I haven’t been doing much with the blog the past several weeks, primarily because I have been trying to do some writing for my dmin project which needs to be completed in the next few weeks. Here is a small portion of chapter two which involves identifying the ministry problem, which in my case is the marginalization of the church in North America (and my local context) as a result, at least in part, to the lack of sound missionary thinking and activities.
The following portion comes after a brief discussion on the shift into a period of Post-Christendom taken from Douglas John Hall excellent little book The End of Christendom and the Future of Christianity.
The magnitude of the marginalization of the church during this time of post-Christendom has been expressed by many. In the introduction of The Church Between Gospel and Culture, George Hunsberger writes about the crisis in the life of churches in North America: “The crisis, most simply put, is that the social function the churches once fulfilled in American life is gone.”  Eddie Gibbs in the book Church Next argues that “mainline denominations are facing an avalanche of problems that place question marks over their future. Some of these problems are so pressing that they may even threaten the denominations’ survival.”  In the book Death of the Church author Mike Regele offers a concise summary of the multiple issues involved in the marginalization of the church when he writes:
At the brink of the twenty-first century, the king who knew not Joseph is the collective culture of which we are a part. The combined impact of the Information Age, postmodern thought, globalization, and racial-ethnic pluralism that has seen the demise of the grand American story also has displace the historic role the church has played in the story. As a result, we are seeing the marginalization of the institutional church. 
The marginalization of the church that these and other authors  speak of can be validated in an array of church statistics and trends. In 2005 Sally Margenthaler painted this picture of the American church landscape:
Despite what we print in our own press releases, the numbers don’t look good. According to 2003 actual attendance counts, adult church-going is at 18 percent nationally and dropping. Evangelical attendance (again, actual seat-numbers, not telephone responses) accounts for 9% of the population, down from 9.2% in 1990. Mainline attendance accounts for 3.4% of the national population, down from 3.9% the previous decade. And Catholics are down a full percentage point in the same ten-year period: 6.2% from 7.2% in 1990. Of the 3,098 counties in the United States, 2,303 declined in church attendance. 
More recently David Olsen, Director of the American Church Research Project  and author of The American Church in Crisis has compiled comprehensive data on the state of the church in the United States. The research provides reliable attendance numbers for each of the 3,141 counties in the U.S., for each state, and for the nation as a whole.  One of Olson’s most significant findings is the apparent “halo effect”  that has been evident in the majority of polls on church attendance. Polls conducted by organizations such as Gallup and The Barna Research Group have consistently reported weekly church attendance in the range of 40 to 47 percent over the past four decades. However, Olson and other sociologists  effectively argue that church attendance numbers are in reality much lower. A study published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion compiled data from more than 300,000 Christian congregations in the United States and found that the churches totaled 52 million people in attendance, or 17.7 percent of the American population in 2004.  The research of the American Church Research Project showed that 17.5 percent of the population attended an orthodox Christian church on any given weekend in 2005.  The total percentage was broken down into three major church categories including; evangelical at 9.1 percent, mainline at 3 percent, and Roman Catholic with 5.3 percent. 
One addition insight gleaned from Olson’s research is the simple fact that the growth of the American church is not keeping up with the robust growth of the American population. From 1990 to 2006 the population of the United States grew by 52 million people, which happens to be the same number of people who attend church on any given weekend. “In 1990, 52 million people attended worship each week – in 2006 the number remained unchanged. However, because of the sizable population growth, the percentage of Americans who attend church is declining.” 
While population growth and church attendance figures vary in different regions of the country the numbers are alarming regardless of location. Olson writes:
America’s population is growing at dissimilar rates throughout the nation. The Sunbelt states (the southernmost states from Virginia to Southern California) continue to grow most rapidly in population, while the Great Plains region and the Rust Belt (the industrial cities bordering the Great Lakes) have stagnant growth rates. The rate of population growth creates a major impact on whether the church can keep up with the increase in the population. In Arizona, for example, church attendance grew 7.3 percent from 2000 to 2005, robust growth by any standard. However, the population grew by 15.3 percent during that same period, producing a new attendance percentage decline of 7 percent. Typically, the faster a region’s rate of population growth, the more difficult task the church faces in keeping up with those increasing numbers. . . [However] in no single state did church attendance keep up with population growth! 
