Last weekend I had the opportunity to meet a ton of people for the first time. Convention attendees, authors, speakers, and ministry leaders from across the US. And it was interesting because there was a phenomenon among the conversations that I found fascinating.
Somewhere in the conversation there would always be this thread of “do you see what is working in youth ministry?” In other words… “what’s worked for me in the past is presently not working.”
Here’s how I described what I’m seeing in my work.
There is a shift towards the small. While I see large ministries getting larger, more organized, and reaching more masses of people than ever their successes come via the small and intimate settings of community, micro-community, and stuff that happens outside of programs. But outside of churches in the 3,000-5,000 range I see tons of head scratching frustration. Leaders are sensing the shift, they are seeing numbers change, yet they aren’t coping with it well. Their response to the shift towards the small is to create a program that appeals to that. In other words… their people want something small and not programmatic but ministry leaders desire to create a program of ultra-small groups. And they wonder why it isn’t working.
Here’s a problem to be overcome. As soon as I say “the church is shifting” many people’s brain automatically label “shift” as “emergent church.” And that includes a whole slew of people the church at large seeks to ignore and marginalize. I really think they would rather fail than admit that some of those people were right.
Here’s what I am not saying. I’m not proposing that the church should change. (future tense) I am recognizing that society has shifted (past tense) and that the church is shifting to respond. (present tense)
Here’s what I am saying. This isn’t about theology. It is about the church, the timeless truths of God’s Word, and it’s leaders responding to a seismic shift in how culture works in our society. Society is shifting and many church leaders are clinging to programs as if they were the Gospel!
Instead of purpose-driven churches we need to see mission-driven churches. Instead of copying what we see at conferences and mega-churches, we need church leaders to spend serious time studying their communities doing the hard work of ethnography. (This isn’t new, A.B. Simpson said the same thing 120 years ago!) We need to see churches working within their communities instead of asking the community to come to their buildings.
Let’s make it even simpler.
Churches who build their ministry around their community are succeeding.
Church who build their ministry around the short cuts of copying megachurches are failing.