I just heard this interview for the first time, even though it has apparently been around for a long time. When I think of “missional church” I don’t immediately think about what Keller is describing here. Nevertheless, being conversant and engaged with the culture where you live is certainly a very important part of being missional. I think that what Keller is describing is primarily focused on those of us that spend most of our time in professional ministry. The problem for those that don’t work in the church is that so often they ARE “just like everyone else” when they are away from the church building and the church community gatherings. They are also just like “church people” when they are around them. The key is to reorienting oneself so that all of life is under the authority of Jesus, and then living all of life on the mission that Jesus has given us. To me, this becomes the key difference between being a “seeker sensitive” church and being a missional church. It is one thing to be sure that we talk in a way that those who have never heard the good news can understand what we are talking about in our groups and in our worship, but it is another thing to begin live out the gospel in a way that permeates and informs all of our life and conversations.
I had to share this blog post primarily because I didn’t want to lose the link. As we move forward with our own missional communities it will be increasingly important to be intentional about the ways we build these “rhythms” into our life. One of the reasons we like the name “Tidelands” is because the tides remind all of us that live near the water of the rhythms that God built into all of creation.
As a part of the Soma family, we often speak of living out our gospel identity in everyday rhythms of life (know the story, listen, bless, celebrate & suffer, eat, rest & work). In fact, much of what we do is not meant to add things to the schedule, but bring intentionality to the things we are already doing.
The following lists are a few practical examples of simple things you can begin doing to bring gospel intentionality to your schedule. Hopefully as you are reading through these examples it will spark ideas for your own life.
5 Practical Ideas to Know the Story
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Here is yet another great resource on the discussion about what makes a missional community. This comes from Jordan Elder and the folks at Redeemer Church in Bellingham. Take a look at their blog if you are interested in finding more resources and ideas for developing missional communities.
There are some great resources on the GCM website if you have not seen it. If I’m honest, I still tend to expect our MC growth to look like the drawing on the left, even as I experience it as the drawing on the right.
“If a church exists only to meet the religious needs of church people, your vision of church and your gospel is too small.”
– Darrell Guder
I hear it more and more these days: the argument that “missional” has simply become the next hot Christian phrase creeping onto every Church website, mission statement, and leader conference like “purpose-driven” or “seeker-sensitive” of the past. It is hard to argue with that, because it does seem to be happening. And unfortunately, as the meaning of the term gets diluted, what gets lost is increasingly the very purpose of the word in the first place: to get the church to reconnect with something that it has lost.
Here is a link to an article that summarizes some of the things Darrell Guder recently said about this issue (Guder wrote Missional Church a decade before the term became popular): “Church in a Post-Christian Context.”
Language is important, and it bothers me that people may hear us talk about “missional communities” and think that it is just a cool new way to describe small groups. However, what concerns me more, whatever we call it, is that what we are doing is actually connecting with God’s mission in our time and place. Quoting Guder again (from the article referenced above), here is another way to describe what a “missional community” is meant to be:
“Missional communities are about God calling together a people to serve God’s purposes in a particular context (neighborhood) to bring healing, reconciliation and good news to those around them. A missional community is not an end itself. It is not a church that exists for its own purposes.”
I once heard Eugene Peterson say that it may be helpful at times to remove a word from usage in order to allow it to regain meaning if that meaning has become too diluted and overused. As I recall, he was talking about the pervasive use of “Christian” as an adjective to describe all kinds of things in marketing. This was perhaps prophetic, as I have noticed that I and others often choose to describe ourselves as “followers of Jesus” in order to more accurately convey to those outside the church what we are instead of connecting with the often misunderstood “Christian” label. This is not an attempt to be “politically correct” but rather to communicate effectively. My hope is that the word “missional” has not already reached this point. I suspect that it has not, only because I often find myself explaining to others in great detail what I mean by a “missional community.” What has been your experience?
One of the most beneficial things for me during this church planting process has been the opportunity to take my family to worship with other churches on the Sundays that we are not having worship at Tidelands. (Right now we are having a Tidelands worship gathering once a month, worshiping with Mountain View once a month, and then visiting other churches on the open Sundays). Although we are not “church shopping” in the sense that we are looking for a new church home, we have been able to experience what it must be like for those that are. My wife and I have been taking our boys on this journey with us (ages 9 & 6). It has given me insight that may be helpful for others, and will undoubtedly be helpful for our leaders in the future. So without further ado, here is my list of…
WHAT CHURCHES SHOULD BE DOING TO WELCOME VISITORS:
Keep your website fresh and updated!
