Monday, April 09, 2007

The best news since year one?

I've just finished reading Megashift, by James Rutz. An enjoyable book to read, if you can get past the the hype.

The book is all about the new (as opposed to the historical) house church movement, which is picking up speed all across Western world. The book starts by looking at the examples of house churches in primarily non-Western countries, noting countless miracles and healings that occur in their midst. The book is worth it simply for this first chapter alone.

Jim is convinced that traditional (and by that I think he includes most of contemporary) Christianity is going downhill, fast. He sees cities full of small house churches, interconnected by relationship. These holy-spirit filled house churches would meet up city-wide, say once a month, for encouragement, corporate worship and apostolic input.

I think Jim is partly right. I do see this coming to the Western world. In the United States, its now a fact according to Barna that there are more Christians out of church (unchurched/dechurched) than there are in church. Barna reckons that 100 million US Christians are currently not tied to a local church. Lets face it folks, church as we know it is not cutting it! I don't know the statistics for the UK, but I've often estimated that around 50% of Christians are unchurched, dechurched, or floating aimlessly between churches.

Why is this? I think there are two, probably related reasons.

1) Cultural connection: traditional and contemporary churches often seem to be locked into various layers of culture which increasingly push people away from the church. The main cultural issue for the church to address currently is the broad shift from modernity to post-modernity.

2) Somewhat related to the first point, there is a move across the church worldwide (even in cultures that are not experiencing post-modernity) to practise church with what can only be described as an organic Hebrew methodology, as opposed to the prevalent Roman/Greek methodology that the traditional and even contemporary churches identify with.

3) Further points, perhaps related to the above two points, would also includes movements such as post-evangelical, post-charismatic, post-protestant and for some it seems, post-Christian.

So when you chuck all this into the melting pot, what comes out? The answer is of course, the emerging church.

Going back to Jim, I do believe that one expression of the church of tomorrow will be the emerging house churches. However, as others have said, I also think that the Megachurch model, in second and first-world countries at least, is here to stay. Despite all the predictions to the contrary, Megachurches continue to grow and prosper, even with younger post-moderns members (originally it was said Megachurches would only appear to the Baby-Boomer generation i.e. Willow Creek). For example, Mars Hill Church, Seattle, started off as post-modern post-evangelical post-charismatic bible study. Its now has over 6000 members and shows no sign of stopping its constant 60% growth. Meanwhile, over here in the UK, we think 6% church growth is a practically a Holy-Spirit fuelled revival! Other churches have no growth to speak off and continually make up reasons why this is a good thing. "Its not all about numbers", people continually chant in some sort of weird mantra. "A perfect community has less than 100 people" is one I've heard a few times as well. Last time I checked, each "number" was an individual soul (person), loved by the Lord Jesus, who earnestly desires his or her salvation. Is there a verse in the bible that says "And the Lord said thus: It is not about numbers". If anything, it is about numbers, if the book of Numbers teaches us anything :-) Even the Yellow Pages folks realise that.

So Jim, I love the book, but I think we need to make room for other expressions of the body of Christ. I anticipate many house churches starting up in my local scene over the next 10 years. No sign of a mega-church yet, though :-)

This post has brought up a bunch of other thoughts in my mind, so if I get time I will blog some more on all of this. Especially on this meme going around that preaching no longer works (only if you suck at it, according to Mark Driscoll!).


Rupert Ward said...

Good stuff Alastair. I too think we will see many different expressions of church emerge in the next few years ... and do think that there is a shift going on in our understanding of church.

And i think that is where emerging church is asking some good questions - although i am not always sure about some of the deconstruction happening in places.

So what to make of Mars Hill? I know you are Driscoll fan ... and he is a brilliant communicator. He clearly has an a huge ability to gather people, to inspire, to teach, to lead. Sometimes (i think) he is insensitive) ... but he does get people thinking and talking, and that is a good thing.

So my question is why we don't really have megachurches in the UK? The largest (white) church in the UK that i know of is Hillsong London. I have just spent some time with some friends who are part of that church, and mostly it is made up of South African, Aussie and Kiwi's. There are some big black churhes in the UK.

So i wonder if we are further along the road of post-Christendom than the US? It is only when people from other cultures are in teh UK that mega-churches exist?

So are we living in the time when a modern model of church still works, but increasing won't? And to reach the majority of unchurched or dechurched in the UK we need to find new models? That's what i am thinking at the moment ... what do you think?

Alastair said...

Thanks for your comments, Rupert.

I think some streams or parts of the emerging church are doing an amazing job of deconstructing dodgy theology and reconstructing doctrine, practice and belief. As you say, some folks seem better as the deconstruction than putting it back together again. For example, I see, Brian McClaren somewhat in that light. Others are farther down the road that he is, and it seems that the UK emerging church has thrown the baby out with the bath water, to some extent.

