Last night I had some downtime and used it to start reading the recent book from Tim Chester and Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission. I read the prior book, Total Church, a while back and liked it (for my review, click here). Everyday Church is only $1.99 for Kindle and has already proven to be well worth the couple of bucks.
I am about a quarter of the way through the book and it has been very interesting and highly quotable. I have already highlighted a lot of passages. Steve and Tim live in the U.K. and their perspective on the challenge for the church in a post-Christendom environment has been excellent. The U.S. is headed the same way and we would be wise to learn from those who are experiencing the challenge now. One of their main points is that in a culture that is no longer welcoming but increasingly hostile to the Christian worldview and Gospel message we can no longer rely on the lost "coming to us" to hear the Gospel. We are going to have to go to them because a huge and growing percentage of the population simply has no interest in "going to church".
Here are some quotes....
However, many of our approaches to evangelism still assume a Christendom mentality. We expect people to come when we ring the church bell or put on a good service, but the majority of the population are disconnected from church. Changing what we do in church will not reach them. We need to meet them in the context of everyday life....We need to shift our focus from putting on attractional events to creating attractional communities.
Chester, Tim; Timmis, Steve (2013-06-30). Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission (Re:Lit) (p. 10). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
As we have seen, approximately eighty-five million people in the United States have no intention of attending a church service. In the United Kingdom it is forty million— 70 percent of the population.
Chester, Tim; Timmis, Steve (2013-06-30). Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission (Re:Lit) (p. 25). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
John Finney’s research Finding Faith Today showed that “the most important evangelistic work of the minister appears to be not in the church and the pulpit but in two other kinds of relationships: one to one meetings with non-Christians and the ‘lapsed’ [and] group situations, particularly those where there is an opportunity to talk about the nature of faith.”
Chester, Tim; Timmis, Steve (2013-06-30). Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission (Re:Lit) (pp. 24-25). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
In Christendom many people attended church, sometimes by legal constraint, more often by social constraint. In this context churches could legitimately speak of faithfully proclaiming the gospel, because each Sunday they had gospel-centered sermons. This is no longer the case. We cannot claim to be faithfully proclaiming the gospel to the lost through our Sunday preaching when most of the lost do not attend church.
(emphasis mine) Chester, Tim; Timmis, Steve (2013-06-30). Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission (Re:Lit) (p. 27). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
That one sentence in bold bears repeating: We cannot claim to be faithfully proclaiming the gospel to the lost through our Sunday preaching when most of the lost do not attend church. That runs completely counter to the prevailing church culture. Bottom line, just giving a Gospel proclamation as part of the Sunday morning sermon doesn't cut it because the vast majority of people who need to hear the Gospel proclaimed aren't coming to church. I don't think that the sermon centered meeting has ever been healthy but even if you think it worked in the past, it is not working now. Listen to a lot of the "experts" and they will either tell you on the one hand that church services need to be more "relevant" or on the other side that they need to give people even more sermonizing. What is really in view here is what the authors talk about, moving away from "attractional events", i.e. Sunday morning services, Vacation Bible School, etc. and becoming "attractional communities" that engage the lost where they are rather than stubbornly insisting they meet us on our turf. I am already a believer, I don't need to hear the Gospel in the same way that someone lost needs to hear it but the church is largely deigned to cater to people like me instead of equipping the church to go where the lost are. Like the old saying attributed to Willie Sutton "Why do you rob banks? Because that's where the money is" is turned on its head. We need to go where the lost are in order to preach the Gospel to them.
There is a lot of emphasis by the authors on the need to change our mindset. It is not a matter of "repackaging" church but instead by moving to a focus on forming relationships and being accessible to those who need to hear about Jesus. One of my concerns about the so-called house church movement is that it sometimes seems to be just a "repackaging", doing church better but still doing a poor job of making disciples. I am sure there are many house churches that do a great job of making disciples just as there are certainly traditional churches that do the same. What matters more than how we "do church" is how we live our lives in community with other believers. Are we living in a way that enables relationships with unbelievers that we are trying to reach or are we more inward focused on our own priorities?
I also like how the authors tie this back to the Reformation, occurring as it did amidst the Christendom mindset and even embracing it. This ties back to the whole framework for infant baptism and also why the magisterial Reformers were threatened by Anabaptism leading to the persecution of the Anabaptists.
For all its vital rediscovery of gospel-centered theology, the Reformation in Europe did not lead to a recovery of gospel-centered mission by local churches. That is because the Reformers generally accepted the Christendom presupposition that Europe was Christian. To be born was to be born into the church. So the church’s mission to the surrounding society was pastoral rather than evangelistic.
Chester, Tim; Timmis, Steve (2013-06-30). Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission (Re:Lit) (pp. 22-23). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
We still see this today where most of our time and talent and of course money is funneled into "pastoral ministry".
I am still working through the book and will share more quotes and observations as I go but this is another one of those conversations that the church in America needs to be having right now (and should have been having a long time ago). How do we reach people when they are not ever going to come to the event driven ministries that we invest most of our time, talent and money in?