Sunday, May 6, 2007

Now What? Growth (Cont.)

Over the last several weeks, there have been a number of questions about the choices that have been made regarding the style of our recent and upcoming Sunday services. I'd like to take the time right now to address those questions in the light of last week's blog posting--that our church must grow in order to accomplish the vision that we have for reaching our community for Christ through church planting.

The short answer is that everything we do, we do in order to advance the mission and vision of the church. Everything--everything--is designed to meet people where they are on their spiritual journeys and lead them to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ (our mission). If we are doing that, our church should be growing. As we grow, we are becoming increasingly ready to become actively involved in church planting to reach the 100,000 people in Jackson County with no church family (our vision).

However, I can understand that some may not see exactly how this is so. Therefore, I think it is worthwhile to give long answers to the following questions:

  • Where were the palm branches for Palm Sunday? Instead of commemorating Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (Matt. 21:1-11), we chose to focus on challenging the church to invite friends and neighbors for Easter the following week, because Easter Sunday is the single biggest opportunity we have all year long to see unchurched people come to church. Since the triumphal entry is no more important than the feeding of the 5,000 (for example) or any of the other stories about Jesus, there's no reason other then sentimentality to preach on it every year. Strategically, a message on outreach makes much more sense the week before Easter to advance our mission and vision.
  • What about lilies on Easter? If our mission is to reach people where they are, we need to start thinking like them. Is an Easter lily on the platform going to convince Northwest Nick to give his heart to Christ? Not likely. He's probably been to church on Easter Sunday a dozen times before, and there are always Easter lilies, along with a choir singing music he doesn't know or particularly like, and some ameteurish drama with guys in bathrobes. To the average unchurched person, this is not very compelling, and that's why they never come back the next week. Our goal was to launch a series that connects the Bible with Northwest Nick's day-to-day life, and shows him that satisfaction is found in God alone, not in all the other stuff that loads up (and overloads) his life. That goal was met: "Dragging 110%" brought in the highest average attendance of any series we've done so far, and a number of new people came more than just on Easter Sunday.
  • But why do we have to have all that junk on the stage? I know the stage sets are not everybody's cup of tea, but there is a definite purpose behind them. First, they serve as giant, visual sermon illustrations. I've used computer parts, a baseball bat, an apple, a glass of water, and many other items as illustrations in my messages; the sets really serve the same purpose--they're just bigger. Second, they help create a feeling, or a mood that helps draw many people (especially those who are visual learners) in to connect with what's going on or being said. Third, research shows that information that is heard and seen more than doubles the amount that is retained, compared to what is heard only ( Fourth--and this is probably the biggest reason--our culture is one that is awash in over-stimulation; if we simply present information in a traditional style, we will bore people and lose them (i.e., fail in our mission). Remember, we need to meet them where they are.
  • Why are we doing a series on Spider Man? Yes, the movie is rated PG-13 for violence; no one is suggesting you go pay money to see it. However, many people are--in fact, more people are seeing Spider Man than any movie in history ( When you consider the themes that the movie touches on--romance, power, responsibility, duty, integrity, loyalty, friendship, self-sacrifice, revenge, and more!--you begin to realize the incredible opportunity we have to help people process their entertainment in a deeper way, to see the spiritual messages that are contained in the movies they are watching, and to show them that the Bible is much more relevant and applicable to their lives than they ever dreamed--it addresses the same themes that Spider Man does, after all! It gives us an opening to create a spiritual discussion with unchurched people by taking a look at something that they are already actually interested in.

In short, our goal is to be a church that is different than most unchurched people have experienced. The church in America is failing: Every generation chooses to attend less frequently than the previous one. People are deciding that the church has nothing meaningful to say to their lives. It's boring, and people are busy--they are deciding to do other things with their valuable time. If we are going to not fail, we must do something different to break the cycle. We want to be a "church for the unchurched." We want to "do church" in such a way that someone who's never been to church before will be able to get it. In essence, that's our mission--to meet people where they are on their spiritual journeys and lead them to become fully devoted followers of Christ.

I understand that change is difficult. It's messy and painful and just plain hard. But the pain of not changing is even more severe. To not change is to resign ourselves to failure in our mission, to be content with impotence and irrelevance in a culture that desperately needs to be redeemed by the power of God. It is to turn our back on the call that God has placed on our lives to reach our world for him. It is to abandon our mission. And that is something we simply cannot do.

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