New Churches Stuck in a Christendom Box

May 25, 2012

New churches are stuck in a box we made

This is a continuation of Starting New Churches: Is Our Focus Misplaced? Two friends discussing church planting led me to wonder: Is church planting really “the most effective form of evangelism” in America? If so, I think we could do much better.

New churches: One size doesn’t fit all

The American landscape is continuing to shift away from any “Christianized” identity. Welcome to post-Christian America. The rules have changed, and America is a completely different mission field. Alan Hirsch teaches, “All mission in the West is cross-cultural.”

Revealing Jesus in a new context requires new approaches. So why do new churches keep going back to the “tried and true”? You know the old definition of insanity. By that definition, we American Christians are nuts about establishing new churches — specifically, church services.

New churches outside the box: They exist!

There are plenty of alternative examples around the globe. As I wrote before, we can’t just copy what we see elsewhere. But I’m not content to shrug and say, “It doesn’t work here.” Especially because I know one group here in the Bay Area has planted self-reproducing, home-based, lay-led groups. These groups are successfully growing through natural non-church relationships (oikos). Groups are spawning new groups, which in turn are spawning new groups, so it is a multiplying movement.

But this is happening among our urban poor. The groups are largely Hispanic. What about the more-or-less wealthy suburbanites? (Or is that hard soil, and I’m wasting my time? I don’t think so.)

Stuck in the box of Christendom: It’s mutual

Christianity was once a radical group. But thanks to our heritage of Christendom, where Christianity lost its fringe status to become the center of power and culture, we are burdened by pre-existing ideas of what churches are, look like, and do.

What’s curious about post-Christian culture is that these preconceptions are held by both Christians and non-Christians alike. We’re both locked inside the same box. This makes it doubly difficult to go off the beaten path to create alternative Jesus communities.

How do you contextualize the good news of Jesus when the people of that context expect Jesus safely boxed in a church service? I’ve tried to help my friends see beyond their ideas of church, but maybe that’s going in the wrong direction.

I think we need to unleash Jesus, apart from “church.” (And by “church” I specifically mean “the church service.”)

Coming alive to an unleashed Jesus

In the past nine months or so, Kay & I have each experienced spiritual renewal. Our hearts have come alive again. The Scriptures are chewy and rich. The leading of the Holy Spirit is real. We’re part of a church community that is deeper than we expected, and we’ve only just dipped our toes in.

We don’t know what God is up to in our lives. But I think it’s safe to say: Jesus is being unleashed in our lives.

Photo by sbisson (license)

Jon Reid

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As an American missionary kid who grew up in Japan, I'm a child of two cultures, while not fully belonging to either. This gives me a sightly different view of the world.

2 responses to New Churches Stuck in a Christendom Box

  1. 2 questions….1. May I ask what church community you are a part of now? 2. Do you have any ideas on how to ‘unleash’ Jesus apart from ‘church’?

    • Brandi,

      1. We’re with The River now.

      2. It’s been my privilege to meet various people who know how to do this, and read many helpful books. It’s what the “missional” movement is about (though the word has been diluted by being adopted by everyone and their uncle).

      My problem has been that until now, I’ve had little choice but to try operating as a lone wolf — which just doesn’t work. But now Kay & I are on the same page (or at least in the same chapter of the same book, so to speak). And the River has a surprising number of people who amaze me and make me look like a wannabe. I’m eager to learn!