A New Measuring Stick?

The Church & Mission

One of the reminders we see in the U-Turn Church book is to celebrate what we see God doing.  We know and believe that God is active in this world.  We believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in the hearts of people within our community.  The task of the U-Turn church is to have open eyes and open hearts to see where God is moving among us to advance his mission, and then as a church join God in what we see he is already doing.  In other words, we do not have to create a mission for the church, we simply have to join the mission that is already taking place.

God’s church does not have a mission, but rather God’s mission has a church.

It has been said that God’s church does not have a mission, but rather that God’s mission has a church.  This may seem like splitting hairs on a minute difference.  But the distinction is very important.  You see, God did not create the church to exist for us.  Rather, God created us to exist for the church.  The church does not exist to serve me.  Rather, we exist to serve the church.  Our mission to help all people see Jesus, know Jesus, serve Jesus, and share Jesus is central to all we do at Horizon.  The mission is why we exist; it’s why Horizon is here.

And so the question naturally comes: how do we measure success in reaching the mission of the church?  How do we know if people are seeing Jesus, learning to know Jesus, serving Jesus by serving others, and sharing Jesus with those in our community?  What is the measuring stick we use to evaluate our effectiveness as a church in accomplishing the mission?

Picture2Let me begin by saying a bit about what the measuring stick is NOT.  Often the unwritten measuring stick ends up being attendance and offering.  It is natural for us to ask, “How many people show up on Sunday?” and “Are we making our budget goals?”  Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with these questions, but just that these questions are restrictive to two categories.  Discipleship and mission in scripture present us with a wide and diverse range of possibilities.  God does not restrict his Holy Spirit to Sunday mornings and checkbooks.  So let me return to the task of the U-Turn church I mentioned at the beginning.  Ask ourselves these questions: Where do we see the Holy Spirit already at work in our community?  How can we as a church move to join the Holy Spirit in the mission he is already doing?

All this to say, maybe it’s time we get a new measuring stick.

A Few Observations.

Christian authors such as Thom Rainer, Ed Stetzer, and David Kinnaman have documented the emerging trend of Gen X and Millennials to be much less frequent in church worship.  Millennials especially have been noted as walking away from the church.  But it is also interesting to note that these generations are not rejecting or walking away from God or from faith.  They are simply not conforming to the institutional categories of traditional church programming and expectations.  In other words, they’re not regularly showing up on Sunday.  A variety of reasons have been offered for this trend.  I’m not interested in evaluating or judging whether these reasons are valid or wrong.  I’m simply noting the new reality that exists for the church.

These same authors also note the trend that new generations of Christians are giving much less.  Here again, a variety of reasons are given having to do with the tremendous student loan debt carried by Millennials, and the lack of high paying full-time jobs available to recent graduates just trying to start out in adult life.  And here again, I’m not interested in evaluating or judging whether these reasons are valid or wrong.  I’m simply noting this is the new reality for the church.

I know we could spend a lot of time discussing these two observations.  As long as we hold to the old unwritten measuring stick of attendance and offering, we’ll be fighting an uphill battle.  It’s a battle that continually demands that those in our community accommodate themselves to us and our structure, rather than asking how we can take the gospel message and accommodate to the structure of our surrounding community.

A New Front Door

Picture1So rather than trying to get our community to bend to our needs and our expectations, let’s think about how the Holy Spirit is already doing something in people in our community.  And then let’s consider how Horizon can measure effective mission and discipleship by bending towards the community.

It has long been assumed that the first step of discipleship for new believers in our community to begin by showing up for Sunday worship.  And once someone continually attends worship for a while, then we encourage them to take the next step in discipleship and join a Bible study or small group.  And once someone joins a Bible study or small group, then we encourage them to take the next step and volunteer to serve others within a ministry.

But this assumption is wrong.  Sunday worship is no longer the front door to discipleship.

Consider for a moment what Pastor Jared has done with Horizon’s Youth Group.  We have several teens from our community who have joined our Youth Group and are committed to regularly attend and participate every Thursday evening.  Some of those teens are brand new to church and are learning about Jesus for the very first time in their lives.  It did not begin with them attending Sunday worship and then joining the Youth Group.  It has been the other way around.  The front door to discipleship has been the Youth Group.  Joining Sunday worship is a step in discipleship that is somewhere further down the journey.

I think this is the new measuring stick for the church’s mission.  We need to embrace what we see the Holy Spirit already doing in the hearts of people in our community.  The front door to discipleship for the next generation is going to be through things like small groups, and Bible study groups, and youth ministry.  Discipleship with new people will begin with invitations to things like Horizon’s 3G’s widows group, or our knitting group, or our upcoming Community Garden.  These groups are not step two or step three after people begin attending Sunday worship.  Rather, we are already seeing that the Holy Spirit is ready to bring new believers into the church through these kinds of ministries.  This is the new measuring stick.

A New Challenge

Now the task is before us to develop and utilize the “outside-of-Sunday” ministries as places of high invitation for new people.  If you are part of a Bible study group, or small group, or any of the other mid-week groups we have at Horizon, then there are new questions to consider.  How am I making the mission of invitation CENTRAL to my involvement in this group?  Who can I invite into discipleship through the group I am a part of?

And so looking around at the attendance in the room on Sunday morning is no longer the church’s strongest indicator of effectiveness in its mission.  It’s time to celebrate what we already see the Holy Spirit doing and join the mission of God in our community.

till next time…
~pastor tom