Over the past several weeks I’ve had the opportunity to speak to various crowds of church leaders and talk about church transformational issues. I’ve noticed that I can generally divide the audience into two groups: those who want to get it and so are open to giving the presentation a listen, and those who don’t want to get it and so they cross their arms and either glare or get glassy-eyed. I’ve not noticed very many folks in the middle.
Recently I was accused (in a good way) of being an idealist. That comment has haunted me for several weeks now and I’ve wrestled with it almost daily. I think what bothers me most is (1) he’s right – I am an idealist and (2) somehow that’s perceived as odd. My problem is that I have it my head that the church was designed to be a place where idealism was not only heralded as “the ideal,” but that the church was serious about ushering in the Kingdom (whether seen as a future promise or a present reality). And that’s idealism at it’s most extreme.
So, for me, here’s where the rubber is hitting the road … and it’s creating all sorts of acrid smoke as it does. If the church is going to be faithful to its mission … which I firmly believe that mission is about making disciples … then it’s got to live, breathe, organize, and act missionally. The problem is …
…what’s a “Missional” Church? Well, that all depends on who’s asking and especially on who’s answering. According to some of the emerging crowd (emerging, not necessarily emergent), a missional church is one that is willing to reconsider virtually everything they are and do (in terms of tactics, tools, and strategies) in order to reach their mission field. By that definition, many of you reading this are unlikely to become leaders of missional churches. Why? Because your congregation is unlikely to even consider that over 90 percent of how you “do church” is tied up with sacred cows and extra-biblical traditions. Don’t hear me saying that it’s all wrong … or that any of it is “wrong,” but most of the “hows” a church engages in is tradition at best (buildings, Bible reading, preaching, vestments, pews, pulpits, communion outside of a meal, tithing, responsive readings, most hymnody, instruments, “weekly” worship … you get the picture). If a congregation isn’t willing to put 100 percent of these traditions on the block, then the reality, they can never be a truly missional church by this definition.
However, that definition seems to me to be a bit restrictive, if not idealistic. So typically I define a missional church as one that understands what mission is and is willing to sacrifice personal preferences (and traditions) in order to reach their missional calling.
Let me tease this out. Anyone who knows me as a church consultant knows that I’m not a fan of blended services. Blended services [u]almost[/u] always satisfies no one in the congregation. Those who love the traditional music and style generally find drums, electric guitars, and keyboards to be a distraction … not to mention praise music (or worse). Those who are of the Peter, Paul, and Mary persuasion (me, for one) tend to love the acoustic guitar, a little drum, and a keyboard as we sing our so-called 7-11 songs (seven words repeated eleven times … think “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” et al). Then there’s the younger crowd yet who want, yea need, a beat. Bass guitars and screaming electric guitar solos all at a volume that makes my ears ring. Try shuffling those three and “ain’t nobody happy.”
The solution is to engage in missional worship. This means that instead of trying to produce a plain vanilla worship that supposedly no one could possibly object to (which means everyone will object to it), a congregation develops the best possible worship service focused on “reaching” their mission objective. So, if a congregation of serious seniors (the over 70s) wants desperately to reach their children (the Boomers), instead of adding a guitar to their traditional service, they’ll start a second service that focuses on praise and worship (or country western or classic rock or oldies, all depending on the best options for reaching that mission objective). And the wise church leader will make sure that the “traditional” service is top-of-the-line traditional. And so it goes. If the church’s missional calling is to reach the under 30s, they’ll target their worship service totally on the style, in the language, and with the technology that is most likely to reach that missional objective.
So, let’s get down the the real nitty gritty. Who is your missional target? How do you find out? The past two days I’ve listed a series of questions to ask yourselves to help you get an idea. Today, though, it’s not enough to ask the right questions … you have to have and to use the right tools. Start with a good demographics and psychographics package. The one your denomination provides is typically worth about the cost of the paper it’s printed on. There’s nothing there you couldn’t get from a couple hours with a good Google search. It will give you some raw numbers and it will tell you how likely those in your community are to a particular style of worship, but it doesn’t help you to know “who” your neighbors are. Percept offers a tool called the Compass. It’s good. MissionInsight, the firm EBT has partnered with, provides everything Percept offers and a good bit more for a single price (though you have to use a mediator like us to access their materials). The price for either is comparable. Psychographics were developed for marketers and they help you get inside the minds and habits of your neighbors … and that’s information you can use to at least get an idea about what a worship service for a particular demographic might look like (C&W, R&R, R&B, Jazz, etc.).
But DO NOT rely on the psychographics. If you really want to know who your neighbors are, the very BEST way to find out is to get out there and meet them. Go hang out at the mall, the coffee shops, the book stores, the high school ball games, the grade school band concerts, the Chamber of Commerce mixers, Toastmasters, PTA, the parks, the sales barn, the grain elevator, the drug store, the square, McDonalds in the morning, etc. and be a people watcher and a conversation eaves dropper. Who are your neighbors and what are they concerned about? What are they listening to (what’s on their iPod playlist … ask … you’ll be surprised at how willing people are to share!)? Get to know them by osmosis.
Finally, according to a very recent study, it seems that door-knocking is becoming effective again. I know, the vast majority of you now want to bury your heads in your hands and weep, but the facts are the facts. It appears that the folks “out there” aren’t as wild about their anonymous, cocooned lives as they used to be and they’re more willing to entertain a walk by knocking than they used to be. (To see the research, see Ed Stetzer’s blog entry at http://blogs.lifeway.com/blog/edstetzer/2008/11/going-doortodoor-a-look-at-the.html).
But all that’s pretty ideal. Really. Imagine asking a church of fifty to consider starting a second service to reach their unconnected neighbors. I get responses like, “but we’re too small … help us grow our traditional service and when it’s full we’ll start something else” or this response from the pastor “I’ve decided to start a blended service so we can create critical mass … I know someone somewhere who started a blended service and it worked great for them.” There’s always the odd exception to every rule … and everyone somehow thinks that they’re going to be the exception too. Not because they will be, but because it’s easier to convince a small congregation to add a guitar to Amazing Grace than it is to convince them to allow (pay and pray for) two services. And yet, that’s exactly my counsel. If you’re in a small church, you’ll not become a larger church by doing what you’ve been doing … and the fact is, almost everyone who really wants to attend a traditional worship service is already going to church. If you’re going to be a faithful congregation to whatever missional objective God has called you to, you’re going to have be a bit of an idealist and a lot less a realist.