicultural and largely unchurched — full of people who will connect with God in different ways, and express worship in different ways — it seems logical that we will need a range of different missional churches in one community. Each church will have a distinct missional focus, and because of this, will look and feel different from each other church.

Co-missional church is a church that is both distributed and incarnational.

A mixed-economy of churches

To reach everyone in our communities with the love of Christ, we will need a multitude of smaller churches. Each church will worship and seek to bless the community in a different way. This is truly what Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, calls a mixed-economy church. The local church in a given community needs to seed as many churches as possible, and each of those churches, in time, needs to seed as many churches as possible.

I once attended a church that regarded itself as successful. It had, at the time, an electoral roll of 400 people. The church was growing by 20 people per year. In fact, it was more like about 5 new conversions per year, and with the natural flow of people leaving the total growth was only about 5 people per year. But, let’s assume that it really was growing by 20 people per year. The size of the parish was 16,000 people. You can do the maths to figure out how many people would need to be connected to Jesus each year to reach 16,000! Anyway, one Sunday, I stood at the front and pointed out that if the church of 400 people split into 20 churches of 20 people, that each of those individual churches would only have to grow by 1 person per year to match the rate of growth of the larger church. In fact, to grow by 5 people per year (the current rate of growth), each of those individual churches would only have to reach 1 person every 4 years!

Seeking to bless the wider community through?

Each smaller church will seek to bless the community through something. It will have a clearly defined purpose. This will be the church’s spiritual act of worship. Each church will not just be a common interest group. For example, it will not simply be a church of artists, however, it might be a church of artists who seek to bless the community through facilitating art workshops in the local rest homes, schools and centres for people with learning difficulties.

The possibilities for churches are endless:

  • Toddler Church
  • Children’s Church
  • Café Church
  • Creative Arts Church
  • Sunday Church
  • Thursday Church
  • DIY Church
  • Charity Church
  • Media and Internet Church

The more expressions of church in a given community, the better. We need an expression of church such that just about anyone would find a church with a mission though which they can connect.

Two sayings, popular in Christian circles, apply to this kind of church model:

  • Caught not taught
  • Belong before you believe

The Rose Cottage project in Twerton, Bath exhibited features of church. Rose Cottage was a group of Christians — followers of Jesus — who blessed the wider community through running a community centre and café. The mantra of Rose Cottage was ‘join in’.

David heard about Rose Cottage from a friend. He was not a Christian and came along to the café to see what it was all about. David had some catering experience and after a few visits asked if he could volunteer in the café. As he got to know the team, they explained that they were Christians seeking to bless the wider community through a community café, and that prayer was part of what the community did together. David started volunteering. Each morning the team would pray together for the project and each other. After several weeks, David asked for prayer and a few weeks after that, David prayed out loud to Jesus himself!

David had never been in a church; he had never been on an Alpha Course; he had never said a sinner’s prayer; yet David was ‘getting it’. He was modelling what Jesus did, and had started on a path of spirituality with God. David belonged before he believed and he caught what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus.

Church as a team

We should all be familiar with the body analogy for the church where Paul describes the church as being a body with many parts, each with a role to play. So often, in the one-size-fits-all church people struggle to find a role. However, in Co-missional Church, because the churches are smaller, every member will have a role. Each church will act less like a group and much more like a team.

No Sunday gathering

Each church will not be required to meet on Sunday but will be required to meet each week. They will pray together — particularly for the mission to which they have been called. They may sing together or use their own liturgy together. They will encourage each other. They will offer each other pastoral support. In fact, they will do many if not al the things churches do! However, in keeping with fresh expressions of church, the style will look like what it looks like.

I once held a church gathering of hip-hop artists including breakdancers. One of the breakdancers, Sarah, was beginning to connect with Jesus and I wanted her to be able to express worship, so I asked,
“Have you thought of breakdancing as an expression of worship?”
“Can I do that?” she replied.
“Oh yes!” I replied confidently, not real having a clue.
Sarah started to breakdance, but instead of dancing to show off or be better than someone else, she used her movements to express how she felt about God. Sarah started worshipping.

Network

Each church will be part of a network of churches (this is the co in co-missional) in a given community. I say network, because the churches will no doubt interact with each other in a multitude of ways. For example, they may share buildings or people may belong to more than one church. Each church will also be a community or network of relationships.

Celebrations

I imagine that in a given geographical area the core members (bearing in mind that each church will necessarily have very blurry edges in terms of membership) of the different churches would come together to share and learn from one another. Perhaps once every month one of the churches could share a bit about themselves — their successes, failures, hopes and dreams. Perhaps representatives of the other churches would seek to support them and pray for them? Although the different churches would not have a worship style in common, they will all have mission in common.

From vicar to bishop

I suggest that for God’s mission to be fulfilled that we need ministers and vicars who are going to be bold enough to re-imagine and re-paint the picture of parochial (parish-based) ministry or ministry in a given geographical area. The parish priest is called to have oversight of a given parish and this is entirely proper and right. However, the parish priest cannot and should not attempt to hold one congregation. The good news is that the oversight role of bishop requires the exact skills by which parish priests have been selected!

From Church to Cathedral

The church in England has inherited lots of old buildings. The Baptists have them, the Methodists have them, the Anglicans have them. Rather than seeing these buildings being a millstone around the churches neck in terms of finance and maintenance, these buidings and the people who support them could become superb resources for the wider church community – the distributed, incarnational churches dotted around the place. The church building could become a meeting space, a resourcing space, a training space. There could be an expression of co-missional church whose mission purpose is to make this happen! They would ask the question — how can we support the other churches — what are their prayer needs, their training needs, their respite needs? The traditional church is ideally placed to serve in this way.

A mind shift

Although the concept of what I have dubbed Co-missional Church is simple to comprehend, it does take a mind shift – and it can be awfully difficult for us who are so embedded in the old model to get our heads around thinking differently.

Mercy Community Church runs a toddler group. The toddler group is successful in that lots of mums and toddlers from the local community are coming along. The leaders of the group do not meet apart from when the toddler group is running and they are all thinking of how they can introduce Jesus into the mix. How do they get the mums to become Christians? And if they do want to become Christians, which church will they come along to? Well, this is the old way of thinking! STOP!

What if the toddler group was not run by Mercy Community Church but by Toddler Church. Because the members of Toddler Church were not tied to going somewhere else on Sundays, they could meet together on a regular basis for prayer, worship and fellowship. Now, through the relationships that were built between the members of Toddler Church and the mums, a mum who expressed interest in finding more about Jesus could ‘join in with what God is doing’. The mum would not need to be immersed into an alien environment and would be invited to be part of a small worshipping community where she could be discipled, encouraged to explore her faith, and express her Christianity through having a role in Toddler Church.

