The Western church has been traveling along the highway of culture with punctured tires. With warnings from passersby, finally, the hazards began blinking as a testimony to the crawling headway of expansion. For years, a passionate plea from prophetic missiologists and the apostolic elite—the Church must pull over and change its treads.
Throughout the eighties and nineties, a call for Western and global church planting was being received—by some. Today, the message of missional engagement has caught on and with a millennial onslaught of hipster urbanization, the Church began birthing city-wide movements.
Along with the missional paradigmatic shifts, God-molded zealous individuals—the crazy and the called—the weathered, tattooed, past-soaked, ex-addicted, and grace-delivered entrepreneurial-type persons—to reach an unreached world—gladly answered the call.
Coupled with the crazed and called (or confused), more and more church planting networks popped up around America. Each network—with its devised models, programs, and assessments—concentrating upon the inevitable and highly anticipated— “launch.”
Some planters focused on raising funds, some centered on the social aspects of society, some others on music, others on outreaches with bouncy-house-packed block parties, and still numerous others on sending masses of people from one church to another city to create an “insta-church.”
While it’s not productive (or wise) to point blameful fingers as to what went right and what went wrong over the last ten years in planting—I believe it is essential to analyze and learn. Admittedly, I long and love the passion and attempts for any missional engagement to reach the lost.
Once, a woman complained to D. L. Moody:
“Mr. Moody, I don’t agree with your evangelism methods.”
Without hesitation, Moody responded, “I agree with you. May I ask what your methods of evangelism are?”
The woman quipped, “I don’t have any…”
To which Moody famously retorted, “Then I like mine, better.”
With that clarified, I believe the Western church has been planting churches in reverse—backwards. And, we can do better.
Planting in Reverse
Once again, let me reiterate, I love the fact that the Church is planting churches, period. I also believe that to effectively reach unreached cultures, the church will have to utilize a multi-pronged approach to planting.
There is no “cookie-cutter” approach to planting. But, there is one aspect which should be the center-focus of all churches, missions, and plants—making reproducible disciple-makers.
The Church may have changed her tires, but without reproducible disciple-making, depress the hazard button now and prepare for another blow-out!
We’re planting churches in reverse.
While an overall focus is beginning to shift, a more concerted effort and awareness are imperative.
When planters focus on core groups and launch teams, instead of Great Commission multiplication, it is certain that people-centered “churches” will form. Most church planting networks emphasize their programs and upon numerical gatherings than people? Not all—but most.
Discipleship becomes an after-thought of what the church does, once people are gathered within it. While the Church may have seen a shift from the attractional model to the missional model—that was only a change in cheap tires, not in run-flats. As you can see—the discipleship after-thought approach is backward.
There are key components to biblical reproducible disciple-making (Matt. 28:18–20). But instead of looking at the main factors (gospel proclamation, baptism, commands, etc.), let’s understand one important principle—disciple-making does not begin with a conversion.
Disciple-making begins with relationship. This is the current church’s major dilemma. As if in a dense fog and driving with the high beams on—the Church is oblivious to effectively navigating the culture highway.
Most church planters are (or should be) trained to build relationships. The problem is that most networks do not focus on disciple-making at the core of those relationships. Discipleship is placed at the end and not the beginning. How so—you may ask?
When the planter targets creating a collective body, known as an ekklesia (the church), the focus is already numbers centered, instead of people-centered. The planter becomes burdened with the mantra “meet more people…gather more people.” The conclusion, the planter will feel like a failure if they’re not gathering masses of people. Likewise, it is not foreign for the planter to wait to engage in any form of discipleship until converts are gathered, as the church.
Reproducible disciple-making begins the church planting process with relationship. I know, if you’re like me, you’re desiring application.
What does this look like?
If a planter is parachuting into a city (let’s say, a husband and wife team), the main focus should be on finding an “anchor trade” (a term I coined for New Breed). An anchor trade is an occupation that meets a community need and provides income. Most planters seek to find maximum income potential but will have minimum exposure to the community.
Think of an anchor trade as the proverbial “tent-maker.” Paul’s occupation was making tents (Acts 18), a need that nomadic peoples of the first-century required and utilized. Paul’s tent-making placed him in the center of the community, buying, selling, and making—an anchor trade.
While in the anchor trade, the planter begins the disciple-making process. The planter proceeds to find the Mars Hill of the community (i.e. Mars Hill=what do they worship?) For you and me, a community may worship football, craft-beer, cross-fit, coffee, LGBTQ, or eclectic art. It is the planter’s obligation, as Paul achieved, to find the Mars Hill and engage it.
Next, the planter becomes a reproducible disciple-maker by necessitating natural gospel conversations. One of my favorite movie scenes is from The Princess Bride. Inigo Montoya is frustratingly waiting for Wesley to climb the Cliffs of Insanity. As soon as Wesley is to ascend to the top, Inigo will challenge him to a sword duel. The entertainment happens when Wesley reaches the top and sits down to take a rock out of his boot.
Inigo Montoya impatiently prods him, “You don’t by any chance have six fingers on your left hand?”
Wesley humorously responds, “Do you always begin conversations this way?”
A very funny scene, but the church has been so methodically programmed to think in “Christianese,” or to “complete the sale,” that it has forgotten how to have natural gospel conversations—church planters are no different. The first words from planters’ mouths should not be, “Are you saved?” A question the unreached world has no concept.
Discipleship begins with natural gospel conversations—not at a person’s conversion.
