We are witnessing another fundamental shift in church culture with the decline of teaching-centric churches and the rise of service-centric churches. As I said in the last post, there have been three important components to church – a COMMON faith/experience that holds us together, COMMUNITY (relationships, meal sharing, sacred ritual), and TEACHING (including biblical exposition and moral exhortation).
More Than A Metaphor
During the recent emerging church movement, evangelicals in particular have used a more figurative paradigm than ever before. You could see it in the names of the churches: ROCKharbor, Jacob’s Well, Adullam (King David’s cave of refuge), Scum of the Earth – these names created a story that attracted people based on the experience and community they were looking for. Their meeting places also embraced the new metaphor – eschewing the junior college architecture of megachurches and instead taking over strip malls and old buildings of nearly dead mainline churches. But even those churches are experiencing the same survival rate as the “traditional” mega-churches.
So, it seems that church function, even its survival, needs more than just a change in metaphors. We are beginning to ask some very fundamental questions.
Do we need to own a building that is used 10% of the week for a 90-minute attractional or teaching service? Does it make sense in this environmental, carbon-footprint world to drive to the suburbs to sit and listen to a non-interactional presentation, especially when people can capture that teaching while they’re out exercising or driving to work? Does the teacher even need to be present?
Really, these questions aren’t anything new. Paul himself was the first “video venue” preacher – he only visited his churches occasionally, if at all, and in different venues. So, the relationship of the teacher to the congregation has never been central to the Christian faith. And in today’s American evangelical culture, being teaching-centric is once again losing its value.
Shifting from the Teacher to the Cause
It’s clear that people still want commonality and community. Those two aspects of church are staying strong, but what happens in the middle is what holds it all together. What is happening, then, is a shift from a Common TEACHING Community to a Common CAUSE Community.
What does the idea of CAUSE look like in reality? Simply, it answers the question, “How can we love our neighbor?” One beautiful thing the church has (indeed, has always had) is people who are committed to finding ways to love each other and others around them. In this way, we are resource-rich. If church shifted its purpose to utilizing these resources, a church might look like a mobile barbershop or a community garden, a tutoring program or serving in a senior Alzheimer’s center. In fact, over the last ten years, we’ve seen these models emerge with great success.
The Natural Rhythm of Service
In a service-centric church, the weekly focus shifts from the attractional, teaching-based Sunday morning to a multiple-day throughout the week involvement with the community around a cause. Just as Jesus says “come follow me,” rather than “stay and hear me out,” that’s where the majority of the church will reside – serving with each other.
Evangelism then becomes “Let’s love our neighbor together.” And as the community does this, discipleship naturally happens. The lines between these two pillars of the Christian faith blurs, just as the lines between leadership and congregants also blurs.
Of course, service is most powerful when it is organized and intentional, so there remains a need for good leaders. They need to be retrained in the humanit(ies) – why we do what we do (covering philosophy, theology, psychology, sociology); facilitation – how to inspire, manage, and develop people (without having to run everything themselves); and entrepreneurship – how to create innovative and sustainable models of ministry in the future. With these skills, we can step boldly into a new way of being the church that answers Jesus’ call and reflects what the early church looked like. It’s a new form of being the church that isn’t all that new after all.
PHOTO CREDIT: Moses Chiong – Laundry Love Santa Ana