Toddler Church would grow and eventually split into two Toddler Churches – no doubt with slightly different emphases. Even if both Toddler Churches reached 40 mums between them, this is a fraction of the number of mums in the community. We need to keep our eye on the big picture. God wants to reach everyone!

5. Transition

Let me assume you have agreed with a bit of what I have been writing about and you want to make the transition from an attractional/centralised model of church to an incarnational/distributed model of church. So far we have been looking at big picture stuff and now we need to focus less on the woods and in on the trees. You, as a leader or member of a local church, have to start from where you are and with the people with whom you are currently connected — the church as you know it. And it is to the church members that we now turn.

We need to recognise he problems in our current model

I am going to discuss some general observations that outline some of the issues that face the local church. The engine of the Church is not running smoothly and we need to listen to the knocking sounds coming from various parts to identify what the problem is. The longevity of the engine is a stake.

I once towed a boat from Cornwall to Bath. At one point in the journey I could hear a slight grinding sound just audible over the sound of the engine. Listening intently, I discovered that it seemed to be coming from one side of the boat trailer. When I stopped the car and went back and looked that the wheels I discovered that the back of the housing for the bearings had perished on one of the wheels. Had I continued the wheel would have fallen off and he whole trailer would have crashed — possibly taking I and my family with it! The bearings are such a small part, and I could easily have chosen to ignore the sound.

When I was at theological college, Craig Smith, a dynamic lecturer, pointed out that it was not the similarities but the differences in the gospel accounts of Jesus that were interesting because it was here that the author wanted to communicate something to his readers. In the same way, perhaps the issues and problems we face in the local church are telling us something about what God is wishing to communicate to us? So it is to these problems that we now turn.

Discerning the spiritual dynamic

The issues that face the Christian church highlight that there is a high level of dysfunction in the current model of church. But more importantly, they highlight to me that God is at work — that there is a move of the Holy Spirit taking place. It is possible to stand back and spot a pattern emerging, a joining-of-the-dots so to speak.

If God wants to reach every single person in our community with his love then God will be working towards fulfilling his purposes. It is the same Holy Spirit that drove or propelled Jesus out into the wilderness that fills Christians in our churches today. It should come as no surprise to us if we, like Jesus, will be driven out of our comfort zones. I would like to suggest that God has gone ahead of his church and that the Holy Spirit has been at work arranging, envisioning, and equipping the Church for mission. Like a military strategist, God has been working behind the scenes, putting things in place.

Doing something about it

How on earth does a parish church or church in a given geographical area move from a centralised structure of church with an attractional mission strategy to a distributed structure of church and an incarnational mission strategy? How do we seed multiple congregations into our community, whilst being part of one united church? The task feels almost overwhelming. The questions seem too big. The risks appear too great.
Each community and parish is different. I doubt if a one-size-fits-all strategy of moving from one model of church to another will work. Certainly, it will take great sensitivity, wisdom, and guidance from God through his Holy Spirit in each parish context. However, perhaps if we listen to the dysfunctionality in the church and seek to address this dysfunctionality, it will give us a place to start.

6. Engagement

Recognising the problem

During my years as a member of the Church of England., as a lay person, PCC member, priest and community worker, I have encountered a large number of Christians who are dissatisfied with their churches. I can think of several people that I would call strong and seasoned Christians who are dissatisfied with their church. Some end up church hopping — moving from church to church using phrases such as, “I didn’t like the vicar” or “I didn’t like the worship” or “My needs weren’t being met.” Whereas others withdraw into cliques, drawing around themselves others who revel in each other’s disillusionment with the church — and at worst indulging in bitter cynicism. It is so easy for us Christians who are on the inside, and who have become disillusioned, to point the finger and find fault with ‘the church’ forgetting all to readily that we are the church! Still others become disengaged from church and they become indifferent and apathetic. They lose all the spark and sparkle of being a Christian, alive and connected to Jesus through his Holy Spirit.

Matthew is a schoolteacher. He has been a long-standing member of St. Philip’s and lives in the parish. He has three children and one of the draws of the church was the children’s work. Matthew threw himself into working in the church. He led the children’s groups on a Sunday morning and also helped lead family services once a week. Although Matthew was a fully paid up member of St. Philip’s, he never really felt comfortable. He found fault with small things — a decision here, a way of doing something there. He felt that the leadership didn’t listen to him and slowly he became disconnected from St. Philip’s. Eventually, he left and now goes to another church outside the parish. He is a great loss to St. Philip’s. I’m not even sure the leaders of St. Philip’s have realised that he has gone.

Theresa has been a pain in the butt at Peace Chapel. She writes for medical journals, is a biology teacher and a bit of an academic and amateur theologian. She loves to talk about God and church. She threw herself into Peace Chapel for years but never really felt her talents were being used. There was no opportunity to use her gifts of writing or teaching. She tried to write for the parish magazine but her articles were too academic. She tried home groups but found that she dominated; wanting to challenge and talk in a deep intellectual way that often frightened others off. In some ways, Theresa was just too much. Eventually, Theresa left Peace Chapel feeling disgruntled and now goes to another church just outside the parish.

A friend of mine, Tony Simmons — a loud-mouthed and soft-hearted Christian — would often be the first to open our weekly church prayer meeting. In his cockney accent he would say something along the lines of, “Jesus, before we start praying for the problems in the world and in our community, start with me.” How true he is. It is only when we admit that the world’s problems start with me, and put ourselves aside — our prejudices, our disillusionments, and our cynicism that the Holy Spirit can start to work to rebuild his church.

My question is how do we be church in a way that connects with those who are dissatisfied — particularly the church hopper and the cynicist? I do not believe that their dissatisfaction is really about the vicar or the worship or their needs. As Rob Bell points out, “This is always about that.” The question is, what is the ‘that’?

What pains me, is that often, these dissatisfied or disillusioned or indifferent Christians are the most passionate and committed people — people who have served and given large amounts of time and money to the church. They are also often creative and highly intelligent people — for example, teachers, artists, and writers. These are the very people who should be driving the church and reaching their communities with the love of Christ. Instead they have become disenfranchised.

Discerning the spiritual dynamic

Perhaps it is one of the devil’s greater works that so many gifted Christians are disabled in this way? We need a method of being church that re-engages these people — a way of proclaiming and living the gospel that revitalises them such that they shout, “Yes, that’s it – I want to be part of that!”

