Sunday, February 10, 2008

We Now Return To Our Regularly Scheduled Posts...A Vision for a Church

My favorite album of last year was Demon Hunter's "Storm the Gates of Hell" (Demon Hunter is an AWESOME Christian metal band) and the CD's title encapsulates the goal of my vision for a church--barbarian Christians ready to storm the gates of hell.

As I stated earlier, my vision for a church is one based on the Rainer & Geiger book "Simple Church" which lays out a blueprint for a church where everything the church does fits into a clear, sequential blueprint for making disciples. Thus, the first step is to decide what kind of disciple you want your church to produce and then work toward that goal. As I also stated earlier, the disciples I want the church I work at to produce will be rough around the edges but spirit filled, doctrinally sound soldiers ready to follow King Jesus into battle.

The blueprint of the church follows the following outline: connection--community--contribution or bridge--brotherhood--battle.

Connection or ("the bridge") obviously comes first. To build an army, the church must recruit soldiers. While many churches treat their worship services as either wholly evangelistic or wholly educational, communities like Mars Hill in Seattle and The Village in Dallas have demonstrated that this is a false dichotomy. A church can and must do both.

In order to connect or build a bridge to the outside world, the church must do many things: (1) have a good location; (2) have good security in place (esp. for children); (3) have good, clear signage throughout the building; (4) have a cool web page; (5) have a true committment to excellence; (6) have a warm, welcoming atmosphere (I know that sounds girly, but its true); and (7) cool music (I would prefer a hard rock-metal band ala Pillar or Disciple but that's me) BUT the biggest factor effecting church growth and retention (i.e., connection or bridge building) is the preaching and teaching.

Thom Rainer demonstrated in his massive research project compiled in "Breakout Churches" that preaching & teaching is key. Couples may stay at a church because of the youth & children's ministry (I hear that a lot) but they truly get excited and invite friends because of the preaching and teaching (and as the folks at Church Marketing 101 argue, if you're not growing at 15% per year then the preaching & teaching is NOT connecting enough to excite your people to invite others).

Preaching for many boomers, most Gen-Xer's and nearly all Gen-Yer's needs to be: (1) clear and simple (they don't know the Biblical narrative or even terms like Justification); (2) passionate and authentic (this is HUGE esp. for 18-35 year olds); (3) spoken in their "mother tongue" i.e., popular culture; and (4) doctrinally sound. Despite the cries of the wussy emergents, Rainer's research demonstrates clearly that only evangelical preaching & teaching truly connects in the long term.

A church can hire a great band like Skillet to do worship, they can build friggin' Disneyland for the kids, they can have Beth Moore, Rob Bell and Phillip Yancey themselves head their small groups and they can pass out free Starbucks and scones at the door but if the preaching & teaching is over their heads, dry point-by-point or doctrinally flimsy then the church will not truly connect with the unchurched and dechurched.

However, preaching is only part of the educational package. Rainer & Geiger's research also indicate the need for a new member class and Mars Hill has shown the importance of other training but more on all of that later. I've got to go preach.