Paralleling Olsen’s finding on those who are moving away from religious affiliation the 2008 Religious Landscape Survey conducted and published by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life discovered that the fastest-growing segment of religious affiliation in the county is the nonaffiliated (16.1 percent of adults age eighteen and older).  Furthermore, those moving into the unaffiliated category outnumber those moving out by greater than a three to one margin. Throughout the previous two decades, this percentage of unaffiliated Americans had held between five and eight percent, meaning that the unaffiliated group has more than doubled in the past ten years. In the face of such startling statistics some researchers are predicting that if current trends continue, sixty percent of existing churches in America will disappear before the year 2050. 
Specifically focusing on Southern Baptist Churches, Ed Stetzer has written on the concerning trends of evangelistic impact in the vast majority of SBC churches in North America.  Stetzer cites statistics from the Leavell Center at New Orleans Baptist Seminary that “tell a disconcerting story – 89 percent of churches in the Convention are not effectively reaching the lost. According to the study, only 11 percent of the churches are experiencing healthy growth.  Stetzer goes on to describe the criteria used by the Leavell Center to measure church growth health as the following:
* 10 percent total membership growth over five years
* at least one person baptized during the two years of the study
* a member-to-baptism ratio of 35 or less in the final year of the study
* for the final year of the study, the percentage of growth that was conversion growth must be at least 25 percent
Furthermore, when reporting on membership trends in SBC churches Stetzer contends that if current trends continue, over the next 50 years “projected membership of SBC churches would be 8.7 million in 2050, down from 16.2 million in 2008. . . . Using U.S. Census projected population figures, SBC membership could fall from a peak of 6 percent of the American population in the late 1980s to 2 percent in 2050.”  In The Fall of the Evangelical Nation, Christine Wicker offers a troubling summation of the wide variety of statistical data when she writes:
Evangelical Christianity in America is dying. The great evangelical movements of today are not a vanguard. They are a remnant, unraveling at every edge. Look at it any way you like: Conversions. Baptisms. Membership. Retention. Participation. Giving. Attendance. Religious literacy. Effect on the culture. All are down and dropping. 
1 George R. Hunsberger, “Introduction,” in The Church Between Gospel & Culture, ed. George R. Hunsberger and Craig Van Gelder (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), xiii.
2 Eddie Gibbs. Church Next: Quantum Changes In How We Do Ministry (Dover Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000), 66.
3 Mike Regele, Death of the Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 182.
4 See David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1991), Craig A. Carter, Rethinking Christ and Culture: A Post-Christendom Perspective (Grand Rapids: Brazo, 2006), Rodney Clapp, A Peculiar People: The Church as Culture in a Post-Christian Society (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996), Mike Erre, Death by Church (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2009), Michael Frost, Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2006), Darrell Guder, Missional Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998) and Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986)
5 Sally Morgenthaler, “Windows in Caves,” Fuller Theological Seminary News and Notes (Spring 2005), Retrieved July 23, 2009 from http://churchconsultations.com/resources/faqs-resources-and-info/a/apostolic-movement-in-the-emerging-world/windows-in-caves-by-sally-mogenthaler/
7 David Olson, The American Church in Crisis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008)
8 For a definition of “halo effect” see Appendix A, “Glossary of Terms”.
9 See Stanley Presser and Linda Stinson, “Data Collection Mode and Social Desirability Bias in Self-Reported Religious Attendance,” American Sociological Review 63, no. 1 (February 1998): 137-45.
10 Kirk Hadaway and Penny L. Marler, “How Many Americans Attend Worship Each Week? An Alternative Approach to Measurement,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 44, no. 3 (September 2005): 307-22.
