Basically, here's my rocket science insight. If the quote in the last post about worship attendance is accurate -- and I believe it is -- we are in a situation where the Christian church is screaming at high velocity from a position of power and respectability in the center of the culture to a position of obscurity at the margins of the culture. Many people have identified this shift over the last couple decades, and if you're interested there are a ton of people explaining this shift out there. For my money, Loren Mead's old book, The Once and Future Church, explains it all as well as anyone.
The question gets to be, how do we respond to this shift? Because what worked at the center of the culture will NOT work at the margins. For example, there's a church not far from my home that has a big sign up every couple weeks advertising a neighborhood hymn sing. I don't know for sure, but it seems like they put the sign up to try to draw outsiders in. It's evangelism. But this is the sort of activity that will ensure the death -- or at least the increasing marginalization -- of the church. Hymn sings as an activity are not going to connect with a large percentage of the population.
More than that, hymn sings are not inherently an integral part of the mission of the church of Jesus Christ. Jesus did not tell us to go have hymn sings. Paul does say once or twice that we should sing hymns. But the key tasks of the church do not include sponsoring neighborhood hymn sings, or potlucks, or ice cream socials, or scripture seminars, or mission extravaganzas, or Ladies' Aid meetings or church conventions, or even Vacation Bible School or Sunday School or support groups.
Not to offend anyone.
These things are not what Jesus sent us to do. We in the church have done these things for one reason: we lived at the center of culture and at the center of culture, these things were effective ways to do what Jesus told us to do. As we speed toward the margins, if we continue to do these things it will be because we are sadly out of touch with reality.
This is where discontinuous change comes in. We can do better potlucks, nicer potlucks, Thai potlucks, tiki-torch potlucks, or any kind of potlucks. This is continuous change. But to do what Jesus told us to do in a radically new context -- from the margins of the culture -- we will have to make some clean breaks with old patterns. A few of our old structures might make the shift if they can serve our basic purposes in a new context, but most of them will have to go away.
This will not just look like doing Ladies' Aid differently and giving it a new name. Instead, the fundamental purposes of Ladies' Aid will have to change in order to align us with the purpose of the church in a new cultural context.
By now you may be asking, "What are the basic purposes of the church?"
My answer is go read the gospels and see what Jesus says. A couple helpful comments to get you started.
First, and most obvious, Jesus commissioned his church to make disciples. If we are not laser focused on creating Jesus-followers, we've missed the boat. Everything we do -- everything -- needs to be for the purpose of making disciples. To the extent that an activity is fruitful in raising up followers of Jesus, it should receive our loyalty, our energy, our money. Things that are not fruitful in this way should be abandoned. If our current structures and activities do not bear fruit to make disciples, we need to find new structures and activities.
The second thing that Jesus said that is quite thought provoking when it comes to the basic purposes of the church is this: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you" (John 20:21). So we are to be doing what we see Jesus doing in the gospels. His mission is our mission. His passion is to be our passion. His activity is to be our activity.
Simple? Yes. Easy? No. This kind of existence could cost the church its very life.
That's the point.