One of the aims of the designers of cars, trucks and planes is to make them lighter. This makes them more efficient because less energy, that is fuel, is needed just to propel the vehicle itself and more is available for either more speed, acceleration or a bigger payload. This can serve as an analogy that I think is highly relevant to the church’s missional struggles.
As I have written elesewhere, conversations with church leaders often elicit statements along the lines of –
“Well I am really interested in developing new missional alternatives, but quite frankly I just do not have the time or energy. It’s all I can do to run the existing model as I’m expected to do. There’s simply nothing left over.”
Most of the resources of church leadership and staff are consumed in keeping the traditional ‘show’ on the road. The standard Christendom model parish is a behemoth that has an insatiable appetite that consumes the vast majority of available resources such that there is little left over for creative missional endeavour. This is a major reason, confirmed by the statistics, that our standard model is at best stagnant but for the most part in decline.
It is not just in the area of human resources either. The same behemoth soaks up most of the remaining available financial resources (after the employment of staff) for land and buildings (often old and not fit for purpose) that are expensive to maintain and run. Worse, the orthodox missional strategy is generally more of the same, involving the purchase of expensive blocks of land, the construction of expensive buildings, hiring expensive ministers with expensive houses. This standard model is like a beast that consumes mission resources such that creative, 21st century-appropriate strategies likely to be fruitful are strangled at birth. One advantage of the ‘Unbounded Church’ concept, which I believe provides a route to our missional future, is that it’s cheap!
Additionally, one of the largest drains on resources is the high proportion of ‘consumerist’ congregational members who expect the church to provide the ‘religious services’ they desire. Namely, a Sunday service (with youth group, bible study etc. to be always available as optional extras if and when required) but who contribute little of their resources to the gospel cause.
To go back to my original analogy, the church has become like a heavy vehicle which requires all the available ‘fuel’ just to keep bumbling along, with no energy left over for more ‘speed’ or a bigger missional ‘payload’. Or to use another image, it is like a business that puts most of its resources into producing its least profitable product.
This ‘strangling’ of new, creative missional activity continues despite repeated reports over many years that have said the need is to switch resources from the Sunday centric congregations to missional efforts in the community. To do this does indeed present seemingly insurmountable challenges of enormous proportions, however to fail is to decide to lock in the current decline.