When my wife and I take holidays that usually means we do some travelling. As we do so we usually take the opportunity to visit a local church or two wherever we might be staying.
On a recent trip we ended up visiting a church (disguised in this post) where some friends are regular attenders.
We have visited there several times previously and the impression is always that of a lively, thriving, energetic congregation with a wide range of ages and plenty of young families. Its news-sheet claimed that it was operating a number of outreach activities ‘to reach the community’, and certainly it gives the impression that at least here was one church that is going well. That is at least until you dig a a little deeper.
While I was there, I asked one my friends, what I call ‘the inconvenient question‘. He had been telling me just how well he thought the church was going and as he had been a congregational member for several years he should know,
Then I asked him the ‘Inconvenient question’ – How many of the congregation were not attending a church anywhere prior to joining his? He thought for a while and then had to admit he couldn’t think of any.
This is an example of a serious problem. When a strong Christian, significantly involved in congregational life as I know he is, in the midst of all the church ‘activity’ cannot think of anyone who had been won to the church, let alone to Christ, in recent times, there is clearly something wrong. Worse, this is an example of the chronic missional failure which is repeated in thousands of churches across the nation and is a major reason for the ongoing decline in the Christian presence and voice in society.
Some will say that he is just beating the same old drum as he has for years. Well, yes I am, along with a few others, and will continue to do so. Simply because, unless churches stop being seduced by look-good ‘comfortable’ Sunday services, critically analyse the effectiveness of their missional activity (where they actually have any) and make a Quantum Leap from the 20th century into the 21st in terms of the cultural appropriateness of their missional strategy, tragically further decline is guaranteed.
My friend’s church looks good on Sundays, the congregation members are comfortable with how things are, but the key command of Jesus to ‘Go and make Disciples’ is little obeyed. It is a classic example, so very common, of the ‘Transferee Mirage’, where the vast majority of the looking-good congregation is made up of transferees from a church somewhere else, not converts.
How about our congregation, house church, fellowship, whatever we call it? If we ask the ‘Inconvenient Question’-
‘How many of our congregation were not attending any church before they joined us?‘
What would the answer be?