11 Olson, 28.
12 The division into evangelical, mainline, and Roman Catholic denominations is based on the typology found in the Glenmary Religious Congregations and Membership Study. All African American denominations are considered evangelical in this typology. Eastern Orthodox churches are included in the total number but are too small in attendance to receive their own category distinction. The classifications can be found at the Association of Religious Data Archives at http://www.thearda.com/
13 Olson, 36.
14 Ibid., 37.
15 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, U.S. Religious Landscape Survey (Washington, D.C.: Pew Forum, 2008), Retrieved July 1, 2009 from http://religions.pewforum.org/
16 Norman Shawchuck and Gustave Rath, Benchmarks of Quality in the Church (Nashville: Abingdon, 1994), 12.
17 Ed Stetzer, “The Missional Nature of the Church and the Future of Southern Baptist Convention Churches,” in The Mission of Today’s church: Baptist Leaders Look at Modern Faith Issues (Nashville: B&H, 2007), 73.
19 Rob Phillips, “Southern Baptists Face Further Decline Without Renewed Evangelism Emphasis,” Lifeway Research, published July, 2009, retrieved August 4, 2009 http://www.lifeway.com
20 Christine Wicker, The Fall of the Evangelical Nation: The Surprising Crisis Inside the Church (New York: HarperOne, 2008), ix.
I discovered an insightful article written by Art McPhee, Professor of Mission and Evangelism at Mennonite Biblical Seminary. The article is titled The missio Dei and the Transformation of the Church. It was first published in the Fall 2001 issue of Vision: A Journal For Church and Theology.
McPhee provides a brief, yet helpful history of the use and understanding of the concept of missio Dei and its implications for the church. In regards to the implications McPhee includes:
1. From start to finish mission belongs to the triune God, therefore whatever missionary activities we engage in can only be deemed appropriate if they coincide with God’s mission.
2. Because it is God’s, mission is not something the church can call a moratorium on, or evade. Because the church is the fruit of God’s emerging kingdom, the church will be missional.
3. The mission of the church cannot be limited to planting churches and saving souls, for with God’s kingdom comes shalom, of which the church is a sign.
4. God’s people do these things not out of obligation but our of a new identity. When Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses”, he was not issuing a command but making a statement about the nature of his followers.
5. For some in the church, being in mission will involve a call to a specific place or people. But no longer will mission be seen as something westerners carry to the non-western world.
McPhee concludes the article with these excellent words:
When our ethos changes and our prayer begins with “thy kingdom come,” our priorities, our programs, our preaching, our practices will all change. No longer will we be able to abide an ecclesiology that is not missiological. No longer will be able to divide church and mission. Isolation (personal or corporate) and respectability will be mutually exclusive.
Therefore, we will seek unceasingly to learn what God is doing in our little part of the world and get on board. We will rediscover the meaning of gathering in order to be sent. Our Sunday schools and small groups will recover their missional intent. Our failure of nerve will dissipate. Having been called from our darkness to be God’s own people, we will give testimony to God’s mighty acts and become lenses for God’s marvelous light (1 Pet. 1:9). Our kindness, passion for justice, and engagement in peacemaking will be clearly seen by all to be derivatives of God’s mission — we will make sure of it. To paraphrase Mennonite missiologist James Krabill, our mission will smell like God’s mission. Finally, we will reclaim our faith and approach each day with anticipation, expecting to encounter in ourselves and others the transforming work of Christ through the Spirit.”
Stuart Murray’s “Church Planting: Laying Foundations” is one of the finest books written on the topic of church planting. While the vast majority of books on church planting focus on the “how,” Murray offers a very welcome emphasis on both the theological and historical framework for church planting.
