For all the trendiness and relevant-ness of hip box and band mall-like mega-church-ish church popularity, there is an interesting statistic that should turn the heads of all millennial and z-Gen Christians and older Christians looking to relive their youthfulness: Research shows that most growing churches are homogeneous.
What this means is, most growing churches in the U.S. attract their own kind, their peers, a flat demographic. “In fact, research has shown that churches in the United States have become intense sites of clusters,” that is groups made up of people who are very much alike demographically and in personality. You know, our kind of people. “Overall, Churches in the United States are more segregated than neighborhoods.”
*Quotes from Congregations, Neighborhoods, Places by Mark T Mulden, expansion is on me and what Mulden's material made me think of. We must resist and rethink church.
"Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God" (Ro 15:7).
This is church language. A gathered-church.
The context: Some were NOT welcoming others. So the word to church: "welcome those whom you are not welcoming."
Negative application: What are our attitudes and actions NOW that communicate "you're unwelcome here" or prohibit the welcome of those we are not welcoming (those not like us/those we hate/those we in-some-way-look-down-upon)? Discover, lament, repent.
Positive application: Intentional action that welcomes those unlike us whom we are not currently welcoming.
My theology and understanding of the New Testament brings me into places and near people that I, otherwise, probably would not be. Sometimes this scares me, not because I am uncomfortable (and I am often uncomfortable as I should be or I am not learning from my theology and understanding of the New Testament), but because I am empty of solutions or resources or practical-on-the-spot comfort.
Children's message at service yesterday:
Kids, I want to ask you a question (like I usually do), but I want you to pause and really think about your answer. When you walk into a room, into a home, into a party, into any place where there are other people (your age), what's the first thing you ask yourself?
Of course I spent a little time explaining what "ask yourself" means because they don't even know they are "asking" anything. Had plenty of puzzled looks for the most part . . . but I knew they'd get it when I told them what I thought their first question to themselves would be . . .
I said, "When you walk into a room, into a home, into a party, into any place where there are other people (your age), don't you ask yourself, 'Are my friends here?' (Parents, don't we even ask this?)"
You can see their minds work by their eyes and facial expressions. O yeah! Lots of nodding yes. They got it . . . so did the adults . . .
Of course I said this is natural and not a bad thing . . . but that can stop us from asking other questions like, who is lonely here, who is not liked and needs a friend, who is uncomfortable here and needs someone to talk to . . .
This is what Jesus did for us: he came into the party, knowing full well he didn't have any friends there, and asked, "Who is lost? Who needs a friend?"
This is church, people (now I'm not talking to the kids, but you, blog friends). Maturing in Christ means getting beyond "who are my friends?" and "are my friends here?" And this is also about maturing as a church, as a gathered-church.
Just saw a rather good tag line in a meme: "Is there room for me in your Christmas?" Yes, I know a cliché, but this time there is valid application. I sure like this Christianese cliché more than the other-ad nausea-one: Jesus is the reason for the season--and here's why: Of course the original Christmas story teaches us somethings about the Christ, the second person of the trinity, the Son of God become flesh (very very important stuff), but these texts are to help us understand the nature of redemption--the gospel--and the purpose of the church. So who we are as church is to be lifted from this story. So, here goes:
"We are the reason for the season."
Not only did Jesus come to save us (i.e., the reason for the season), but we are Christmas to the dying world. And, I am wondering if all our attempting to follow the retail and commercial world in our presentation of the Christmas story has taken us away from our roll in all the gospel.
As for the other meme quote, "Is there room for me in your Christmas?" is so relevant a question for the church, the local church. There are so many people (do I really need to list them for you?) that are wondering about just this with regards to our churches. What, really, whom don't we have room for "at church"? Not only has retail highjacked Christmas, in some way the church has as well made retail our bottom-line; making it exactly the same as retail version to grow our churches, up-contributions, and make us feel all warm for this holiday season.
Here's the rub: What does our way of "doing church" suggest or teach others whom we do and do not have room for?
Think more deeply about Christmas this year.
The local church as the “thin place” and “the space between”: “Thin place,” a sacred place or space where unseen mysteries of the other world (i.e., “the heavenlies”) and the material places of the earth touch. A “thin place” is where one can walk in two worlds at the same time, a place of liminality—a place where the two worlds (seen and unseen) are fused or mingled together, yet where distinctions can be discerned. “A thin place” is where the boundary between heaven and earth is especially narrow, a place where a sense of the divine is more readily perceived. The church (a local church) as God’s household-temple is such a “thin place.” The “space between” is the common or transitional space where boundaries are fluid, a mix of human activity, specifically that space between the build environment. The church (a local church) is such a “space between” [from C. M. Anderson, “The Sacred “Thin” Space Between: (Eph 3:16): The Temple- Church as Revelation of God's Reconciling Mystery and Its Potential for Church Growth Outcomes” (paper)].
E.M. Bounds wrote: “People are God’s method. The church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better people.” The church today is a far cry from this clarion call for godly people. We have turned everything on its head. By establishing church growth and church life on the basis of self‑interest, churches become more concerned about methodology than godliness. This concentration on methodology reinforces our privatized faith and increases the casualties of our individualism. [From my Destroying Our Private Cities.]
E.M. Bounds, Power through Prayer, ed. Penelope J. Stokes (Minneapolis: World Wide Publications, 1989), 13.