What if it is the Holy Spirit who is driving out the creative, capable, seasoned Christians, causing them to feel disillusioned, discontent, dissatisfied or frustrated with church? What if the Holy Spirit is acting like a pincushion on a seat preventing people from becoming settled or complacent? Perhaps this would explain why it is often the talented, creative, capable and committed members of the church that feel this way?
It should come as no surprise that creative, academic people feel frustrated with a church model where ‘Get involved in church’ means ‘Get involved on Sundays’. If you remember back to the two examples of Matthew and Theresa — the only way they were expressing their faith was through Sunday church, and for people called by God to reach the wider community, this just was not enough. They were like caged animals, pacing up and down the side of the cage looking through the bars. The only option in the end was to escape by jumping into the next cage — hoping that this cage was a bit bigger. What they really needed was to be put back into the wild!

Doing something about it

Firstly, the church leaders need to sit down and engage with the people who feel discontented, disillusioned or disenfranchised from mainstream church. We need to listen to their frustrations. We need to see past the outward expressions of their frustrations that will no doubt have focused on targets such as ‘the vicar’ or trivialities such as ‘the altar cloth’ and see the heart and passion for Jesus that has never waned.

Secondly, we need to invite these people to join in and ask for their help. Some may be too disillusioned and will not be convinced that they have a role to play in God’s bigger plan for the church, but I am convinced that many are waiting to hear exactly this — that God as at work and change is afoot.

  • List the Christians in your community who have become disillusioned, discontent or disenfranchised from your church.
  • Make a plan to visit each of these people in turn. Communicate something of what God has been saying, but importantly, listen and invite them to join in.

7. Worship

Recognising the problem

Is there a church on the planet that does not have people in it that seek to undermine and lobby their own agendas? Is there a Christian leader that has not at some point in their ministry been hurt by their congregation? Sadly it has been my experience — and it seems to centre around one thing. Yes, there is one thing that people argue about and criticise more than anything, and that is worship.

Sadly, I have been bullied by some members of the congregation because I mistakenly left out words in a worship service or did not wear the right thing. On other occasions I have been told that we did not worship for long enough (meaning we did not sing a series of interconnected songs for long enough) or told that we use too much liturgy, as if liturgy was the scourge of the earth, rather than just words people say together! I have been told that worship was too quiet, too loud, to short, too long, too charismatic, not charismatic enough, too high, too low, too many candles, not enough candles, and the list goes on! What is interesting is that it is — on the most part — the same people who complain. It would be all too easy to say that these people were narrow-minded and ignore them. What do they know, right? However, do I believe that these Christians who have faithfully attended the same church for decades, maintained the buildings, poured money into fundraising appeals, missionaries and local projects, are any less passionate about Jesus than I am? The people who complain are not those on the edge of church, who turn up every so often and are not really committed to church. No, the complainers are often committed, mature Christians.

St. Matilda’s is in an interregnum – it is a church between vicars. The last vicar made significant changes to the Sunday gatherings. The services used to be more traditional but she dropped many of the traditions in favour of more contemporary worship songs and a more child-friendly feel. The church grew numerically and there are now a larger number of parents and young children coming along. However, as soon as the old vicar left, various people started putting pressure on the church wardens to select the ‘right sort of vicar’ to fill her shoes. Some think that lively services are inappropriate for a village church and they miss the old services — the candles and incense, the procession at the beginning of the service. Others like the changes and want them to continue.

My question is what is going on with these people for whom the style of worship has become the main thing? I wonder if these worship wars are a symptom of an underlying problem with the way we do church?

The reason I believe that there are arguments about worship is because our worship connects us with God. It is our heartfelt expression of gratitude, thanksgiving, and adoration to our King and Saviour. No wonder it is important to us and worth defending. It is a fact that some people fail to connect with God because there was some liturgy missing or because the congregation did not sing fifteen songs in a row. Does this not point to the fact that these people connect to God in different ways? In our church services, we often get told that we ‘cannot please everyone’ and yet that is exactly what we try and do.

There is another issue with worship and that is, as a worship leader, I can see that some people do not connect or engage with the worship. Now, you could say that this is to do with the state of their hearts rather than style, however, I think that there has been a cultural shift that has taken place. This is particularly evident at weddings and funerals — or any act of worship where the congregation are predominantly non-Christian. During the hymns or songs, people do not sing. A shift has taken place such that we now find ourselves in a situation where people do not sing at all. It sounds incredible, but you would not believe the number of funerals and weddings where I have stood at the front singing solo. It is not just that people do not know the songs — they are not even having a go. Back in our Sunday gatherings we find the same thing but to a lesser extent. Why?

Steve has started coming along to church. He’s a big fell, six foot three, a fireman, and a rugby player. He has come along, partly because he has built up relationships with people in the church, but also because his wife is coming along. His wife often stands at the front of church and she enjoys the singing. During the time of musical worship Steve feels awkward. He finds himself standing at the front of church feeling self-conscious. Most of the people around him are women. Most of the people in the worship group are also women. Steve tries to engage with the worship but he rarely sings — only when he is drunk with his rugby mates at karaoke. Over a pint, Steve said that he doesn’t get why we sing these ‘lovey dovey’ songs about Jesus.

Discerning the spiritual dynamic

Here is an idea. What if God knows that people connect with him through different expressions of worship, and he knows that all those thousands of people who he would desperately like us to reach in the wider community also will connect with him through different expressions of worship? What if God has a plan to reach every person in our community? What if God loves every person in our community, young and old, because God made them? What if God has drawn Christians together who are passionate about God and who connect with him in different ways for the very purpose of connecting the wider community with himself? What if this gathering of people in our local church — people who are passionate about God and passionate about worshipping him though different expressions — is a work of the Holy Spirit? Wouldn’t that change how we see ourselves? What if our expectations are way lower than God’s, and instead of pouring us out into the community, the devil has us arguing with each other about how we should worship on a Sunday?

Doing something about it

Your current congregation are the people that God has gathered with the purpose of reaching the wider community. Therefore it is going to be important that you identify the different ways that these people express and connect with God through worship – and I do not mean just on a Sunday.

There is not going to be one simple way of moving to an incarnational and distributed model of church. However, one method might be to discern the different models of worship within our existing congregations and group members accordingly — with the aim of seeking to engage that specific group in mission. In some churches this has already taken place. I can think of several churches that already have separate congregations centred on different forms of worship. Each group or distinct congregation needs to ask the question, how can I use the way I express my worship of Jesus to bless the wider community? In other words, we are trying to help the current members of the congregation bring together that which has been previously divorced — worship and mission — or worship and the rest of life!

