Unbounded Church – A One Stop Shop

Most local churches have a stated aim to see the lost won for Christ. Commonly, this desire is expressed in the organisation and resourcing of a range of ‘Outreach’ activities. Even though not always clearly articulated, the methods used usually follow the same process that has generally been basic to all mission since the time of the New Testament namely, Connect, Gather, Disciple, Multiply. (See Missional Community Process)

Churches seek to ‘Connect’ with non-Christians by a range of methods, including door-knocking the local community, running community events, organising invitational men’s breakfasts, women’s dinners etc with (often celebrity) speakers to give a gospel talk. Usually these events include an invitation to attend a (maybe special visitor-friendly) church service or an introduction to Christianity course or group.

At such events there will be some form of gospel presentation (often by an invited celebrity speaker) and the handing out of Christian literature with information on, and an invitation to take, the next step if people want to know more.

This next step will more often than not be to attend a basic Christianity course, or join a small group specifically set up as a Discovery Bible Study. This however involves jumping a ‘Hoop’ to another location and time, probably mostly with people they don’t know and in another cultural context. So here is immediately a built-in impediment in the process, a ‘Hoop’ to be jumped through, and the temptation to opt out is an easy one to take.

If however, a person does manage to jump through that ‘Hoop’ and attend the Christian basics course or group, they may then be invited to join a more permanent Bible study or home fellowship group where they can be ‘Discipled’. However, this will again be at another time and place, probably with a different set of people they don’t know and in another cultural setting. Yet again, this step presents another ‘Hoop’ the interested person is required to jump through, and which provides yet another opportunity to ‘exit’ the process.

This whole process may of course be accompanied by, or followed by, what is the ultimate aim of ‘Sunday-Centric, In-Drag, Christendom-Form’ mind-set churches(see Mission in Changing Times), that is an invitation to go along to a Sunday church service. Again this will be at yet another time and place, once more with mostly people they don’t know (intimidatingly, probably a lot of them!) and which faces them with entering another (very alien to most) cultural environment. All this puts yet another ‘Hoop’ in place, and for many makes the ‘exit’ option very easy to take.

I write this from the perspective of many frustrating years of personal experience. Such experience that has repeatedly illustrated the difficulty of getting the unchurched and de-churched to come along to a church service, and more importantly to stay there.

It is certainly true that if enough people actually do complete that journey through the ‘Hoops’ we put in place then theoretically church growth and multiplication can happen. However, the statistics on missional fruit and church attendance over the last 20 years or so show this to be a quite limited event, and certainly not even remotely frequent enough to achieve the urgently required reversal of the trends of decline. I would suggest a major reason for this is the ‘Hoops’ (the impediments) the traditional approach to mission builds in, and the ‘easy to take’ exit opportunities such a process provides. Every time the person we are seeking to reach for Christ has to jump through a ‘Hoop’ the chances of them completing their spiritual journey are lessened.

In contrast to that consider the ’Missional Community’ (MC) strategy, which is more a ‘One Stop Shop’ experience where everything is done at the same time and location. Such communities meet in the public domain (or at least where the unchurched and de-churched spend their time e.g. a Playgroup where the ‘Connect’ and ‘Gather’ stages are already achieved).

By meeting in the public domain on a regular (to be most effective weekly) basis connections are more naturally made with those who are the ‘regulars’ in, and already comfortable in, that (their) cultural environment. Over the course of time relationships can be built, and they can be invited to join the MC, or will join naturally, as does happen, without the need to actually be asked. As newcomers are welcomed into the Missional Community they can be Discipled.

All of this does not involve any ‘Hoops’ to be jumped through nor provide the easy exit opportunities that the traditional outreach processes do. Further, the person joining the MC stays in the same group with the same people, meeting at the same time in the same place and in the same (their) cultural environment. This, while there is most certainly no guarantee, does help the missional process to be smooth, in part because of the built-in continuity of relationships, with a higher probability that the person involved will ‘stay the course’.

The traditional evangelism process worked much more effectively in the 20th century past in a society which still had a basically Christian world view (even though church attendance was declining), where the whole ‘church thing’ was not so alien to general members of society. This meant that they were much more able to jump through the several geographic, chronologic and cultural ‘Hoops’ traditional strategies require.

In contrast, the Missional Community process, however implemented, is a ‘One stop shop’ experience. In any of the multitude of types that the Unbounded Church concept can spawn, all of the components of the missional process, from Connection to Multiplication, are carried out in the same place, at the same time and largely with the same people. Thus, most of the ‘Hoops’ are removed and exit opportunities, because of the ‘glue’ of relationships built in the community, are minimized. Thus the ‘contacted’ person is more likely to ‘stay the course’, and become a true disciple of Jesus-at which the ‘Angels in Heaven’ rejoice! (Luke 15:10).

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