I grew up watching and reading Peanuts…religiously (pun intended). I can’t tell you which character was my favorite, but Linus has to be right up there in the top three. Linus, as you probably remember, carried around this blanket as a soother and symbol of security and safety. This is the icon of many kids as they are growing up. Perhaps you even had a blanket or some other security symbol that you kept with you during your childhood years.
I remember that a couple of our kids had blankets growing up. They slept with them, and then carried it around with them outside the house. As they got older we would coax them to let go of their blanket and leave it at home when leaving the house. Then, over time, we would hopefully wean them off their security symbol as they grew up. As far as I know, none of our kids sleep with a blanket or anything now.
The church has developed its own security blanket in the form of attractional methods and event planning for Sunday mornings. These methods will, when done well, put butts in seats and even cause church growth to “mega” status. However, what often happens is that a large church eventually figures out that the depth of community and mission is actually shallow, where discipleship has given way to whether people feel good about the message, worship, or church offerings. The christian goal and destination becomes attendance at events that DO proclaim Jesus and the grace of the gospel, but do little to equip and empower attenders to live out that message to other people that they live, work, and play with. They may be “instructed” from the stage to go and share the love of Christ, but if we’re honest, few feel empowered, equipped or responsible to live as Christ in the margins of their city and neighborhood. Most people in the theatre seating of our church buildings feel like missionaries are this elite group of people that take the good news overseas…they don’t see themselves as Jesus sees them, a missionary in their own context.
When we try to move a deeply entrenched attractional church toward missional practice and neighborhood/city focus, it can feel like we’re steering a toddler away from their blanket. A large church that has focused on bringing people to the campus, shouldn’t just blow up their systems and adopt purely missional models. Not only will people leave, but the health and longevity of the church community will be risked. Instead, seeing a large attractional church as a means to leverage missional communities for the future is a viable, and doable, strategy. Taking the five-year view of integrating missional launches of communities and ministries into the neighborhoods of a city will help shape the culture of the “mother-ship” instead of dismantling it.
As well, leaders of church communities will feel push back when they start taking the blanket away. As we put less emphasis on concert-style worship, and the best offerings of knowledge-based classrooms, choosing to level the budget toward missional efforts, people will complain. Even if leadership is able to get past the pulpit as the center of all discipleship, even this generation of leaders has learned a certain way to DO church. I know the struggle, because I had to unlearn these habits myself. People will complain when we take away some of the offerings from the buffet. We are, after all, a consumer culture, and this doesn’t exclude the church. Often, as leaders feel the pressure, they will also feel like losing the blanket will cost too much, instead just proclaiming “touche'”, and just keep moving forward with methods that will bring the numbers on a Sunday. But sadly, numbers on Sunday don’t equate to the redemption and transformation of our cities. Attendance and giving will not measure missional impact. We must change the way we measure health in a church.
Church leaders must be wise as well as intentional. We must see the long-term nature of bringing the Kingdom into our city. While we at Forge America (and the partner Hubs around the country) want to change the church conversation from growth, multisite, and success, toward a missional conversation of impact and incarnational living, we also don’t want to see the church of America blown up. It just needs to reorient from its path of blanket-holding. As we turn a church community toward missional models, remember that our attractional elements are blankets to our congregants and community members. Coax them slowly toward a more holistic following of Jesus. Start celebrating the missional elements that are already happening in the mega-church, give it stage and screen time, tell stories and applaud following Jesus outside the building! Then begin taking people on a journey where their paradigm shifts from seeing faith as church attendance, and start measuring their faith by how many steps they take with Jesus outside of the walls…off the campus.
Forge would love to help you or your church figure out how to start living with missional impact! To find more about coaching, training, and intentional missional conversations for you or your organization, contact Forge Colorado Springs at firstname.lastname@example.org, or go online to www.forgecos.com or www.forgeamerica.com.