Alan Hirsch is the author of The Shaping of Things to Come (a great book by the way) and an important thought-leader in the movement toward greater missionality. In a recent post at “Out of Ur,” a Christianity Today blog, he addressed Dan Kimball’s comments questioning the evangelistic effectiveness of missional churches. Hirsch writes,
* I certainly don’t believe that attractional is not working. What I have said is that it has appeal to a shrinking segment of the population, and that persistence with a church growth style, attractionalism, is in the long run a counsel of despair. Are you suggesting that we simply stay with what we have got? Surely not bro?
Interesting, isn’t it? You see, most attractional churches do pretty well with lapsed Christians — folks who grew up in a Christian home but drifted away as adults. How well do they do with people who’ve never known Jesus?
* If we persist with our standard measurements for mission, we will miss the point. The issue is what idea of church is more faithful to the Scriptures. Genuine fruitfulness, surely, cannot simply be measured by numbers but by ‘making disciples.’ How does one measure that? By all accounts, current churches are made up largely of admirers of Jesus but few genuine disciples/followers—this is not a biblical idea of fruitfulness!
* Besides, the early church would not measure up to the current metrics!! If Rodney Stark is right, there were only 25,000 believers by year 100AD. Not exactly mind boggling church growth. Some attractional churches are larger.
* If we stick with the prevailing measures, we will miss the level of incarnational engagement with quantitative measures alone. How do we measure that? Incarnation takes time and loving presence (witness) among a people. Working with post-Christian folks ain’t easy because we have lost our credibility and have to work darn hard to regain it. I think there is much work to do here.
The only other thing I will say is that we as believers, live by a vision of what can be … we cannot allow ourselves to be constrained by pragmatics alone. Vision precludes that and is driven by holy discontent to see a greater manifestation of the Kingdom.
Well, this is tough, isn’t it? If I follow him correctly, he’s saying that it’s more important to be faithful than to grow — and I agree. Moreover, he’s warning us that there’s a very limited pool of lapsed Christians. To convert the rest of the world, we’re going to need a better model of how to do church.
People who’ve grown up with no knowledge of Jesus are often very skeptical of church and Christians. They have little interest in visiting our brick buildings and in hearing our song leaders or bands. To get them interested in Christianity, we have to show them Jesus in practical ways that touch their lives.
Does this mean that a more traditional church can’t be missional? Hirsch would likely say yes. We can’t simply advertise our great worship (why would a non-Christian care?) or show our sermons on TV (they won’t be watching). Rather, we have to move the interface between God’s church and the lost from the pew to the world.
But I think that this doesn’t mean we have to re-organize into struggling communities of 20 or 30. We can, I think, take advantage of the numbers and resources God has given us and make a dramatic mark on the world, if we’ll just have the right vision. In fact, the resources and pool of talent of a large, traditionally structured church can be seen as a huge advantage, if we’ll intentionally move into God’s mission.