I can’t emphasize this enough. Most people (and increasingly older generations as well) will want to check out your website before visiting. Here’s what they are looking for: worship times, worship style, information on children’s ministry/nursery, sermon examples, pictures of your worship space, directions, pastor’s name, a brief statement about what you believe. It also doesn’t hurt to give them examples of what to expect during a typical service. Remember: while information on all of your midweek programs may be what existing church people are looking for, visitors just want the basics to decide if it is worth the effort to try it out.
Put up the Signs!
Church buildings in North America have got to be some of the craziest spaces in our cities. Many of them have multiple parking areas, multiple sanctuaries, and additions that go in every direction. Even the smallest church buildings often have additions on them that aren’t easy to figure out. Of course it makes sense to those that go every Sunday, but what about the visitor? Can they find the nursery without asking someone? Can they find the main entrance from wherever they end up parking? Will they know where they can and can’t park? I can’t tell you how many church buildings we just had to guess at a door for worship.
Someone Say Hello!
It seems obvious, but you might be surprised at how people in small and large churches seemed to ignore our family of four. We visited one church where we walked into a worship with about 30 people. Everyone knew that we were new, but not a single person that morning said anything to us other than “The peace of Christ be with you” during the “passing of the peace.” Someone be courageous! Say, “Hi! Is this your first time here?” If you’re in a bigger church I understand that there is a fear that if you ask someone if it is their first time that they might say, “no, we’ve been coming here for a year” and you would be embarrassed. That’s ok! If they say that respond with: “I apologize for not introducing myself before. My name is …” and go from there. And in case your wondering, the pastor shaking hands at the door or the people giving you a bulletin on the way into the sanctuary don’t count! We all know that they HAVE to say hello!
Make Children Welcome!
Have information everywhere for parents. Put it on signs around the church, have someone in the Sunday School wing directing and welcoming people, put it on an information card in the pews and chairs and all over the website. Don’t leave parents wondering what they are supposed to do with kids! We’ve been there and it is not fun! Make sure that your children’s area looks like a place you would want to leave your kids. Ask yourself, if this were a school would I be ok with the way the hallway, classroom, etc. look? If the kids are invited to come “forward” for a kid’s message and then leave to a class, be sure to also invite those kids and parents still seated to come with the group as they leave to the class time. Visiting kids will rarely go to the front of a strange church! Our kids have had some amazing experiences and some where they wanted nothing to do with the children’s ministry and stayed in the service with us. Even worse, we’ve been to services where there is nothing for the kids during the service at all! No children’s message, no sunday school, nothing to draw on, no information about their ministry – Nothing! Our kids are longtime church kids, but there are places that were intolerable even for them. Imagine what a kid that has never been to church would feel! I can tell you that our children have had the best experiences at churches that had larger groups of kids together of various ages for a type of “kids church.” Walking into a classroom with three kids is very intimidating and uncomfortable for a visiting child so the large group puts them at ease and has more energy.
Explain what you are doing in worship!
I realize that the “seeker sensitive” movement may have taken some things to extremes, but they also got some things right. Think about it: How is someone who has never been to worship or has come from a different tradition supposed to know what “passing the peace” is? What in the world are you doing with the bread and the wine anyway? Who is allowed to come? Why are you doing it? Even though I am a pastor, I have still found the eucharist to be very uncomfortable in some churches. How was I supposed to know that my little plastic cup went into a discard bin right next to the server up front? Should my children stay seated or come forward? Can we participate if we aren’t members? We don’t have to get rid of the liturgical elements in worship to make visitors comfortable, but we should take the time to explain them briefly. Also, if you’re doing the announcements, be sure to introduce yourself!
Invite people to stay for coffee!
If you have a place with cookies, coffee, tea, etc., have someone upfront in worship invite people to stay and enjoy it. Visitors are in survival mode. They want to figure out what to do with their kids, find a place to sit, experience the worship, and get back to their car to debrief without being horribly embarrassed. If visitors like the worship, and come back, then they will be looking to experience more. So let them know that you have a place to hang out and meet people. Of course, this only helps if someone takes #3 seriously!
Provide a way for people to meet with pastoral staff!
This doesn’t apply specifically to what we have experienced, but if we were truly “church shopping” then this would be important. Have a casual gathering a few times a year when people can meet with the leaders of the church and get to know others new to the church. Let them ask their questions (you could also solicit feedback!). Provide childcare, food, drink, and you’ll be on your way. Oh, and don’t be tempted to make this a “new members class.” They aren’t going to be ready for commitment yet.
I’m sure I’ll think of other things to add since we have a couple more months of this to go. I’ll update this entry as I think of them. Maybe you’ve been a church shopper and you’ve thought of some that aren’t on here?
One other note: This seems a little odd to write this article on this blog for the simple reason that these suggestions are primarily for an “attractional church” model (i.e. – “our doors our open every Sunday and you’re welcome to join us!). However, any church with regular worship gatherings is going to have visitors, even if it is just those moving into the community and looking for a church home. However, it does beg the question: How different would it be if the “visitors” in question had already been to the home of one of the regular attenders and was met by them in the parking lot on their first day at worship?
