We are having a crucial conversation at the church these days about how to reach young families and children more effectively than we have been doing in recent years. This is the near universal conversation that’s being had in Mainline churches like Northway. Fortunately, Northway has the resources both to have this conversation and then to act on its conclusions. This is a hopeful and not a desperate season in the life of this church. Good people are doing thoughtful work about how to make this church more effective in this area of ministry, and I am fully supportive of this process and truly grateful for the effort that is being made. Our future depends on it, and we believe that our best years are still out there in front of us, and so we “follow, not with fears.”
But there is a real danger in a process like this one we are in. It is just so easy to reduce it to a functional conversation alone. If we are not just as clear about why we are reaching out as we are about who it is that we are going to try to reach out to, and how, then this is a conversation about tactics and not mission. A mission needs tactics – good, solid tactics. But more than that, tactics need a mission, and that has got to push us into deeper relational conversations and considerations. In addition to strategizing about the most effective ways to reach young families and minister to their children, we’ve all got to actually start connecting with the young families in our own kinship and friendship spheres, and begin to actively minister to their children. And we need to know why we are making this effort; why it matters.
Kennon Callahan in his work on effective churches made the important distinction between the “functional” strengths and the “relational” strengths of a congregation. At the risk of oversimplification, a church’s “functional” strengths are the delivery systems of its “relational” strengths. A church’s “relational” strengths will tell you all about how that church understands its mission, and a church’s “functional” strengths will tell you all about how skilled and disciplined that church is in actually fulfilling that mission. This distinction is crucial because when a church is in trouble the natural reflex is to tinker with the functional aspects of its life, forgetting that it’s the relational aspects of its life that are its true engine.
As Os Guinness put in his recent book Renaissance – The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times (IVP – 2014) –
America as the lead society in the modern world is awash with numbers and metrics, and with statistics, opinion polls, surveys, targets, pie charts, scorecards, big data, game theory and measurable outcomes – all at the expense of the true, the good, the beautiful, the faithful, and the significant. (39)
…Metrics are quantitative and not qualitative, so they measure performance but not relationships. They tell us about the externals of religion and say nothing about the heart. Metrics, for instance, can tell us what husbands spent this year on Valentine’s cards and gifts for their wives, but not whether the cards and gifts expressed their love or their guilt for not loving their wives as they once did. Metrics could have recorded the tonnage of the sheep and oxen sacrificed in Solomon’s Temple, but not what it was about them that made God say that He was sick of them. In the same way, metrics can record the frequency of our church attendance, the regularity of our Bible reading and the exact amount of our tithing, but they can never gauge the genuineness of any of them… (43)
…We need to trace the overall damage that this trend toward numbers does to the church. It develops Christians with an eye for the quantitative rather than the qualitative, for externals rather than inner reality, for performance rather than relationship, for the shallow rather than the deep, for evangelism in terms of the number of decisions rather than discipleship and growth in character, for the bandwagon rather than the Bible, for popularity rather than principle, and with greater sensitivity to horizontal pressure than vertical authority.
…The result is a church befuddled over the difference between success and faithfulness. (44)
This year’s August Forum about how to minister effectively across the generations that are present in both the culture and the church builds deliberately on last year’s August Forum on the necessity of consciously and conscientiously cultivating a culture of evangelism within the life of this church. We need to connect these dots and pull tight the edges of these two conversations into one seamless garment.
Last year we said –
CULTURE OF EVANGELISM
“Sharing Christ with those seeking meaning and purpose…”
A culture of evangelism in a church begins with the spiritual formation of its own members. The God of the Bible is a missional God, and those who are in relationship with Him will become missional as part of their faithful response to Him.
Spiritually formed church members live question-posing lives as part of a question-posing community.
Spiritually formed church members will cultivate a “salvific mindset” – an outlook on life that cares deeply for the spiritual well-being of others – and so, like salt and light, they will begin to intentionally and relationally position themselves in order to be able to engage and have influence with others.
Knowing from their own experience the truth of the Gospel and the value of the church, spiritually formed church members will look for opportunities to invite and ways to include others in the life of their church.
The church, always expecting newcomers and inquirers to be present in its life, will be constantly “on its game.” It will be welcoming. It will make its values, both congregational and denominational, transparent. It will make its message accessible. And it will provide specific ways for people to connect and the take next steps in the spiritual life.
Spiritually formed church members will intentionally companion people on their spiritual journeys not as salesman looking to close a deal but as fellow pilgrims who know the terrain that’s being covered because they’ve already been there themselves. They will know how to patiently listen and when to appropriately and authentically share what they know.
When we ask – “Will the next generation have faith?” – as we are in this year’s August Forum, we are not just having a theoretical conversation. As a preacher in chapel when I was in Christian College nearly 40 years ago put it, “Christianity is always just one generation away from extinction.” Reaching the next generation for Christ is our mission as a church. It’s built into our congregational commitment to “Share Christ with those seeking meaning and purpose.” And we will need some good, solid “functional” strategies and tactics to accomplish this, and some specific programmatic and personnel proposals will soon be forthcoming from the Task Force that has been studying our congregational ministry to families and children to this end. But it would be an enormous mistake to think that once these “functional” decisions have been made and published that everything will thereby have been fixed in our ministry to families and children.
When the “functional” decisions are made, then the real “relational” work begins, and that calls each and every one of us to the six assignments that are involved in cultivating a culture of evangelism at Northway – (1) Being deliberately and continuously formed spiritually ourselves; (2) Living incarnationally so that people will ask questions about why we are the way we are; (3) Making ourselves available so that we might engage and have influence with others; (4) Looking for opportunities to invite and ways to include others in the life of this church; (5) Providing specific ways for people to connect and to take next steps in the spiritual life through the life of this church; and (6) Knowing how to patiently listen and when to appropriately and authentically share what it is that we know to be true and powerful about how Jesus Christ is both Lord and Savior of the world.
When the “functional” decisions are finally made, the places where, the times when, and the ways how each one of us is then going to have to step up in faith to minister creatively and sacrificially to families and children are going to be clear, but no clearer than the reason why — because Jesus Christ is the way ,the truth, and the life (John 14:6), and anyone who is looking for meaning and purpose in this life, regardless of their generation, needs to be shown how what they are looking for is Him. DBS +