Mars Hill (Seattle) is very intriguing. They are not actually a "megachurch" in the normal meaning of the word. However they have grown so much that they are approaching mega-church proportions. Its definately an urbun (as in city) church - a metropolis church, if you will. I can't see why that doesn't apply to the UK, although the numbers, due to our smaller cities, would be smaller. I think if Mars Hill were in Edinburgh, they would have a congregation between 1000 and 1500 folks. Still pretty impressive though!

There is something in the US-mindset of "bigger is better" and I think that does apply in American churches. However, we also see very large churches is non-American cultures, so it doesn't completely explain it.

I think you are right that we are further along the road as far as post-Christendom goes. Ironically, we seem to be farther behind when it comes to the emerging church...I can't figure that one out!

As to Mark's character, you are right he is no perfect saint, and has stepped over the line a few times. I think he is learning to be a less offensive communicator, which is good. But that the fact that he is so darn funny and blunt does help him communicate. Our small group is usually in stitches of laughter each week, which certainly is not what most folks think of when you picture a serious bible study/discussion!

I am a big fan of Mark, not because he leads the perfect church, but because (a) he is an amazing preacher and (b) he seems to say the same things I have been saying for years now, since I became a Christian, regarding how things need to change within the church. He is brutally honest, often sharing things which don't put him in the best light. I love that. I also see that honesty in your preaching, which I think is great.

Not everyone wants to belong a big church, but I think each city needs a large church like Mars Hill, culturally and technlogically savvy, non-religous no-mumbo-jumbo, with a missional mindset and a clear vision. I see a place for such a church to support and embrace a growing demand for house churches. Of course other churches will exist and play different roles...

So I guess I am not sure that large or super-large churches are confined to the modern era. I think some types of megachurches are, but i also think some cultures, even in the post-modern era, will support large and megachurches which will continue to thrive.

You just have to read and find out what these large city churches are doing in the US, its very post-modern and very with spirit of the age.

On Hillsong London, I am not surprised it is mostly non British people that worship there. Its not a missional church, because it ethos and internal culture is not indigenous to the UK!

We definately need new models of church to reach the unchurched and dechurched. Actually, our home group can be looked at a kind of missional experiment to see if a Mars Hill-type approach would work in the UK. Its still early days yet...but so far the signs are encouraging...

Rupert Ward said...

hey alastair. Good points. let me respond to one or two...

1. I don't actually think Brian Mclaren is that deconstructionist ... at least not in the way that i am using the word. I think he is pushing the boundaries theologically - and i guess i like that. I think he might be going too far in places, but he is provoking discussion, and i think there is a changing way of seeing things, that in part is due to his influence. But that is not how i am using the deconstruction word. What i like about Brian is that he seems very committed to local church. For many years he was the pastor of a church. There are some in the emerging church movement who almost seem to have given up on meeting together in any meaningful way. Churches have dissolved, in an attempt to be more organic and relational. Brian has not done that. He seems to want to reform church rather than scrap what we have and start again. I like that.

2. I am also hopeful about UK emerging church. There are some clear negative examples of what you are talking about. I know of some churches that have all but disappeared. But i think there are number of more "traditional" churches, who are emerging churches in practice. They are more organic, less centralised, focussed on Jesus, missional, relational/community ...

3. On Mars Hill, it is fascinating. You probably know more about it than i do. I also think there is a place for larger churches. I really agree with you in your post, that we can't have a vision for small church. I do wonder though if a large church in the UK will look very different from in the US. Maybe a large church will be made up of lots of smaller ones - lots of different communites, who meet in different ways, under one banner. That might be the shape of mega-church in postmodern culture.

Alastair said...

Point taken re Brian. I don't want to be hard on him, and I have only read two of his books (Orthodoxy and the Last Word). I did think that in the Last Word he did a very good job a deconstructing the doctrine of hell, but really didn't leave folks with much of a reconstruction. I found the best part of the book to be in the appendix, where he offers a tentative reconstruction of the doctrine. I find he asks lots of questions, but doesn't provide (m)any answers. That's what I was getting at when I implied or said that he was good at deconstruction but not good at putting it together again!

I do think that something similar to your vision of the UK megachurch will emerge...I've often thought the same. Or at least, I hope something like that will emerge!

Rupert Ward said...

Yes ... i think you are right that mclaren doesn't always give many or any answers. Sometimes i find that helpful ... when i have defined thoughts on something, and his questions challenge the status quo. But it can be anoying too ... when i would like him just to say what he is thinking - but that is probably exactly why he doesn't do that (can't be pigeonholed!).

Alastair said...

Agreed. He is the exact opposite of Mark Driscoll in this regard, and it comes as no surprise to me that there has been tension between the two of them!

Anonymous said...

Totally ignorant nonsense. Why anyone with half a brain would believe in 2000 year old myths and fairytales is beyond me. Get a brain!