In these times of rapid change, there is a serious missional malaise gripping the Australian church. The evidence for this is the now well documented decline in the number of disciples being made across the denominational spectrum, and also a decline in the Church Attendance to Population ratio, i.e. the reduction of Gospel influence (The SALT index of Matthew 5:13) in society. It is this that has led to the concept of the ‘Unbounded Church’.
We live in a momentous time in western society, indeed a time such has never before been in human history, a time that can truly be described as unique. The characteristic that marks its uniqueness is rapid and constant ‘Change’. It is a time in which we are seeing the slow motion collapse of western civilization, a civilization shaped by a Christendom that is now but a distant echo. There has appeared a wormhole in the fabric of history that has sucked most of western society out of its Christendom universe into a mosaic of parallel universes where the church is not.
In the context of the current and ongoing cultural meltdown, the idea that a church model that developed for the pastoral maintenance of existing Christian congregations, and that thrived in a Christianized European society, can continue to be the main vehicle for the equivalent of ‘Mission Africa’ would seem to be highly improbable to say the least. The decline in current attendance, youth involvement, number of conversions, and rising average congregational age statistics clearly confirms that improbability.
Across the western world generally the church is in serious decline with mission endeavours generally failing to turn the tide. The reasons for this lack of missional fruitfulness are of course complex but the thesis underlying the ‘Unbounded Church’ concept is that the need is for a radical ‘Paradigm Shift’ to ‘Something Completely Different’. This means ridding ourselves of the largely unsuccessful missional strategies of the 20th century, and also any residual idea that maintaining a Sunday-Centric, In-Drag (aimed at bringing (dragging) non-Christians from their worlds into our church sevices), Christendom-form (SIC) church model can be made to achieve better missional results.
Indeed something Albert Einstein once said is highly relevant-
“The significant problems we face can’t be solved
at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”
Fundamentally, our missional strategies and policies have not worked for decades, are not working and will not work. Hence the motive for the development of the Concept of an ‘Unbounded Church’.
Firstly and essentially, it is time (indeed long past time) to grasp that Australia is now fundamentally a pagan country with most Australians living in socio-spiritual cultural universes parallel to and alien to the ‘Church’ universe, ‘universes’ in which they worship ‘other gods’. The urgent need is for a new vehicle specifically designed to do ‘Pagan Mission’, something mainline western churches have never done, or even thought they had to do, ‘in their own culture’, but now need to learn how. It is this that underlies the concept of a church set free, unbound, from its traditional forms, styles, missionally anachronistic thinking, and also with the spiritual, physical and cultural walls (bounds) that separate the ‘church’ from the majority of the population, removed.
The urgent need is to begin to develop a totally new paradigm, an ‘Unbounded Church’ of Missional Community (MC) networks totally separate from the standard denominal church model (although possibly in some rare cases with a very loose connection to individual churches, a concept known as the ‘Mixed economy church model), embryonic examples of which are beginning to arise in Australia.
The argument for a new concept of church compared to the missionally failing platform of the ‘SIC’ model we have had for so long is that we are at a point of Crisis. This Crisis is most acutely represented not just by the falling attendance levels across the nation but more significantly the decline in conversions, i.e. new Christians. The need for a rapidly increased level of missional fruitfulness is dire, but to achieve it requires-
• A ‘Mindset shift’ to a ‘new level of thinking’, a beginning to strategize as if we are faced, as we in reality are, with evangelizing a pagan Africa of 200 years ago, or the Northern Europe of the Celtic missionaries of the 5th and 6th centuries.
• A ‘Radical change’ that will essentially involve ‘redirecting of resources’, financial, staff etc. away from the SIC church model to more fruitful missional endeavours.
• A ‘New Paradigm’, one that owes nothing to the Christendom structures and forms, and incidentally would actually be far less expensive!
To achieve this, and the reason for the establishment of Unbounded Church, requires the embedding of ‘Missional Communities’ (churches in their own right) in the kaleidoscope of ‘live, work and play’ universes inhabited by non-Christians such that they are regularly ‘observable’ by and regularly engage with those around. Such can be in a myriad of settings from pubs and coffee shops to playgroups and youth groups, from workplaces to skateboard parks to name but a very few.
This requires the replacement of traditional ‘Go and Bring’ (into Sunday services) strategies with ‘Go and Stay’ (in the community) strategies. i.e taking ‘church’ into the ‘universes of the lost’. The motive for this is the ‘Love of God’ which we have received through the death and resurrection of Christ, and which God expects us to disburse into the lives of those drowning in spiritual darkness.