Triple D pointed to Dr. Tim Keller’s comment @ Dave Fitch’s post on the Dan Kimball Missional Growth mini-blogstorm. Tim says this,
I pastored a small church in a small town for 10 years, a church in which everyone knew one another, lived within a few miles of each other, never moved out of the area. We ate together, spent lots of time in each others’ homes, and were deeply involved in the life of the community around the church. All the ministries were quite ‘organic’–there were few programs. Outreach, pastoral care, community service–all happened quite naturally through relationships.
I’ve also pastored a very large church in Manhattan for 20 years, in which there is tremendous mobility, where people learn, are cared for, and minister mainly through large-scale programs. My conclusion is that –in the final analysis–neither approach to church is better at growing spiritual fruit, reaching non-believers, caring for people, and producing Christ-shaped lives. I said ‘in the final analysis’ because each approach to church–the smaller, organic, simple, incarnational church, and the larger, organizational, complex, attractional church–has vastly different strengths and weaknesses, limitations and capabilities.
The two constants to effectiveness are: a) getting the gospel right (not moralistic or antinomian, not individualistic or collectivistic) and b) contextualizing the whole church to the culture around (not over-adapted or under-adapted.) To think that the key is in the methodology (organic/incarnational vs organizational/attractional) is a mistake that comes, I think, from a lack of experience. There are great and terrible examples of all these methods and models. All kinds are thriving and all kinds are failing. [emphasis added]
My response to Tim would be this.
If every megachurch in the world helped to plant 100s of different kinds of churches in their city, putting their money where their mouths are when it comes to church planting, only began to worry about a building after nearly 20 years (and a building that won’t even come close to seating the 5,000+ people who attend all the services at Redeemer’s multiple rented locations), encouraged the artistic expressions of the people in their midst, focused on the hurting, lost and broken, stayed in the heart of their city, and loved that city as desperately as Redeemer loves New York – then folk like me would sit in stunned silence praising God with our mouths shut. (Two dear friends of mine, will wish I had kept my fingers stilled when they read the rest of this.)
But may I be so bold as to suggest by virtue of both significant experience and as much research, Redeemer is the exception, rather than the rule. And Redeemer is not immune to the consumer culture that infects much of Western Churchianity. In one of our many interviews with Bishop Graham Cray, Graham stated that the church in the west is so enmeshed in consumer culture that it fails to recognize that this is the very water in which it swims. (He also said this when he spoke at Wycliffe College earlier this year. Graham chaired the committee that produced The Mission-Shaped Church document for the Church of England and is now Archbishop’s Missioner leading the Fresh Expressions team.)
This past summer, Imbi and I became friends with a successful New York-based documentary and feature director. We first discovered she was an MK (missionary kid), then later discovered that she still believed (not necessarily the norm for MKs) and then later that she’d been attending Redeemer for 14 years.
At one point, after many conversations she commented on how she really only wanted to attend Redeemer when Tim was preaching. (There is no doubt that Dr. Tim Keller is one of the finest preacher/teachers I have ever had the privilege of hearing – however briefly. And I will take every opportunity to do it again.) To her mind Redeemer and Keller are inextricably linked. No Keller/No Redeemer. The Redeemer brand and Tim are virtually interchangeable.
We have a niece who attended Redeemer for just as long, if not longer. She experienced significant love and care from the church, but, to her as well No Keller/No Redeemer.
In Toronto, the fastest growing church (probably in the country) is The Meeting House where Bruxy Cavey is the winsome teaching pastor. The Meeting House (where a number of our nieces and nephews attend) with it’s multiple satellite locations approaches approximately 4,500 in attendance. Bruxy appears live via satellite from the “Theatre” of the church’s main building.
Like Keller, he is an engaging and articulate preacher/teacher, though with a slightly different hairstyle. The Meeting House has strived to build it’s church around home churches, but might I be so bold again as to suggest that if something were to happen to Bruxy (God forbid), the church would likely become numerically the fastest shrinking church in the country – until they found a suitably gifted replacement, if they could. The church has grown around Bruxy’s preaching/teaching gift.
Bruxy and Tim did not create this consumer culture, but it is the one that we all either swim in and with, or against. Fitch, who has had experience in very large churches, has written passionately (both in his book, The Great Giveaway and on his blog, Reclaiming the Mission) about our need to resist the culture of consumerism.
Every church must make a decision as to how it shall engage culture. Shall she seek God in all of culture, flat out reject and separate from culture or seriously engage culture for what is of God, and what is so contrary to the gospel that it must be rejected. Here is where some of us argue that the consumer culture is simply irredeemable and must be resisted. For we see that the gospel becomes commoditized when translated into these modes. You cannot make the salvation of God into a sellable commodity to be recieved for its benefits. It cannot be received as a transaction (there are those of us who see the Bridge Illustration as the seeds for a transaction oriented gospel). Salvation rather is the invitation into “dying, picking up your cross and following Christ.” It is the invitation into a way of life. It is metanoia, repentance, and a stunning commitment and participation in the life of God in His Mission. I have argued in The Great Giveaway, that the evangelical church (in several specific ways) has succombed to commoditizing the gospel (of salvation, of preaching the Word, of even justice) and thereby given away being the church/Mission in America.
Missional (organic/incarnational in Tim’s comment) is not a methodology. It is not a pragmatic approach to growing the church that is used as the best model and method to reach a particular people group. At it’s best, missional runs counter to the consumer culture, realizing that much of the West is long post-Christendom. Missional believes that Aslan is on the move and that we are to follow the Spirit into the mission field which is our very own culture.
I will argue that for most of us, the missional conversation is only a couple of years old. I was not engaged in the conversation until the summer of ’06 in spite of my 20+ year friendship with missional theorist, Alan Roxburgh.
In fact, from the early ’90’s until 2004 the church that had the most impact on me was a multicultural megachurch in Pittsburgh where Imbi and I were both ordained. I worked there as a media consultant two weeks of every month from 2002 – 2004 after deciding not to move there as originally planned. (Oddly enough, during the late nineties, we attended a Toronto plant of Redeemer’s after leaving our neighbourhood Baptist Church where Imbi and I were both leaders. The local church was fragmenting under the weight of the supposed “Toronto Blessing”.)
To apply statistical analysis to the effectiveness of missional at this point is about as silly as judging the effectiveness of Jesus ministry at the time of his resurrection. (How many were gathered in the Upper Room?)
“Ah but Bill! Look how quickly the church grew after Pentecost.”
“Ah but Friend! Look how soon the Spirit scattered that church to the corners of the earth. And remember that it wasn’t until Constantine that anything remotely representing a megachurch came into existence. Oh. Sorry. Yes. The Coliseum does resemble some megachurches. Thanks, Joel. And Christians did provide much of the entertainment, now didn’t they.”
I will continue to love and honour churches like Redeemer and the Meeting House, which are the very best of megachurches, while critiquing the more predominant consumeristic megachurch culture of places like Willow Creek, Fellowship Church Plano and Joel Osteen’s Coliseum-sized church in Houston – churches that actively promote & market their methodology as THE way to grow churches in the west. All of us, however, must come to a realization that any church in the West swims either with or against the tide of consumerism – whether small, medium or large.