When discussing the theological foundation for church planting Murray argues that all church planters operate within some theological framework, but most often these frameworks “are assumed rather than articulated and adopted uncritically rather than as the result of reflection.” He also states that while inadequate theological reflection will not necessarily hinder short term growth, it will limit the long term impact of church planting and may result in “dangerous distortions in the way in which the mission of the church is understood.” He writes:
Church planting is not an end in itself, but one aspect of the mission of God in which churches are privileged to participate. We can understand the scope and implications of this mission, and the place of church planting within it, in relation to three important theological concepts.
Murray then elaborates on the topics of missio Dei, incarnation, and the Kingdom of God. In regards to the concept of missio Dei he shares these thoughts:
Missiologists have increasingly been drawn to this phrase to express the conviction that mission is not the invention, responsibility, or program of human beings, but flows from the character and purposes of God. Historically, the term mission was first used by theologians to refer to the acts of God, rather than the activities of the churches.
God is the Missionary, who sent his Son and sends his Spirit into the world, and whose missionary purposes are cosmic in scope, concerned with the restoration of all things, the establishment of shalom, the renewal of creation, and the coming of the kingdom of God, as well as the redemption of fallen humanity and the building of the church. Mission has a trinitarian basis and is theocentric rather than anthropocentric. Mission is defined, directed, energized, and accomplished by God.
For church planting this has considerable significance. First, the inevitable interest in internal church structures which characterizes church planting initiatives, as plans are developed for the formation of a new congregation, must not subvert the primary focus on the mission to which this new church is being called. Missio Dei is toward the world rather than the church. Robert Warren writes: “A church effectively engaged in mission will see that participating in the missio Dei will involve shifting emphasis from a focus on the life of the local church . . . to concern for the world in its need, joys and struggles.”
Second, the broad scope of missio Dei must not be reduced to evangelism or church planting. Church planting is legitimate only if set within a broader mission context. Divorced from this context, church planting may represent little more than ecclesiastical expansionism. (Can anyone say “video venues” – those are my words not Murray’s!)
Church planting can too easily embody a limited vision of mission that concentrates on one or two aspects of this mission (usually evangelism and church growth) to the neglect of other vital aspects (including working for justice and peace within society, concern for the environment, and engagement with culture).
In chapter twelve of David Bosch’s “Transforming Mission” he discusses the historical shifts in Protestant thinking regarding the relationship between church and mission.
To fully understand these shifts Bosch argues one must consider the contributions made by the world missionary conferences from Edinburgh (1910) to Mexico City (1963).
When discussing the Willingen conference (1952) Bosch writes:
Willingen began to flesh out a new model. It recognized that the church could be neither the starting point nor the goal of mission. God’s salvific work precedes both church and mission. We should not subordinate mission to the church nor the church to mission; both should, rather, be taken up into the missio Dei, which now became the overarching concept. The missio Dei institutes the missiones ecclesiae. The church changes from being the sender to being the one sent.
In a pamphlet published [after the conference], Newbigin summarized the consensus that had by now been reached:
(1) “the church is the mission,” which means that it is illegitimate to talk about the one without the same time talking about the other; (2) “the home base is everywhere,” which means that every Christian community is in a missionary situation; and (3) “mission in partnership,” which means the end of every form of guardianship of one church over another.
Is there, in the light of the present state of theology of the Old and New Testament, any occasion to speak of a separate “theology of mission”? One can maintain this, it seems to me, only if one misunderstands the Church as well as mission.
The Church which has been chosen out of the world is chosen for this end — that she performs for the world the service of giving witness to the Kingdom of God which has come and is coming in Jesus Christ. If theology is really theo-logia — a speaking about God, then she cannot do otherwise than speak of the God who is not a statue but an overflowing fountain of good.
The triune God who is involved with the world in the sending of the prophets, of Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, also sends the apostles and the Church. I think that it would be a “back-translation” into old and theologically abandoned categories, if one were to vindicate the “theology of mission” as a separate field of theology.
The unity between Church and mission, the unity, that is, between mission as a service of the Church and the Church as sent into the world, does not mean that there is no longer room for a basic reflection regarding the conditions and manner and extent of the service of the Church to the world.