Here is an example. Let’s say you have a group of Christians whose primary way of worshipping is to play loud rock music worship songs. This group of Christian musicians will quite possibly find that they do not engage in the worship unless they are playing or singing. They probably do not engage in spoken forms of worship either. So, we gather this group of Christian musicians and say, “Welcome to your new church – band church! How are you going to bless the wider community?” The group might decide that they are going to meet weekly to play and practice together. They are then going to perform gigs and shows at different venues to bless the wider community. Their ethos is going to be ‘join us’ and other musicians will be invited to join the group.

Now, this last example might sound radical but it if I were to replace the word band with choir, then this is something many churches have been doing for many years. Church choirs have often allowed non-church members to join, and in so doing, have allowed people to catch Jesus. Such Church choirs often do performances to bless the wider community. It would be a small step for such choirs to become expressions of church in which discipleship takes place. Rather than the choir being an extension of existing church and divorced from prayer, teaching, and so on, it becomes the hub of such spiritual disciplines.

8. Youth

Recognising the problem

It seems that in many churches there are whole sections of society that are present in the community but missing from church gatherings. Perhaps it is children, young people, people in their twenties, young families, older people, people with social needs, people from different ethnic backgrounds, or people with learning difficulties. There are of course, what some would describe as healthy churches – churches that do have a demographic that is representative of the wider community. This is a lovely thing. But if this church has even a hundred people out of a community of six thousand, could the Church (capital C) in that community be described as being healthy? Surely in such communities, we are not suggesting that everyone who God wants to be connected to him is already connected?

For example, one demographic that seems to be consistently missing across the church is young people. To counter this problem, churches often employ a youth worker. The expectation is that the youth worker will fill the church with young people. However, the congregation gets frustrated when after a year or two the youth worker has only managed to engage with a dozen young people and even those young people do not want to turn up on Sundays. Going by the success of Jesus’ ministry, a dozen sounds pretty good to me, but what about the other thousand young people in the local area? I heard that the church in the United Kingdom is the biggest employer of youth workers in the country and the average length of contract is 3 years, but that the average time a youth worker spends in post is just 18 months. I have no idea if this is true but if it is then this is shocking! What does the mismatch of expectations between congregations and youth workers tell us? It becomes apparent that there is a mismatch between God’s agenda for mission and our implementation of it. We need to lower our expectations of what one single youth worker can achieve but raise our expectations about what God wants to achieve.

Discerning the spiritual dynamic

It seems strange to me that God would call a youth leader to youth ministry to either nurture a small number of Christian young people such that they do not drift away from church, or to engage with a dozen non-churched young people with the hope of getting them into church. In youth ministry there seems to be a dichotomy of expectation. Youth workers (and some are not sure if they are youth workers or youth pastors or youth ministers) want to engage with young people, particularly outside the church, and in so doing, know that these young people are unlikely to get plugged into traditional church services. Yet, many youth workers have little or no concept that they are leaders of congregations and would probably deny that they should be!

Here’s another thing. It seems to be a common experience that non-church-based youth groups sometimes flourish and are over-run with young people to the point where they have to close. Certainly, I was involved in a youth group that grew to over 40 young people within a matter of weeks and soon became unmanageable. What’s all that about? Surely this is the sort of growth that the church longs to see? However, the leaders often find themselves ill equipped to deal with such a rate of growth and all the associated issues and problems.

What if God knows that there are demographics missing from the church, and what if he is calling people to youth ministry, not so they can try and get young people to come to church on Sunday, but to lead new congregations? What if the mismatch of expectations and the fallout of shortened contracts, disappointments and struggles are because we have not had a vision big enough for God? What if God wants to reach every young person in our communities with his love?

Doing something about it

We need to train and equip youth workers to understand and fulfil their calling as leaders. We also need to authorise, empower and enable them to lead new communities of disciples of Jesus. We need to move away from a model of youth work where youth work is a church project to a model of youth work where youth work is to establish new communities of young people who engage in the mission of God. The youth leader may well be able to lead one such community, or may be able to oversee the establishment of multiple communities. Sadly, many church youth groups have no concept of mission at all. Discipleship means meeting together, being supported, having some fun, and somehow exploring the Bible together – all good things – but totally disengaged with the ongoing mission of God, something, I suggest should be absolutely central to what it means to be a Christian and church. I wonder if the church is guilty of making partial disciples of our young people.

Sasha comes along to church with her parents. To be honest, she would rather not be there. It comes across to her as boring and irrelevant. She longs to join in and have a role – whether it is doing Powerpoint, singing in the worship group, or helping with people with learning difficulties. To her, it makes perfect sense that church is not something you attend but a mission that you join in with. Sasha is not alone in feeling like this.

9. Mega Church

Recognising the problem

We know something is wrong with the model that we have for doing or being church when people get in their cars and travel across town to go to church. Even the way I phrased that last question contains at least part of the problem, because it would have been wonderful to be able to have written — ‘people get in their cars and travel across town to be church.’ Now, I have to tread very carefully here. Please be aware that I am not picking on any particular church leaders or individuals or you! I am simply pointing out something that I see to be a symptom of the problem with they way we do church.

There are many people for whom the event of church — typically the Sunday gathering — has become the main thing. It is quite natural for Christians to want to have fellowship with other Christians. It is quite normal for parents to want their children to have good Christian teaching and a positive worship experience. It is quite right that adults should want and crave good teaching. Sadly, what has happened is that worship has become divorced from mission. In fact, I would go further and suggest that when someone travels out of his or her community to go to church, that worship has been divorced from the rest of life! I do not think it is possible to be church in the fullest sense of the word, without a correct understanding of what church is all about — mission.

The purpose of church — as a group of followers of Jesus — is to bless the community such that they might come to know that God is God. How then, tell me, can people reach their local community if they go and worship God five or even ten miles away? I know of people who drive for 40 minutes, negotiating at least one motorway, to attend church! Church is not something you attend.

Through its ambition to be totally culturally relevant — with its dynamic music and teaching — the church bows to consumerism. The mission strategy is ‘come along to us on Sunday’ and in so doing becomes the pinnacle of the attractional mission style. It also has the potential to become the dinosaur of the old way of doing things.

Mega churches suck Christians out of local communities such that the Church’s ability to fulfil the purpose of God is severely diminished. The worship services in such churches might be good, they might be encouraging, they might be loud and fun, the teaching might be superb, the kids work might be phenomenal, but while we are all together in our large auditoriums, our local communities are still waiting to hear about Jesus.
Now, one argument for mega churches is that mega churches can do so much more than smaller churches. This is because they tend to have more money and can do specific mission activities on a grand scale. And to some extent, this is true. However, these mission activities are often not carried out by people who live in the local community where the mission takes place. How then are long-term relationships supposed to be formed? What happens when the mission team pull out and leave? It is a misnomer to suggest that mission carried out in this way is more effective than local people reaching local communities.

