Albert Einstein defined ‘Insanity’ as “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result!” I was reminded of this by the experience of a number of our ministry leaders who took a group of teenagers to a regional youth outreach event. The intention was that church youth would invite non-church friends as our group did.
Effective efforts to reach the youth in our society are desperately needed because one of the major documented ‘Concerning Trends’ contributing to church decline is the ongoing reduction in the percentage of youth in congregations. Therefore any attempt to reverse this is to be praised, however, what the young attendees, and there were many, experienced was a talking head speaker who gave a talk more suited to a “mature Christian group”. Further the talk was too long, and used “words, phrases and ideas” that were “way above the age group and way above anyone not knowing anything about the bible” and thus beyond the comprehension level of decreasingly literate, image-dominated contemporary youth. Further, despite being from a non-singing sub-culture they were faced with singing Christian songs.
This what I call a ‘Billy Graham/Christendom’ mission strategy. That is an assumption of a basic Christian knowledge in those who are invited to big, talking-head gospel presentation events, with prayer counselling for those who respond. However, while this was an honourable and effective mid-20th century strategy, it is not for our time and fails at one significant level like much of our mission endeavour in that it is fundamentally culturally inaccessible.
I want to honour and affirm the hard work, commitment and godly motives of the organisers of such events. However this eighties/nineties style of youth outreach is an example of continuing to use precious resources to “keep on doing what we have been doing” for several decades, and not getting a “different result”. It was an event that was ‘culturally inaccessible’ to modern youth that live in their own ‘parallel universe’, and who are, according to Professor Anne Twomey (Head of the Constitutional Reform Unit at Sydney University) “engaged with Facebook and have no connection with the world they live in” . To continue to do this is surely a form of Einsteinian ‘insanity’!
Further, it was a one-off and ‘Indrag’ event, the aim being to connect with youth and then somehow to drag them back through an inter-universe wormhole into standard churches. This, rather than regular and ongoing relationship-building strategies that reach youth ‘their way, at their place, in their language, at their time’. This is the missional mind-shift I have described in the ‘Unbounded Church’ concept, that I believe is essential for reaching contemporary society generally not just youth.
One of the key causes of our missional weakness is a serious failure to grasp the fact that the pagan universe is culturally alien to the ‘church’ world. The varied missional communities (micro-cons) that would be expressions of the ‘Unbounded Church’ concept must not only locate themselves in the alien cultural and spiritual parallel universes where non-Christians dwell (including youth) but be accessible to them. This requires “reflecting, using and relating to the cultural forms of, styles of and the ‘street’ languages of” the kaleidoscope of ‘Villagettes’ forming 21st century Australian society. Such requires a mind-shift in terms of missional strategy that demands a significant and strenuous intellectual effort to ‘exegete’ the alien cultures of the pagans. This quite frankly is ‘Mission basics 101’ yet seems to generally be ignored by most missional endeavours.
What we used to do in previous decades based on a Christendom assumption of an homogenous Christianized society does not cut it anymore. To keep on doing mission as we have been doing it (and failing) and expecting better results starts to look perilously like Einstein’s definition of insanity!