I know. I know. I try my very best to stay far away from Church Buzzwords. You know, words that we use that automatically end the conversation. Words that, once used out loud, label the user so that everybody else in the discussion stops listening to the actual conversation because they’ve already drawn their conclusions.
But try to hear me out.
In a column on mission-minded churches by Kent Marcum in the latest Christian Chronicle, he writes,
“Many congregations suffering from problems could probably attribute their internal struggles to an internal focus.”
It’s easy, perhaps, for some to see that in our churches. But I’ve also recently begun to witness this phenomenon in our Small Groups here at Legacy. (Now, please recongize that the following couple of statements are broad, general observations.)
It seems to me the groups that were built around friendships and strong existing relationships are struggling. These are the groups that started out so strong and so big and with so much promise. But these are the groups now that are fighting and arguing and getting feelings hurt and not growing and not inviting visitors and not really achieving what the groups are meant to achieve. People in these groups report that they almost dread Sunday nights. They’re walking on eggshells. Attendance is sporadic and the tension is real.
On the other hand, it seems that our groups that began with a few families who didn’t really know each other are doing so much better. These are the groups that started with doubt and uncertainty and lots of questions. I wasn’t sure about a couple of them. But now these are the very groups that are growing and inviting visitors and reaching out to the community and serving other people. Every week they report new people coming in, new projects they’re taking on, and new ways they’re getting to know each other. They love their Sunday night meetings together and they can’t wait to multiply and share what they have and what they’re doing with others. They seem to be achieving what the Small Groups are built to achieve.
Again, I don’t mean to paint our entire Legacy Small Groups Church with a broad stroke. But there is something important in the mindset of the groups in the same way there’s something significant about the mindset of an entire congregation. When the focus is on “us,” we struggle. When the focus is on “others,” we excel.
Whether in our Small Groups or in our congregations, it’s the difference between being attractional versus being missional.
A church with an attractional viewpoint says if we build it, they will come. If we do church better, they will come. If we sing newer songs (or older songs) they will come. If we take an appealing position on the hot church topic of the day they will come (or, they won’t leave). If we start more exciting programs, they will come. Bigger screens, cushier chairs, and a coffee bar! They will come!
A church with a missional mindset is different. It infiltrates its community. A missional viewpoint says it’s not what we do but, rather, what we do for you in the manner of God. Our Father through Christ shows grace, our God through Christ forgives, our God through Christ heals and loves and comforts. Jesus teaches and restores and shows compassion and brings justice. God, through his Son and by the power of the Holy Spirit, is today, right now, reconciling all of creation back to himself. And a missional church models that Good News. We go out from our places and, like our Savior, we show mercy and grace and compassion and forgiveness to a lost and dying world.
This is what I’ve learned from Luke 15 over the past week and what I’m trying to communicate to my brothers and sisters at Legacy.
Forget the nine coins in the jar on the counter. As long as there’s even one single lost coin buried in the dirt in the corner of a dark house, I’m not going to stop until it’s found. Forget the 99 sheep safe in the nurturing and loving environment of the flock. As long as there’s even one solitary sheep wandering out there alone in the wilderness, I will not quit until it’s found. Every single sheep. Every single coin. Every single person. Everyone is significant. Everybody matters.
Luke 15 says clearly to forget the church building and the contribution and the worship traditions and the programs and the committees. Forget the ones already in. Don’t worry about them. Worry about the ones who aren’t in. Worry about the outsiders. Worry about the lost. And do something about it.
In Luke 15 the religious people are muttering. “Those kind of people don’t give. Those lost people don’t speak English. Their kids are not well-behaved. Have you seen what they wear? They’ll just mess things up. They’re on welfare. He just got out of prison. She has AIDS. He cusses. She smokes. We have to protect our kids. We have to be careful. Maybe those kind of people should just go somewhere else.”
Stop looking in. Start looking out. Forget the nine meeting in your house on Sunday night. Forget the 99 meeting in your church buildings on Sunday mornings. Go seek and save the lost.
I must share this with you. Alvin Jennings sent me this video. Watch it once and you’ll watch it half a dozen times. If this little two-year-old girl can sing this beautiful classic hymn, why can’t we? What a precious angel.
And after you watch it, ask yourself this question: the way I’m smiling right now, does God smile like this when I sing to him?