Platform for change: Output and Outcome Church Growth Trajectories
Despite the musings of some that the NT church (and the early Jesus movement) was a protest against an oppressive Empire, the apostolic and early church lacked the power and a public platform for social and cultural change. However, the household temple-church filled in Spirit was and is the platform for making known God’s cosmic reconciliation through which cultural and social change was and is inaugurated in the world, particularly the worlds of our neighborhoods and communities. Christians did not “take to the streets,” but made known God’s cosmic reconciliation in the midst of household temple-churches through the reoriented relationships of reciprocity. Paul was calling, in particular, Gentile Christian men (i.e., the husbands-fathers-masters) to act against their own self-interests and against the norms of the dominant culture, literally to take up arms against the Empire by adopting the reconciled, sacrificial love of Messiah Jesus, demonstrating reciprocity to wives, children, and slaves. They must now live “no longer as the Gentiles walk” (4:17). Paul does not seek to overthrow the authority structures of the culture in which the Ephesian church found itself. But what he does do is instruct those in the family of God, within the all-welcoming worshipping venue, a new way of relating to one another in Messiah. This should affect what we consider as church growth.
Buildings and addressed spaces do not foster relationships and authorities in a vacuum. In fact, a building decodes the concept of “the church.” This is true of a building-centered church experience, for our “church” experience and how we read and understand the Bible exist within a complex web of social, cultural, and religious meanings, habits, and relationships that are manifested in the fabric of our sacred spaces. In other words, a building-centered church experience fosters certain types of relationships, affirms a different set of authorities, and establishes a different set of burecratic powers than does a household venue as church. Today, church buildings tend to gather together the like-minded and those politically and economically similar—causing our building-centered sacred space and religious habits to be formed separate from other lesser individuals. Additionally, within a building-centered church experience the “power” a building has over people cannot be avoided, namely “the power of management, of expertise, or pure power against pure power,” while at the same time, ironically expressing “the power-refusing cross of Christ.” Perhaps, the reading of the command to be filled (Eph 5:18c) and the reoriented household code (5:22–6:9) offered throughout this paper opens other potential reasons for Paul’s final section—directly after the table—on the church, Messiah, and the powers.
One could argue the need for sacred space identity in a place, but such arguments are deeply cultural. Paul locates the identity of the church both “in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:20–23; 2:6; 3:10) with the enthroned Messiah Jesus and “on earth” locally in household temple-churches. Yet, it is within the household temple-church(es) that God calls those in power, not to force others to submit, but for themselves to obey him through submission to others in the reciprocity of human relationships. As Dudrey insightfully points out, God “calls us not to seek empowerment, but to live out our lives in the moral and spiritual equivalent of martyrdom.” More specifically, God calls those with power into this new life of “martyrdom.”
Within and through the household temple-churches that were spreading throughout the Empire, what it was to be human had been “irrevocably altered.” Albeit vast numbers of people flowed into the church—and that is certainly church growth as well—yet the filling in Spirit command and the reoriented household code provoke us to imagine church growth in terms of reconciliation among people, namely to recognize the value intrinsic to others and act in ways that promote outcomes of personhood (i.e., intentional reciprocity). As Megan Shannon Defranza has so poignantly observed in her book, Sex Difference in Christian Theology: Male, Female, and Intersex in the Image of God, “Postmodern vigilance on behalf of others and the Christian command to love our neighbors as ourselves call us to more careful attention to persons as they are found in the real world rather than in the ideal world of philosophical and theological systems.” Paul’s description of the household temple-church places real people from all strata of life together as church, literally giving priority of place to lesser persons and, more strikingly, calling those in power to show reciprocity in their associations with others. Therefore, potential church growth should also include outcomes of personhood and appropriate outputs (i.e., “church” activities) that ensure such outcomes.
*For those following my thoughts on "Church Growth" here is my conclusion to the paper (and hopeful chapter in a forthcoming book) as I prepare for the upcoming November 2015 annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Atlanta.
Other Not by the Numbers posts >>
Introduction to the last section: A Temple-Church Architecture Reorienting Trajectory: Personhood Outcomes
With a contextually wider view of the Ephesians Letter, one of the outcomes of God’s cosmic reconciliation through Messiah can be seen in the transformation of the principal Roman social unit into relationships of reciprocity [see Russ Dudrey, “‘Submit Yourself to One Another’," RestQ, v 41/1]. This is even more substantial when we consider that the household code setting is framed within a temple-church venue, God’s new sacred place where believers gathered as the locally enfleshed fullness of Messiah’s body (cf. 1:22-23). Our observations of the code and its literary connection to the Spirit-filled temple-church (see Eph 2:19-22; 5:18) provoke us to reimagine potential relevant outcomes for the significance of how Paul works the household code text (5:22-6:9). The priority of the “lesser” household member (i.e., wives, children, slaves) in each pairing and the leveling of the male head of household through the expected reciprocity to the “lesser” members suggest that personhood (or the recognition of personhood) is an appropriate contextual outcome for the command to be filled in Spirit (5:18c). God’s new humanity (2:15c) is a result (an outcome) of his cosmic reconciliation (his output). Thus, the growing household temple-church in Spirit (2:19-22; 5:18-6:9) is God’s recreated sacred space where (a local) church growth is measured by local “church” habits and intentional outputs that promote a socially constructed reality wherein social mapping affirms mutuality and equality among persons (outcomes).
*For those following my thoughts on "Church Growth" here are some concluding thoughts as I prepare for the upcoming November 2015 annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Atlanta.
Other Not by the Numbers posts >>
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.