I had to share some artwork with you (click on an image to see it full-size). During our December worship gathering the kids took some time to make a play-doh nativity after hearing the Christmas story. They also did some drawing.
I couldn’t be more proud of the drawing above! I don’t know if we adults are getting it yet, but the church is NOT a place, it’s a people! So cool!
The next one will require a bit of explanation. Be sure to look at it full-size so you can see Jesus’ face.
I had just finished telling the Christmas story, and during the story I let the kids know that Jesus cried as a baby just like all babies cry. Now, it doesn’t say that in the Bible, but it also does not say that Jesus didn’t cry! We know Jesus cried as an adult (John 11:35), and we know that Jesus was fully human and fully God. The fully human baby Jesus surely cried! Is this important? It is important in the sense that Jesus’ full humanity is important theologically. Beyond that, there is the implication that a “perfect” baby wouldn’t cry – bad in so many ways!
You probably noticed the pig as well with the tail that stretches to the sky. I’m not sure where it came from, and my first thought was: “Of all the animals he could’ve picked, he had to pick the one that would be most repulsive to a good Jew!” After a good chuckle I put it away. Later it hit me: Of all the people God could’ve picked to visit baby Jesus he chose the unclean Gentile astrologers (magi) and the physically dirty shepherds! So perhaps a pig isn’t as out of place as I thought at first.
One more picture. This is a picture of the play-doh nativity made by all the kids. Not much I want to say about this other than I love letting kids respond creatively to the Word in our worship gatherings.
This is an interesting “fresh expression” of church happening in the UK that sounds very similar to Tidelands in some ways (Thanks for the link Corey). Clearly the Holy Spirit is moving faithful people in similar ways around the globe! Check out the article on City:Base to read more.
I think this balance we are trying to strike between the ‘centre’ and the ‘edge’ is an interesting one; we have our gathering once a month and Simple Church throughout the week to encourage the life of these simple missional churches to grow the life of our prayer and mission base at the centre.
Over the years I’ve led and participated in a number of short-term missions to various places in the United States and beyond. Generally the trips are no more than two weeks long, and we end up spending that time living and working with missionaries that are serving in that location on a long-term basis. Being in a foreign culture, it can become tempting to insulate yourself at the home/base of the missionaries. In that place there is a sense of safety, comforts, and a bit of “home away from home.” But in doing so, it is also possible to spend all of your time in a foreign country without truly experiencing and interacting with the very people and culture that you came to serve.
If you really want to get out and experience a new place and get to know the people and culture you need to get out and go to where people gather. You need to spend time in restaurants, cafes, markets and parks. Some of the richest and most vivid experiences from my time on these short-term trips were spent in these places. I think of the chaos of the marketplace in Senegal, the beauty of the open-air jungle cafe in Costa Rica, and the wonderful tastes and smells of the street taco stands of Mexico. These gathering spots are the “3rd Places.”
In urban planning “3rd Places” (or “3rd Spaces”) are those spots other than home or work where people gather together. For the missional church, 3rd Places are those spots other than home or church where people gather. This could be a cafe, restaurant, park, school, gym, etc. These are places where people feel comfortable and safe. Places where food, drink and conversation flow. This is where you get to know the community and the stories that form it.
As we get moving with this new missional church, we are making a point of moving ourselves into these spaces. I’m grateful right now that I don’t have a formal office, because it makes it easier for me to find “excuses” to be out in the community. In fact, I’m sitting in a gym during basketball practice right now as I write this and I’ve already met someone I’ve never talked with before. But spending intentional time in 3rd places is not limited to individuals. We can also gather as a group. That is why, as a missional community we are going to go out to eat together at least once a month to the same location so that we can get known as “regulars” and have more opportunities to interact with the lives and stories that make up this community. Our hope is that over time this will also facilitate our ability to build relationships and make contact with those in our community that have yet to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.
There are two different ways that we, as the missional church, want to be intentional about being present in these 3rd places. First, we want to go back to at least one place often enough that we get to know that place and people well and truly become part of it. The first time that I walk into the Stanwood Starbucks and the barista knows my drink order before I say it, I’ll know I’m crossing into that special zone of belonging. Second, we want to visit 3rd places that we either haven’t been to before or might not normally visit. The reason for the latter should be obvious: if we only go where we are comfortable and fit in we will in some ways be like the short term missionary that never leaves the missionary’s home and therefore never truly gets to know and experience the culture.
So the moral here: Go out more often! Seriously! But as you go, be sure to look, listen, and pray that you will have the eyes to see your community and the people around you as Jesus does.