Monday, December 20, 2010

The L O S T Trend in Outreach

Who's on an island with a Shepherd, a bunch of Others and wants to be rescued? Wrecked, hard luck passengers from Oceanic flight 815? No.

Apparently much of the church in the US is wrecked on an island.

Outreach appears to be fading along with theological literacy. So in this second of six discussions of Barna's Megatrends in the US Church, I want to show you how the vision and mission of Crosspoint and Encuentro engages this problem and suggest ways to grow a healthy church that fight the trends.   

Outreach isn't a program, its the fruit of a healthy gospel-centered church. As a student and Jr Hi pastor in the 70s, 80s and 90s, it seems to me, the American church emphasized skill development, programs and motivational speeches to get the faithful to reach out to its primarily homogeneous neighborhood. 

Skills are important but its sort of like training with a knife when you're going into a sword fight. The outcome is a church in the 21st century withdrawing rather than advancing.
Barna notes: Despite technological advances that make communications instant and far-reaching, Christians are becoming more spiritually isolated from non-Christians than was true a decade ago. Examples of this tendency include the fact that 
  • less than one-third of born again Christians planned to invite anyone to join them at a church event during the Easter season; 
  • teenagers are less inclined to discuss Christianity with their friends than was true in the past; 
  • most of the people who become Christians these days do so in response to a personal crisis or the fear of death (particularly among older Americans); 
  • and most Americans are unimpressed with the contributions Christians and churches have made to society over the past few years. 
As young adults have children, the prospect of them seeking a Christian church is diminishing--especially given the absence of faith talk in their conversations with the people they most trust. With atheists becoming more strategic in championing their godless worldview, as well as the increased religious plurality driven by education and immigration, the increasing reticence of Christians to engage in faith-oriented conversations assumes heightened significance.
It is challenging to reach out so are church attenders giving up? Changes challenge 70s-90s modern outreach strategies:
  • Our neighborhoods are more diverse socially, racially, economically and spiritually here in the greater Smyrna area. Myriad options get plenty of screen time.
  • The gospel contains Bad News few want to admit. Even fewer want to hear it even from a kind and concerned person. The potential for a social snub is way higher now. 
  • Societal norms demand privatization of religion and tolerance of all viewpoints. No matter how contradictory or down-right stupid. 
  • Attractional mega-churches, Mass, TV preachers and my Grandma's old church color most people's presuppositions about what people think they are being invited to.
  • The internet removes all mystery and makes everyone a psuedo-expert on religious matters. So why actually go to a church? "I can download whatever I need if/when I need it."
  • Professional Christians on the internet inundate theologically weak Christians with piles of resources. The regular guys don't have to learn anything because they can (wrongly) assume their friends will find faith in Jesus via a Google search. 
It appears no one really 'needs' to do awkward personal outreach anymore, right?

People's exposure to church in most cases isn't good news. But can a living faith in God be transferred without personal real-life interaction? A living faith in Christ can not happen outside connection to the real-life body of Christ. Anything other else in my opinion, is manipulation based on legalism, moralism, therapy or a circus atmosphere. 

So do we Christians throw up our hands and all escape to comfy mega-churches? No. 

Crosspoint/Encuentro and other church plants are lean, not-so-mean humility machines. Okay, so machine isn't the right word, but 'family of humbled sinners saved by grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone' doesn't rhyme with lean and mean. 

Seriously, our 'outreach program' is interpersonal humble interaction among sinners, dependently praying (only God saves, remember?) and patiently answering good questions with good answers about the bad news and good news of the gospel. 

Our lives together become outreach. Our words and actions are one of many presentations of the gospel.

The How-To is stay simple and enter into (incarnate) people's livesWe remain lean. We focus on people, not programs. Our facility and budget reflect serving people where they live, work and play.

We are not-so-mean and humble. The single most compelling outreach tactic (if you can call it a tactic) is humility. We admit we are sinners. We ARE no better than anyone else. We aren't trying to impress anyone or prove anything first. We welcome folks no matter what. The worship services are not slick, personality-driven, video light shows - on purpose.

