I have been in several conversations lately about revitalization of plataued or dying churches. In these conversations there has been a lot of lamenting over the decline of particular churches, as well as denominations as a whole. The hand wringing is usually followed by a series of ideas or approaches to remedy the problem. In nearly every case the conversation moves towards the need for a new program that will bring vitality back into the dying church. Over the past few months, I have noticed the most frequent direction people take as a possible solution is to either provide a resource that equips people in the church to be more committed members, or to provide a newer, better way to do evangelism. I am afraid neither of these “fixes” will solve the problem. Doing more of what we have done is the past is not the answer. In the midst of these meetings I am often reminded of the words of my friend Alan Hirsch; "We are perfectly designed to achieve what we are currently achieving."
I believe the solution must begin by recognizing the church’s relationship to the culture in terms of a missionary encounter. In other words, to see that in a post-Christendom context the church once again exists within an alien world. The mission field is no longer located somewhere else; instead it surrounds us on every side. There is no final answer or perfect solution to transitioning the existing, dying church in a healthy direction. But if there was one—a silver bullet—it would be the formation of every church member into a missionary, and the numerous implications that has on the way we think and the way we live.
God's people need to be empowered as agents of the king. We need to learn how to think as missionaries. Furthermore, we need to develop skills that will help us meaningfully engage people and places. These skills involve learning how to better identify and participate in God's activity in our neighborhoods, through our vocations and the public places we inhabit.
However, beyond equipping people with specific missionary practices, the church must be prepared to freely release people into their missional calling. The church needs to give permission. In other words, it needs to say to its members that it is good to start new initiatives. It is right to take risks for the kingdom. It is okay to miss a church meeting when you are engaged in activities with those uninterested in the church. Kim Hammond, national director of the missional training organization Forge America, says missionary formation involves the giving of language and license. We must give people new missionary language, but we must also then give them the license to go and do what God has called them to. Which in most cases will not be located in the church but instead will be positioned in the world where God has already placed them in their everyday lives.
I believe a missio Dei theology is right theologically, but it is also right missiologically. It is time for the church to recognize that we live in a very different world that demands the need to think and act differently. I believe it was Albert Einstein who said that 'the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. Its time for the church in North America to end the insanity.