December 2, 2008
Dan Kimball's Missional Misgivings
Small, indigenous churches are getting lots of attention, but where's the fruit?
I hope I am wrong. For the past few years, I have been observing, listening, and asking questions about the missional movement. I have a suspicion that the missional model has not yet proven itself beyond the level of theory. Again, I hope I am wrong.
We all agree with the theory of being a community of God that defines and organizes itself around the purpose of being an agent of God's mission in the world. But the missional conversation often goes a step further by dismissing the "attractional" model of church as ineffective. Some say that creating better programs, preaching, and worship services so people "come to us" isn't going to cut it anymore. But here's my dilemma - I see no evidence to verify this claim.
Not long ago I was on a panel with other church leaders in a large city. One missional advocate in the group stated that younger people in the city will not be drawn to larger, attractional churches dominated by preaching and music. What this leader failed to recognize, however, was that young people were coming to an architecturally cool megachurch in the city - in droves. Its worship services drew thousands with pop/rock music and solid preaching. The church estimates half the young people were not Christians before attending.
Conversely, some from our staff recently visited a self-described missional church. It was 35 people. That alone is not a problem. But the church had been missional for ten years, and it hadn't grown, multiplied, or planted any other churches in a city of several million people. That was a problem.
Another outspoken advocate of the house church model sees it as more missional and congruent with the early church. But his church has the same problem. After fifteen years it hasn't multiplied. It's a wonderful community that serves the homeless, but there's no evidence of non-Christians beginning to follow Jesus. In the same city several megachurches are seeing conversions and disciples matured.
I realize missional evangelism takes a long time, and these churches are often working in difficult soil. We can't expect growth overnight.
But given their unproven track records, these missional churches should be slow to criticize the attractional churches that are making a measurable impact. No, I am not a numbers person. I am not enamored by how many come forward at an altar call. In fact, I am a bit skeptical. But I am passionate about Jesus-centered disciples being made. And surprisingly, I find in many large, attractional churches, they are.
Yes, people are attracted by the music, preaching, or children's programs, but there may be more to these large churches than simply the programming. There are also people being the body of Christ in their communities. When these disciples build relationships with non-Christians, the evidence of the Spirit in their lives is attractive. The existence of programs and buildings does not mean mature disciples are not a significant reason why these churches grow.
There are so many who don't understand the joy of Kingdom living here on earth and the future joy of eternal life. This joy motivates me missionally, but I also cannot forget the horrors of hell. This creates a sense of urgency in me that pushes me past missional theory to see what God is actually doing in churches - large and small, attractional and missional. Where are disciples actually being grown? What is actually working?
I hope there are examples of fruitful missional churches that I haven't encountered yet. I hope my perception based on my interaction with the missional movement is wrong. But for now, I would rather be part of a Christ-centered megachurch full of programs where people are coming to know Jesus as Savior, than part of a church of any size where they are not.