Discerning the spiritual dynamic

Many of the larger mega-churches have struggled with how to do community, and this combined with a fuller and deeper understanding of the nature of God’s mission, is leading congregations and church leaders to want to be involved in their local communities. People are recognising that for mission to be truly effective then it needs to take place, not in the auditorium but on the housing estate. If God wishes to fulfil his plan of reaching everyone then the Holy Spirit will be moving people in this direction. The Holy Spirit will be wishing to reconnect the disconnected strands of worship, mission and the rest of life. It will be a smaller step to move from a) a church that does mission into the local community and then retreats, to b) missionary congregations that have their heart — their mission, worship and life— very much in the local community.

Doing something about it

Sadly, the only way mega-church goers are going to ‘get it’ are if the leadership of those churches get it. However, there is much to lose for the mega-church leader — control, popularity, power. The fantastic news is that in recent years, a number of mega-church leaders have led the way by cancelling their Sunday gatherings and saying to their membership — “go and bless your local communities”. It is very humbling to hear of well-known church leaders doing this because, I know, that if I was in their position, I would find it very hard to give it away. In one UK city where this happened, a large number of small, local churches suddenly discovered that they had new members — active, Spirit-led, committed Christians. One small traditional church in a backwater of a suburb suddenly had the resources to do café church and began to engage with the community in a whole new way. Praise God!

10. Ecumenism

Recognising the problem

Another problem facing the Church is the lack of cohesive strategy between congregations. There are few communities that have churches that have a joint strategy for mission and being Church. In fact, across the church there is a general lack of ecumenism, partnerships, and collaboration. This is often put down to differences in style or theology — however, I think there other reasons.

One factor that hinders the successful mission of the church is pride. Sadly, church leaders are often so protective of their patch, or the mission to which they believe God has called them, or the perceived style of churchpersonship, that there is no room to work with other leaders. I wonder if this is to do with the fact that church leaders have to be entrepreneurial, thick-skinned, driven, and visionary. Okay, let’s be honest and say loud-mouthed, confident, and opinionated too (in a Godly way). Great qualities to build congregations and captain ships, but often not the greatest qualities for working alongside others.

However, perhaps the single biggest reason for a lack of co-operation is that church leaders are so darned busy. The model of church we employ has the church leader working 70+ hours per week. There are so many things to do in the parish and community to hold the thing together, that ecumenism becomes a luxury or an optional extra. It is often the first thing to go neglected in a parish.

Often, there is no formal or even informal structure of churches working together, no common accountability, and no common strategy, and no commitment to prioritise ecumenism. The word team is seldom applied to a group of church leaders! However, I suggest that in God’s eyes this is exactly what the church leaders in a given community are. They are God’s team to lead his church. Imagine, just imagine what could be accomplished if church leaders put down their own agendas for the sake of the kingdom in a given geographical area! It is the responsibility of the leaders to make this happen. No one else can do it. Church leaders work incredibly hard and it can be difficult to get excited about something that sounds like it is yet another tiresome meeting. Ecumenism. Even the word sounds boring. Who wants to be a member of something called an Ecumenical Committee? GLT (God’s Leadership Team) sounds much better and something I would rather be part of! Also, most church leaders have experiences of poorly run, visionless, ecumenical meetings that drift in membership, feel painful to attend, and have no teeth to make a difference.

In one UK city, at the time of writing, a group of church leaders are beginning to work together. They have committed to building trust and to breaking down the barriers of church style and doctrine. There is still a long way to go to having any kind of coherent strategy for mission but it is a great start.

Discerning the spiritual dynamic

On the ground there is often a desire for churches to work together and a disappointment when local churches do not work together. What if this ‘us and them’ mentality is not of God. What if Satan knows that if the church truly grasped that it is the one church of Jesus Christ then it would become more effective in its mission to reach the world. What if Satan sets up barriers in the hearts of people to keep churches apart? What if, like the same poles of a magnet, people in different churches are repelling each other, and this is a specific work of the devil?

Within some denominations there is a suspicion of other church traditions; evangelicals versus catholics, high church versus low church, conservatives versus liberals, and so on. Then there is a latent suspicion between denominations and it works both ways. It pains me when Anglicans are suspicious of free churches — that they are seeking to draw people away from traditional churches. And it pains me when members of free churches are suspicious of Anglicans – fearful of structure or control. Sadly, there is some truth — some Anglicans love being bound by structure, and some free churches do seek to draw people away from traditional churches. I once heard a leader of a well-known free church say, “I used to be an Anglican before I became a Christian.” Aaagh! Let me iterate this again. This is not of God. Fear comes only from one place. We need to recognise this and we need to do it soon.

Doing something about it

I do not think a co-missional model of church will work unless the different existing churches in a given area work together. Can you identify one other church leader in your geographical area that you click with — someone with whom you can re-imagine church?

11. Numbers

Recognising the problem

Now, before I get harangued about it not being about numbers and it being about people, in essence, I agree. However, numbers are what we use to count people! Let’s face it; many churches see little sustained growth that is of the order of magnitude required to reach the entire population in a given community. In a parish of 8000 people, a church that grows by 20 people a year might seem to be doing very well. However, if you do the maths, it will take 400 years to reach the whole community. It is worth pointing out that, given our current rate of medical advances, many of the people God wants to connect with in the present, will not be alive in 400 years time. If we wish to reach 8000 people over a 50-year period then we need to connect 160 people to God per year for the next fifty years! Yes, I understand that not everyone wishes to, or perhaps will connect with God, however, I am not interested so much in what our vision is, but what God’s vision is, and I am sure that God has a heart to reach everyone.

Discerning the spiritual dynamic

The lack of growth of many churches should surely point to the fact that something is not working. The church should be what is called a multiplying organisation in that it should grow and multiply.

Doing something about it

We need to point out to our congregations that the church should be a naturally growing organisation. I have encountered mature Christians that hark back to the days when the church was full of people. I wonder if it really was as full as they remember – but it is true to say that it was fuller than it is today. When discussing church growth they often use a signature word — capture. How can we capture more people? This word reveals just about everything that is wrong with an attractional and centralised church. Perhaps once they are captured we could put them in a ‘cell’ group and throw away the key? Now don’t get me wrong — these mature Christians are as sincere, loving and committed to Jesus and the local community than anyone. It is just that the inherited model is not working and they have no alternative.

For many congregations who worship in a traditional style, they think the answer is to change the style such that it is more attractive. For example, less organ hymns and more worship songs. Someone pointed out to me that this is akin to re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, however I think this is a little harsh and I am a lot more optimistic. It seems an anachronism to me, for example, for an elderly congregation who worship in a traditional style to start singing contemporary worship songs. Even if they manage to pull it off without looking like a bunch of raving grannies, I am not convinced that church numbers will swell.

