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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Tag: postmodernity

The Pace of Change

Tom Elenbaas

"On almost every important business index, the world is racing ahead. The stakes - the financial, social, environmental, and political consequences - are rising in a similar exponential way." [John Kotter] I have some serious questions rattling around in my own head and heart as I both experience, study, and lead in this rapidly changing world.

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Emergent Converts & MegaChurches


(written back in August... but forgot to post) I've found the conversation around mega-churches and emergent churches lately quit fascinating. (cf. Fitch's first post, and his redux post] I've heard many people for awhile saying, "the fruit just isn't there with the Emergent Churches."  By fruit, this usually means converts.  So, when David Fitch went after Mark Driscoll and talked about this issue, I found it quit interesting.  Being someone who is emerging at heart and history (and in some ways theologically, but not others) but also being currently a pastor at a mega-church (where I sometimes fit in, and other times feel like an odd-ball) these conversations are quite intriguing.  I'm particularly interested in numbers 4 and 5 of the 5 points Fitch makes, which I've listed below - this from the Out of UR Blog:

4. Having said all this, I think that the missional communities that do persist probably have a higher conversion rate than the Driscollesque mega churches. Missional churches are much smaller, so 6 conversions from a group of 25 over ten years would match (or exceed) the percentage growth of a typical mega church. I think it would be interesting to measure how many dollars per conversion are spent in missional churches versus mega churches. It makes me smile knowing missional churches are probably more cost effective when it comes to conversions because we resist spending money on buildings, programs, and “the show.”

5. We must recognize that "missionary conversions" take longer than megachurch conversions. The conversion of a post-Christendom "pagan," who has had little to no exposure to the language and story of Christ in Scripture, may require five years of relational immersion before a decision would even make sense. If you do not have this immersion/context, any decision that is made is prone to be little more than a consumerist decision—it is made based on the perceived immediate benefit. It lasts as long as this perceived benefit remains important. It does not lead to discipleship.

So a true missionary conversion, which I believe missional churches are after, takes a much longer period of time than the kind of conversions most often generated through a megachurch. The megachurch is largely appealing to people who grew up in old forms of church and know the Story but quit going to church many years ago. These "unchurched people" require the old messages to be made more relevant. They need to be "revived" or called back into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. There's nothing wrong with that, but we should recognize there are fewer and fewer of these kinds of people left.

These are some arguments that I myself have made in the past.  Knowing, realistically two things: 1) how inefficient mega-churches really are in reaching the lost per dollar spent and 2) how really unconcerned most members of these churches are to reach anyone.  Emerging churches are still too young to measure long term fruit and effectiveness, but it will be interesting to see the longer term effects of churches that spend less money, focus more on community, tend to care more about "holistic transformation", and are committed to individual people over programs.  The percentages of transformed lives to Jesus Lordship and Kingdom per capita and per dollar (though even talking about it that way seems, somehow, wrong) would be very intriguing to see.  So... someone do the study already.

The other thing I find so intriguing is the issue of "who" these churches reach.  My take is that not only mega-churches, but most contemporary evangelical churches are fairly good at reaching those who are part of Christendom... meaning they've been raised with Jesus and the church, and they have been educated in Christianity.  They may be "de-churched" because they were one-time churched, but maybe they never took the step to enter the Kingdom and submit to the Lordship of Jesus.  Those people do need to be reached.  But what I think is being argued in some of what Fitch is saying is that those who are part of the emerging postmodern, post-Christendom culture have very little or no knowledge of Christian theology or of Jesus other than what they learned on the Simpsons, King of the Hill, or in political campaigns.  These folks are a slower burn because they have so much knowledge to gain before they have a clue what they are saying "yes" to.  I've heard Alan Hirsch talking about this at a church planting portion of the RCA's OneThing conference in San Antonio when he said that the "forms" of church we are using today are reaching a certain group of people, but that the culture shifts of post-christendom require new forms of church plants to reach new people who will likely never be reached by our current forms.

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In the year that I was born, Joseph Sittler, former professor of biblical theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School wrote the following in Essays on Nature and Grace

As biblical and theological scholarship moves toward a more inclusive and precise formulation of the hermeneutical problem, more serious attention is being given to what theological implications inhere in style of speech and forms of rhetoric as these come to us from the earliest Christian communities. [from "Evocations of Grace," p. 98}

The hermeneutical issues inherent in the way communities are formed, what we believe, how our social systems are shaped, how our biases are generated and solidied, how power is used and abused... these are not new issues.  The "linguistic turn" as it's usually called, and the move towards a non-foundationalist epistemology (which are two critical cultural/ philosophical/ theological changes underneath postmodernity) are not new on the scene.  The hoopla in the church today over these questions, their potential danger according to some, the risk of moving towards a hermeneutic more sensitive to these issues, and the emerging church are played like the bogie man has suddenly arrived.  As the quote above reminds us from the year of my birth... this is an issue that goes back well over 36 years, and even more.  Theologians and philosophers and linguists have been working on these issues for decades.  It is only lately that the cultural tide of postmodernity has really begun to rattle the things that so many of us  have held dear.  Had we been paying attention all along, we might have been more prepared as a church to engage with this shifting cultural and philosophical paradigm without running scared and immediately becoming defensive or reactionary.

Again... one more reason for the church to be constantly listening with one ear to the culture.  Hear me clearly... not so that we can change what we believe to suit the culture or that culture holds even a candle to the revelation of God and his interaction with creation, but so that we can more clearly understand who God is, who we are, and what we believe in the midst of shifting cultural sands, emerging global and local (glocal) realities and communicate with that culture in the language it is using.  We must stop creating bunkers to retreat from a changing culture or we truly fail to be salt and light in the world because we salt food people aren't eating or light up places where no one lives. 

Ask yourself:  "What good does it do to put an extravagant lighting system in abandoned factory built for making Polaroid film when even Polaroid has decided to stop making Polaroid and go digital?"

Or, "Why dump your greatest investment dollars in Jolt Cola if everyone's now drinking Starbucks, Rockstar, and Green Tea?"

I know those are strange questions... or analogies... but that's what it sometimes feels like churches do because we like Jolt and Polaroids.

Here is one of my favorite verses as of late:  "No one, after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, 'the old is better.'" [Luke 5:39]

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