As I mentioned recently, I’m working on a series of posts reflecting on last week’s trip to FL for Exponential, “the largest gathering of church planters on the planet.”
The first shift brought to our attention at Exponential is fundamental to the rest. In order to be the church Jesus intends us to be, we need to shift our focus from reaching to making.
On the surface, the concept of reaching people doesn’t sound so bad, does it? But a subtle drift has happened that’s caused a lot of deterioration to what we really mean when we talk about reaching. Maybe it was in the 70’s when everyone was freaking out about the end of the world and a lot of really bad end-times theology got passed around the religious community like a spiritual anti-bong full of anxiety and panic… Or maybe it was more recently as we put down our placards and bent ourselves around sensitivity and too many of us sought to be the biggest, coolest church in town… But somewhere along the way, many of us in the church have lost the plot. We’ve forgotten what this whole thing we call church is supposed to be about.
“Reaching people” (presumably with the gospel) became more about getting them inside our buildings on the weekend than about the transformative power of the Spirit of God at work inside lives. We talk about church attendance (and track it) as if that is the win – if someone’s in church a lot, we’ve done our job and ‘reached’ them. We win! They’re on our team. Hooray for us! But is that really what we’ve been called to? Is that really the bottom line of the church’s work?
Francis Chan asked the question in the first session,
How many believers go to church every week, but don’t really follow Jesus?
The problem with the “reaching” focus is that we stop at church attendance as the mark of whether or not our efforts worked. But while that level of thinking produces church attenders, it doesn’t necessarily translate to making disciples. Jim Putman, in the same session made the statement that…
Some places that call themselves His church are not really His at all.
See, His church is under His authority and on His mission. The mission of Jesus was never to gather crowds. The crowds were a byproduct of His loving God and loving people as He worked to make disciples. (Not incidentally, that’s the mission He passed on to us, too.) If we don’t function under His authority and work on His mission, then we’re not really His. And if we’re not really His, we’re not really the Church that Jesus said would prevail over even the gates of hell.
Instead of relationally reproducing followers of Jesus the way He did, we’ve attempted to substitute a mass produced template that we can run everyone through until we consider them ‘reached’. Then they just keep attending and we hope they get enough along the way to stay nourished for another week. But that thought-model reproduces the wrong things. We need to reproduce the character of Christ in mentoring types of individual relationships as the Spirit of God works in our own lives.
The church Jesus builds is intent on making disciples. It’s hard to do, and it’s messy, and it hurts, and it’s risky… But beyond any growth strategy or carefully selected style or model, it is what we’ve been told to do by Jesus, who is and always will be at the Head of His church.
I’ve outlined each of the shifts presented at Exponential 2013 in the following posts, but if you want to get a firsthand look for yourself, check out the very first Exponential West in October in southern CA or look into some of the free ebooks available on Exponential’s site.
“Exponential Shifts Toward Discipleship” Series