To make any church more attractive is to try and perfect an attractional church. What I am suggesting is that this is to miss the point. I do not think that becoming more attractive is the answer. The answer is to become more missional, therefore, perhaps the first thing a church should do is ban the words ‘capture’ and phrases like ‘getting them in’, then, perhaps the church should actually stop trying to capture people and getting them in and start focussing on being the kind of community where Christ is present. I wonder if there might be a communal sigh of relief from the congregation!

I encountered one small church congregation that were desperately trying to get the local community to come in to church on Sunday and failing miserably. The same church advertised a work party to clean up the churchyard and half the community turned up! Here endeth the lesson.

12. Sustained Encounters

Recognising the problem

We can all think of people who connected with our churches and seemed, at the time, to have a real connection with God. They may well have joined a small group, however, these people then stopped attending church. They still live and work in the community, but somehow, they just did not stick with coming along on Sundays. The strange thing is that style or people did not put them off, and it does not seem that they have lost interest in God.

Dave came along to a series of Sunday services at Crossways Church and he connected with God. He encountered God and admits that he gained something that he did not have before, however, Dave has stopped coming along to church services — partly because his children do not want to come along, and partly due to work commitments. He does not think you have to go to church to be a Christian or belong to the church, and he does feel that he belongs to Crossways. He wears a crucifix on a necklace but other than that, his faith has no outward expression. When asked if he thought he had a role to play as a member of Crossways, he said no. He cannot imagine having a role in church because that would equate to doing something in a Sunday service.

Dave, in the above example, has little or no understanding of a God of mission and no concept that he has a role to play in that mission. Despite belonging to the church, he does not believe that his faith requires an outward expression. Without too much analysis, we can see that this is a logical consequence of worship and mission being divorced from each other.

Discerning the spiritual dynamic

If God wants to reach every person in our communities then it is logical to assume that the devil would wish to prevent every person in our communities being reached by God. I wonder if Satan, although distressed that Dave has encountered God, is rejoicing that Dave is completely ineffectual in mission. Or to put it another way, Dave’s faith has made absolutely no difference to anyone but Dave. In the words of the band Depeche Mode, he has, “his own personal Jesus.” The sad thing is that it is not Dave’s fault. The model of church that has been presented or communicated to Dave — the preaching, the worship, the language, and the discipleship — has all focused on Dave finding Jesus as his personal saviour. The church has unwittingly crafted a perfect personal product to personal consumer. What scares me about Dave’s story is that if Dave had discovered a role in the church on Sunday, that he would be no more equipped for mission than he is now.

Doing something about it

The first step will be to communicate some of what I have communicated in this article. Our congregations need to understand what it means to be church.

Underlying our model or structure for being church is our theology. If we see the purpose of being a Christian so we can go to heaven when we die, then we marginalise the importance of the here and now. It means we can, to a greater extent, ignore the created world. Taken to extremes, it can mean we abuse our planet and be indifferent to suffering. We say, “Oh well, there will be a new heaven and a new earth one day.” Our mission becomes all about the spiritual — conversion and saving souls. Our church becomes a place for the spiritual and our worship and our lives become separated. The spiritual stuff takes place on a Sunday and the unspiritual stuff takes place during the rest of the week. Therefore, Sunday becomes our focus and we need to spring ‘missions’ from the spiritual safety of our churches into the unsafe and unspiritual world.

When Jesus said that the poor will be blessed, he did not mean, that the poor will be blessed one day when they die and go to heaven. No, he meant that the poor will be blessed because in the Kingdom of God, rich people will give their money to poor people! Jesus did not preach, “Repent, because the Kingdom of Heaven will be yours one day”. No, he preached, “Repent, because the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” It is here and it is now.

Fiona has been coming along to church but has stopped coming along in recent months. However, she has been dedicated to attending a weekly group exploring Christian spirituality. She has been an active member of this group for several months and in that time the group leader has seen Fiona grow in her faith. Recently, the group watched a NOOMA DVD by Rob Bell in which a dress was made for children in a third world country. Fiona said, “I could do that”, and wants to start making dresses for children in third world countries. Could this be her spiritual act of worship? I can’t help thinking that Jesus would say she is near the Kingdom of God.

13. Leaders

Recognising the problem

In every church I have ever been in, or been associated with, there are people who feel that God called them to ministry and who have not been authorised to fulfil that calling. In the Church of England, we have a strict process for selection of candidates for priesthood — and it is a right and proper thing to have guidelines and a process of discernment, however, the model of church that we employ defines the model we have for the selection process — and this is a model that is not being effective in fulfilling the mission of God.

The bar is set very high. The parish priest must be pastoral, prayerful, a gifted speaker, a communicator, a visionary, a leader, have a heart for mission, be academic, thick skinned, able to complete certain psychometric tests, a teacher, a gatherer of people, a facilitator, a listener, and so on. And certainly, if you adopt a one-parish-church with a one-leader-approach for a community of thousands of people, then this person does need to have super-human qualities! No wonder many of those who believe that God is calling them to ministry do not get selected — and quite rightly so — because God has not called them to this model of ministry. To reach this nation, and our communities, the church does not need more one-size-fits-all, super-human ministers. It needs leaders of new congregations.

Ed had been a committed member of St. Michael’s for decades. He had been both a churchwarden and PCC member. He had oversight of the parish church in terms of pastoral care and was a wonderfully loved and loving member of the congregation. Over a period of a few years, Ed felt that God was calling him to authorised ministry in his community. Obediently working within the given framework, he applied to become an NSM (non-paid minister) and had the full support of the whole church. However, Ed was turned down by the selection process and therefore could only surmise that he had heard incorrectly from God. A somewhat crushed Ed continues to serve in the church.

Ursula has always had a gut feeling that she would like to be involved in Christian ministry — particularly the leading of a congregation. Many years ago, Ursula failed to pass the selection criteria for ministry in the Church of England. Ursula is a faithful and committed member of Christchurch but she is not a particularly dynamic person and held up against the model of a typical church minister does not have the required skill set, however, a discouraged Ursula cannot help but feel that she is still called by God to ministry.

The selection of candidates for church leadership in the Church of England reminds me of the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In the film, ordinary people from all over the world are selected by the aliens to meet them at a predetermined rendezvous point. The aliens write it on the hearts of these chosen people and the people feel compelled to assemble at the landing site in Wyoming, yet the authorities prevent them from getting there because they are not the people that they selected and trained for this specific purpose. It is the wider church that often prevents people from being selected for ministry when the calling is not to minister in the wider church!