The main goal is not to get 'more butts in seats' but to introduce people to Christ's awesomeness. We want Jesus to be more famous than our worship service, our programs or our church or our pastor.

This means we all, from pastor to most successful businessperson to youngest teenager, approach our friends, neighbors and co-workers humbly. We lead into 'outreach' admitting out loud that they have every reason to be skeptical and unsure about us, our church and the message we purport to believe.

This approach is both an expression of freedom in the gospel and an invitation into the community of the gospel.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Homer Simpson Trend in Theology

(Thanks to Robin C in Alpharetta for this important link.)

"Doh!" appears to be the operative word in the Protestant church in the USA where theology is concerned.   Barna is reporting trends I saw early as a youth pastor to Baby Busters in the 90s.

In this first of six discussions of harmful and dangerous trends in the church, I'm going to let you know how the vision and mission of Crosspoint and Encuentro prepares to grow a healthy church, fight the trends and suggest these are ways other churches can too.

Theologically trained disciples led by theologically astute elders, deacons and leaders. The battle to be theologically literate starts and ends with church leadership. In this respect, we are purposefully counter-cultural and apparently rebels. Kinda funny. Theological training is retro? Oh well.

Crosspoint and Encuentro also value multi-generational ministry. We get a broader tapestry of wisdom, depth and knowledge as older men and women teach younger men and women. We aren't totally dependent on the charms of our photo-genetic pastor either. (Which is a good thing for more than one reason...)

Barna's report notes...
"What used to be basic, universally-known truths about Christianity are now unknown mysteries to a large and growing share of Americans--especially young adults. For instance, Barna Group studies in 2010 showed that while most people regard Easter as a religious holiday, only a minority of adults associate Easter with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Other examples include the finding that few adults believe that their faith is meant to be the focal point of their life or to be integrated into every aspect of their existence
Further, a growing majority believe the Holy Spirit is a symbol of God's presence or power, but not a living entity. As the two younger generations (Busters and Mosaics) ascend to numerical and positional supremacy in churches across the nation, the data suggest that biblical literacy is likely to decline significantly. The theological free-for-all that is encroaching in Protestant churches nationwide suggests the coming decade will be a time of unparalleled theological diversity and inconsistency."

Crosspoint/Encuentro bucks this trend other ways too. We preach through books of the Bible so the theological concepts get taught. Though we speak in everyday language, we use and explain those big, theologically rich words like 'justification' and 'sanctification' so people learn theology. Two of our seven elders learned theology through our Theology for Ministry training module taught in small groups.

Here's a surprise maybe. People who have been in churches that do not teach theology want to know the details! I'm finding folks are hungry to know how things fit together. Offering the training to hungry people in non-traditional formats requires some changes in delivery methods, but the outcome is tremendous.

We are not the only ones working for theological literacy by any stretch. Our denomination (PCA) vigorously plants churches that are theologically grounded. So does Acts 29. Seminaries we love, like Reformed Theological Seminary, Covenant, Westminster and even many of the Southern Baptist Seminaries teach men and women well. And I should not forget that several campus ministries are quite theologically robust. RUF (Reformed University Fellowship), CRU (Campus Crusade for Christ) and Campus Outreach graduate some sharp theologically trained students.

There is hope as leaders are trained that we can lead the church to theological literacy (and even vibrancy) in the future.

The question this raises in my mind isn't 'Are there enough theologically astute people in the Protestant churches in the USA?' The bigger question is this: Are there accountability structures that will weed out false teachers in the pulpits of our churches?

Trust me. If I (or any elder or pastor in our denomination) stray for orthodox Christian doctrines, I will be corrected and if I refuse to be corrected I'll be disciplined and removed from the ministry.

Accountability is the answer to this problem in the church. We don't need pastors who go free-lancing on theology.