Ryan Bolger has a good post this morning entitled Missionaries Get the Emerging Church. His conclusions line up with some things I have been speculating on. Some of our modern forms of church planting in North America have shown great success, but I believe we will slowly see them losing efffectiveness.
Perhaps the most common, or at least the most widely talked about, way of planting churches is to make yourself known in the community, Postcards are sent out, events are advertised, and people are made known about the church and invited to be a part of it. I think this is still valid and reaches people. However, I wonder if it is only reaching a segment of the population, and a segment that is dwindling.
Many people in our culture don’t see church as a viable expression of their spirituality, so simply making our presence known is not going to appeal to them. I know that in our experience at Pathways, our postcards have primarily reached dechurched people — people who have been part of churches in the past, but have disconnected for various reasons. I’m glad that they are finding that we are a community where they can once again connect with others who are pursuing a life of following Jesus.
Back to Ryan Bolger’s post…I wonder how much we have to learn from missionaries in reaching growing segments of our culture. I know that churches are able to reach people with no church background — I’ve seen it happen. However, what can we learn from our brothers and sisters who have worked in foreign, and even hostile, cultures as we try to shape the look of church planting in the years to come?
WIth all this in mind, church planters will need to be bivocational, or cultivate suppport from those who understand the changing dynamics. Those supporing new church plant efforts need to be less results driven. Reaching unchurched people is more like planting trees than picking fruit that is just ripening. It will be a much longer process. Rarely would someone expect a missionary to a non-Christian culture to have a church of 150 people within a year, but they are willing to support the efforts. We need to shift our thinking to see that church planting even in North America will be much the same way.