There is little or no room in the current model of selection for people who feel that God is calling them to their specific community. There is also little or no provision for married couples who feel called to ministry together.

Discerning the spiritual dynamic

If we are going to fulfil God’s plan — that the whole world, including our community, would know that God is God — then we are going to need leaders, lots of leaders. If God has gone ahead of us and he knows that the church will need leaders, then we would expect to see signs of leaders emerging in our congregations. We would expect that people in our congregations would feel God calling them to Christian leadership or to ministry. And this is the case.

Doing something about it

For a co-missional model of church to work, we are going to need leaders, lots of leaders (didn’t I just say that?). We are going to need to authorise lay people to lead congregations and give them the freedom, encouragement and support to do so.

A good place to start is to ask the question, “What percentage of their time does your current leader/vicar/pastor spend training and equipping leaders?” Sadly, I can think of many churches where the answer is 0%. For a co-missional model of church to work then the leader/vicar/pastor should be spending a great deal of time equipping and empowering leaders. Of course, our leaders will shout, “But we don’t have the time!” But that is exactly my point. Vicars spend so much time keeping the show on the road, maintaining the current attractional/centralised model, that that they are kept from doing what needs to be done to fulfil the mission of God. I am sure that Jesus spent more than 0% of his time equipping and empowering his disciples. In three years he managed to do enough to release these people into continuing a movement that would change the world; not forgetting the ongoing power and direction of the Holy Spirit!

We need to realise that the leaders of co-missional churches will not look like leaders as we currently know them. For example, I am a church leader. Now, remember the example of Mrs. S. who likes to knit? I am not going to connect with unchurched sixty-year old women who like to knit. Although I like sixty-year old women and I don’t dislike knitting, let’s face it, it’s not where I feel most comfortable. So what kind of leader are we going to need to reach sixty-year old women who like to knit? He or she certainly will not look like me or your vicar (unless your vicar is a sixty-year old woman who is into knitting).

If God is serious about reaching our entire communities, then he will be raising up leaders. We, as leaders in the church need to have our ‘leader goggles’ on to help identify those whom God is calling. It will no doubt be uncomfortable. We will cry, “Lord, surely not her!” and, “Jesus, you have got to be kidding about him!” Perhaps a good place to start is to gather together those who already exhibit leadership and talk to them about the mission of God and what God is asking us to do. Get them excited about it; cast a vision; ask them to join in!

14. And finally…

So there you have it. My thoughts spilled out and ordered on paper. No doubt much of what I have said will be a load of tosh and will be consigned to the bin. I think of it a bit like writing a futuristic novel — the future will not look exactly like the novel, but the imagining is important. It is important that we, as church leaders, do not stumble along in the present, but seek the will of God that his kingdom might indeed come.

Can I sum up everything I have written is a few lines? Well, perhaps. The church has focused around worship and any mission has sprung from and is connected with worship. I am suggesting that the church should be focused around mission — that mission is the interface between the church and the rest of the world — and that worship will spring from mission. Co-missional Church is church with mission at its heart. It is church with multiple expressions working together (hence the ‘co’ in co-mission). It is church that fully understands the nature of our commission (hence the pun). It will be existing congregations who need to move to becoming mission communities and who need to adopt and embrace new ways of being church. The journey will be uncomfortable, exciting, dangerous, and unpredictable, but the potential is that God will reach every person in our communities.

15. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How will a family worship together?

This is a good question. My question is, “How do families currently worship together?” If you are a family and you feel that you are worshipping together then great! However, in reality, even as a vicar or minister, I know that my family do not worship together. My children often say that church is boring. They want to be involved, to do something, and we struggle to find something for them to do in a worship service — be it acolyte or powerpoint pusher. I think that they get it — they know that their Christianity needs an expression — a mission or a purpose. They do enjoy worship — but often not the type of worship enjoyed by other older members of the congregation. So, my next question is how can we be an expression of church in which the whole family is involved? What mission can we be involved in together?

Isn’t what you’re describing just cell church or a fresh expression?

Well, sort of. It is well documented that cell churches are some of the fastest growing churches in the world. I am not an expert on cell church, but I do know that the model that I am proposing is a ground-up model. It has much in common with cell church, although I would run a mile from the word cell — a word that has become synonymous with terrorist and splinter cells! If I am simply re-inventing the wheel, then so be it!

There are many models of cell church and there may well be a model of cell church that is synonymous with what I am proposing. However, cell church traditionally works on the four Ws (Welcome, Worship, Word and Witness) where Worship means singing songs and witness means evangelism. In this model worship and mission have once again been separated. In the model that I am proposing, our witness is our act of spiritual worship. Each church will have it’s own set of values but come under the umbrella of the wider church. The ethos of each church will be, “Come and join in,” and the mantra will be, “We seek to bless the wider community through…”

What I am proposing is the releasing of a multitude of fresh expressions of church — and I mean fresh expressions. I do not mean alternative worship services, church plants, or the same group of people doing something different. The Fresh Expressions movement within the Church of England is a good thing, and in some diocese, each parish has been charged with initiating a single fresh expression. Although, in principle, this is a good idea, two small churches are not going to fulfil the mission of God to reach every person with the love of Christ. What is needed is a co-missional overhaul of the way we do church.

Homogenous groups?

One criticism of this approach to ministry is that people will ask if this model will result in homogenous groups — i.e. narrow groups. For example, shouldn’t a single expression of church be filed with all generations?

A few years ago, I sat down with a respected church leader of a large city centre church that primarily drew its membership from the surrounding parishes and suburban areas. I explained that the wider church was not reaching a whole demographic of urban youth in the city and that I would like to explore doing church in this demographic. Seeing as we would be operating on ‘his’ patch, so to speak, I wanted to go ahead with the leader’s blessing. I, and a small team had already made tentative but successful steps with engaging with young people that the church had never touched. It was a beautiful thing, and it still makes me cry when I think about the seeds that were planted in those early days. After an hour-long discussion with the church leader, he explained that he did not believe in homogenous groups and that he could not lend his moral support to the project. With good grace, rightly or wrongly, I respected his wishes and we withdrew, leaving it prayerfully in God’s hands.

I agree that we need forums in which people from different social backgrounds, abilities and generations will be able to interact. What kind of church would we be if all those with learning difficulties were separated from those without learning difficulties, or if the older members of the church were kept separate from the younger members of the church? A homogonous church is a start, but as new Christians come to respect and love those around them, they will grow to appreciate other people and other forms of worship. In fact, learning from each other is a vital part of spiritual growth. Firstly, it will be essential that the church provides venues or common meeting grounds — opportunities for different groups to mix and interact. Secondly, communication between groups will be required and it will be important that groups are aware of what is going on in the other groups. Thirdly, some sort of regular larger gathering will no doubt be part of a mixed economy of churches. This will also reinforce the oneness of the church, lines of accountability and so forth. We must never lose sight that we are one church under Christ.