But every separate “theology of mission” will make acute the old danger of the separation of things which God has joined together in His Word. This can be nothing but a source of difficulties and problems.
There is no other Church than the Church sent into the world, and there is no other mission than that of the Church of Christ. The consequence for theology, I think, is that a theological reflection of missionary service is possible and extremely necessary, but not a “theology of missions.”
– Johannes Blauw in The Missionary Nature of the Church
I recently began reading “The Changing Face of World Missions” by Michael Pocock, Gailyn Van Rheenen and Douglas McConnell. The book focuses on the dramatic changes that have taken place both in global society and in the church and the implications those changes have on how the church does missions. In chapter three, titled “Religionquake: From World Religions to Multiple Spiritualities” Van Rheenen writes the following about the church’s relationship with other world religions:
During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, theologians in the Western world sought to prove Christianity, to enshrine it as the queen of the sciences, or at least to give a rational foundation for believing God and the Christian way of life. In the new climate of the twenty-first century the most significant theological issue is the relationship between Christianity and the other world religions.
Later in the chapter he offers three very different ways Christians approach adherents of other world religions.
Reconciliation is based on the idea that truth is found equally in all world religions. Reconcilers employ inter-religious dialogue to arrive at common understandings of at least some truth.
Confrontation is based on the idea that non-Christian religions are demonic, estranged from God, contortions of ultimate reality as formed by God. Confrontational ministry is thus defined as a type of spiritual warfare. Confrontational methods may range from gentle admonishment and exhortation to prophetic denouncement.
Incarnation is based on the idea that God enables divinity to embody humanity. Christians, like Jesus, are God’s incarnation, God’s temples, tabernacling in human flesh (John 1:14; Phil. 2:3-8). Christians, spiritually transformed into the image of God, carry out God’s ministry in God’s way. Incarnationalists relate to seekers from other world religions personally and empathetically (as Jesus taught Nicodemus). Sometimes, however, they declare God’s social concerns by shaking up the status quo and “cleaning out the temple.” The end result of incarnation is a non-Christian world is always some form of crucifixion.
What do you believe are the advantages and disadvantages of each? Where do you find yourself when approaching other religions?
The past couple of weeks I have been utilizing The Missio Dei Breviary as my daily prayer guide. I have thoroughly enjoyed this simple yet substantial collection of prayers and Gospel readings.
The Jesus Manifesto
With Jesus, we proclaim:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Father, anoint us with your Spirit. As you sent your Son, your Son has sent us; may we embody the presence of your Son in the world, and in our neighborhood. Empower us to live and proclaim your good news in our neighborhood, and in the world.
In [John] 20:21, the point seems to be that the mission of Jesus’ followers is to be guided by the same kinds of parameters that determined the sender-sent relationship between Jesus and the Father. Also, Jesus is shown to invest the disciples with authority and legitimacy.
The more general reference to ‘sending’ ties the disciples’ mission to the characteristics of Jesus’ relationship to his own sender, the Father. At this stage, Jesus, the paradigmatic ‘sent one’ (9:7), turns sender.
Now Jesus’ followers are to embody the qualities characteristic of their Lord during his earthly mission. As Jesus did his Father’s will, they have to do Jesus’ will. As Jesus did his Father’s works, they have to do Jesus’ works. As Jesus spoke the words of his Father, they have to speak Jesus’ words. Their relationship to their sender, Jesus, is to reflect Jesus’ relationship with his sender.
These correspondences are explicated well by the following observations on the force of kathos (‘just as’) in 20:21:
The special Johannine contribution to the theology of this mission is that the Father’s sending of the Son serves both as the model (the comparative aspect of kathos) and the ground (the explanatory aspect of kathos) for the Son’s sending of the disciples. Their mission is to continue the Son’s mission; and this requires that the Son must be present to them during this mission, just as the Father had to be present to the Son during his mission (R. E. Brown, The Gospel according to John)
- Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A bibilcal theology of mission by Andreas Kostenberger & Peter T. O’Brien