Can a person belong to more than one church?

The short answer. Yes! If a person has the time and inclination, then it is possible for that person to belong to more than one co-missional community. Why not?

Tim Rogers Mar 2 16:37pm

It will take me several reads Gav but what a beautifully written article with balanced observations and most importantly recommendations. I don't want to put a negative spin on things. The good news is that the one size fits all and the certain sector church may only be changing very slowly and in some parishes not at all, but with your ministry and that of some others looking toward a more inclusive worship style there is hope.
I am certainly David in your article!

My hope is that the words and thoughts you have set out are not restricted to the relatively small audience that can and will read this article.

Rev Gav Mar 3 9:07am

Thanks Tim. It was written a while back and I tend to throw a lot of mud at walls and see what sticks. I posted it up as a challenge to myself to not 'settle' but continually be prodded to seek God's leading.

I must admit that I'm not 100% comfortable being a leader in 'traditional' church and push it as far as it can go, and I'm not blind to the fact that I can easily and likely be operating under my own agenda and not God's.

Right now, I'm under pressure to embark on another large capital campaign to fund building repairs and part of me can't help but wonder if spending vast sums of money on bricks and mortar is ethically the right thing to do - especially a vast barn of a building, beautiful as it is, that is pretty much only open or used for 2% of the time.

Does a church need walls or a locus for worship? I'm guessing the answer is mixed. Ultimately though, I just want people to know God's love and connect - to encounter Jesus and be sustained in that encounter - and I guess that is what is driving me to develop this small community. x

Tim Rogers Mar 4 11:47am

Food for thought indeed.
The traditions of Anglican worship both mystify me and unsettle me at the same time. I didnt attend worship for over 30 years and yet i identified as a Christian and within that, trying to be a decent , caring human .( I'm not sure the two have to go together). What i identify now is something was missing for me. As to a locus, i enjoy taking communion and so without the building i dont know how that could be achieved. I also spend much of my free time here and away admiring , glorying in the structures that man has built for worship. So as usual, i am confused. I want and need community and fellowship and at the same time am progressive enough as an older person to see merit abd indeed need for change. Its certainly hard for me to accept the rigidity of traditional worship. The great thing about FAB is that one can explore and with kindness and courtesy have an open dialog without feeling as if im criticizing or in any way judging those that have profound , unswerving and unwavering belief.

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Rev Gav Mar 4 12:59pm

Thanks Tim. I like hearing your perspective and would like to hear more about what mystifies/unsettles/confuses. I too love gathering on a Sunday... breaking bread together... and the buildings are beautiful places of peace and tranquility (something needed in an oft busy and noisy world). Perhaps though, it's the case that right now we can belong to multiple communities? x

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Tim Rogers Mar 5 10:55am

I totally relate to the majesty of the building as a place of peace. Its not for nothing that stained glass has been used for so long as a means of glorification. I often stare at it, zoning out, reflecting of course on how ethnically wrong they are but the intention is still relevant. Can we belong to multiple communities, absolutely. FAB is a perfect example...its doors are always open, churches often only open an hour a week.

Rev Gav Mar 5 17:30pm

Tim Rogers wrote:

I totally relate to the majesty of the building as a place of peace. Its not for nothing that stained glass has been used for so long as a means of glorification. I often stare at it, zoning out, reflecting…

Thanks Tim. It does make me wonder how we can create 'sacred space' online.

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Lisa-Dawn Johnston Mar 5 20:39pm

Gav, I suggest creating a sacred space online, by using original music created by you, and combining with photos and pics taken and/or created by you. So that none of it triggers us by being shared from anyone else, or have memories associated with it. I can’t imagine anything more sacred than a combination of beautiful music and visual arts… for immersion and reflection and safely losing ourselves in…as we open ourselves to know Jesus x

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Rev Gav Mar 5 20:41pm

Lisa-Dawn Johnston wrote:

Gav, I suggest creating a sacred space online, by using original music created by you, and combining with photos and pics taken and/or created by you. So that none of it triggers us by being shared from anyone else, or…

I was thinking something along these lines... like meditations. I have the music already. These could be text, audio, and/or video.

Lisa-Dawn Johnston Mar 9 9:42am

Oy! Please let me know what you conclude about spending money on caring for buildings! Because I’m putting a LOT of effort into caring for said structures! And stressing about it often, and enduring criticism in the process!

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Rev Gav Mar 10 8:31am

Lisa-Dawn Johnston wrote:

Oy! Please let me know what you conclude about spending money on caring for buildings! Because I’m putting a LOT of effort into caring for said structures! And stressing about it often, and enduring criticism in the process!

Well... parish churches are often buildings-focused because they have inherited beautiful historic monuments. Now, they can see them as an expensive, money-draining millstone around their necks, or see the buildings as an opportunity for mission - to help people encounter Jesus, and not just on a Sunday. There may well be a need for sacred, peace-filled spaces in a busy and noisy world. What is needed is a fresh vision to open up these spaces and to make them available. There are many ways we can grow and develop our buildings to become missional spaces - all it needs is some imagination and determination.

Lisa-Dawn Johnston Mar 10 8:58am

Rev Gav wrote:

Well... parish churches are often buildings-focused because they have inherited beautiful historic monuments. Now, they can see them as an expensive, money-draining millstone around their necks, or see the buildings as an opportunity for mission - to help people encounter…

I agree…. And I understand both perspectives…. The beauty of the buildings is an homage to the original members… and to their reverence and love of God…. The building can feel like a sacred space…. Which it does for me… because of the experiences and connections that I associate with the building. And yet… I completely understand the millstone analogy… because of the costs of maintaining such a beautiful and aging structure… also recognising that like with everything , people’s tastes change… we understand that worship happens in our hearts first…. And so any place can be a place of worship…
What a gift to have a beautiful church building… and what a burden.. It needs love and commitment and money! All energies and resources that could be used to serve our communities….
I agree- we need vision, imagination and determination… and support, to redefine and redevelop our buildings to become the focal point and facility for multiple uses every day… not just for a few hours per week….

Tim Rogers Mar 10 22:54pm

Respect for the past and indeed, the sheer beauty of our physical space but also the preparedness to accept that times have changed and that like FAB that it is totally inclusive and open to all and that function is largely limited by imagination or lack thereof. I am reminded of a rock concert at Durham Cathedral this last Christmas... and why not i say ?! Coldplay by Candlelight in March !!

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