Jesus called his twelve followers, disciples. These men did not have illumination, nor were they regenerated. As well, understanding and applying the gospel doesn’t make a person a disciple, either. Clearly, Peter had the gospel all wrong (Gal. 2:11) and no one would reject his disciple “credentials.”
As the church planter continues to work an anchor trade, knowing the Mars Hill, and engaging in natural gospel conversations, true relationships form—which in turn, establish life-on-life disciple-making. From life-on-life formulations, an ekklesia is formed.
Think about the two processes. There is a distinct difference between gathering, establishing, launching, outreach, and then discipleship programs—with anchor trade, Mars Hill, gospel conversations, disciple-making, and ekklesia. One is backward, and the other is in Great Commission order.
Knowing these two processes, the question for you becomes: which will you choose? Let’s just admit—making disciple-makers is difficult and tedious. It’s not glamorous or fun. It is pull over, down to earth, nitty-gritty, go through the trunk, find the car-jack, and greasy lug wrench-get-the-hands-dirty-tire-changing application.
Disciple-making is real life-on-life Christ living. But, if the church is looking for healthy multiplicative reproducibility, starting at relationships is imperative.
Are you a disciple-maker? A church planter? A revitalizer? Pastor? Missionary? or maybe just an early church geek?
Over the next several weeks, I’m going to be listing some of the books that I’ve read. Most of them will have the same theme—reproducible disciple-making (my passion), but they all derive from a different aspect and have a different purpose.
I know that several of the books that I list will be academic in nature—but they’re excellent resources, while yet others are extremely practical and may seem to not have much depth. In all, they work well together and I’m sure that you can glean from them.
If you don’t see a particular book, don’t worry, I have over 500 books regarding missiology, discipleship, and church planting. But, feel free to ask me—maybe I’ll post it next.
Here, are ten books—not in any specific order of importance, but ones that I find edifying.
Hastings, Ross. Missional God, Missional Church: Hope for Re-Evangelizing the West. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2012.
Ross Hastings has served as a pastor and professor of pastoral theology. I truly love this book—one of my all-time favorites! Hastings provides thoroughly academic work—always footnoted and cited—yet highly captivating. His book reflects upon the character of God and his mission on earth. There’s a working thesis that correlates with John’s Great Commission (Jn. 20:19–23) that Hastings utilizes as the focal point. The book is divided into two parts: (1) discovering and (2) disseminating the shalom of God, through the Church, to the world.
Missional God, Missional Church is (in my opinion) a must-read for anyone interested in missiology and the revitalization of the Western church. For Hastings, the missional church’s identity in Christ becomes more revealed when sharing the Trinitarian presence. He analyzes the importance of John 20:19–23 in a Christocentric engagement within daily worship, liturgy, and practices, as they relate to how the church incarnates within a diverse Western culture—that is something the modern church needs.
One thing I love about Hastings’ book is its refreshing and comprehensive approach to missional cultural engagement of the Great Commission, NOT deriving from the Matthean gospel, but from the Apostle John—very insightful and illuminating.
Hull, Bill. Conversion & Discipleship: You Can’t Have One Without the Other. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016.
If you’ve read any books on discipleship, you’ve come across Bill Hull’s work. Hull has authored several well-written books regarding the topic of discipleship; add Conversion & Discipleship, the newest of Hull’s books to that list.
Hull does a remarkable job in illustrating the dilemma facing evangelicalism regarding the aspects of “completed conversion and a salvation-culture,” compared to disciple-making and gospel-culture. Why is this important? Because the modern church has neglect disciple-making by replacing it with a once saved always saved ideology causing apathy. From page one, Hull compares the varied views of the gospel and how each f them will determine the disciple’s worldview.
For Hull, a false view of the gospel will not develop disciples. He establishes a gospel-centered thesis for making disciples—I love that! Conversion & Discipleshipoverflows with biblical insight, rich theological examination, ecclesiological dilemmas, spiritual formational applications, and personal accounts. This may be Hull’s best-written book on discipleship.
McGowan, Andrew, B. Ancient Christian Worship: Early Church Practices in Social, Historical, and Theological Perspective. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014.
Well, this is another academic piece, but I really enjoyed it.
It’s been stated that if you want to know the future then look back at the past. Andrew McGowan, president, and dean of Berkley Divinity provides a transparent picture of the early church’s construction, practices, and worship, helping you gain a fresh perspective of orthodox Christianity.
McGowan writes about the ritual lifestyle of early Christian communal faith, spiritual development, and sacramental practices—something that I’m somewhat of a nerd about. But, Ancient Christian Worship offers a comprehensive researched and thought-provoking book with excellent insight into biblical and extra-biblical works.
McGowan’s contextual attention toward Greco-Roman, Roman, and Judaic culture surrounding the Eucharist was well established. Ancient Christian Worship would not be considered a light read or probably desirable for a new believer, but it is one worthy for scholarly research or greater early church understanding.
Newbigin, Lesslie. The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.
Ok, seriously, what can we say about anything of Newbigin’s?
Lesslie Newbigin has been credited with being one of the greatest missiologists of the twentieth century—indeed. The books that Newbigin wrote still have an impact and application upon today’s culture and missional life.
Newbigin’s book was first published in 1978 and has been revised, but the thesis concerning the mission of the Church being an “Open Secret,” has not. The Open Secretmay seem prophetic to the modern reader as if Newbigin had revelation concerning the Church’s enculturation and decline–I believe he did.
But, I also love the Trinitarian depth, theological exploration, missiological truths, and practical experience—they are beyond impressive. Any person engaging or contemplating vocational or bi-vocational church planting would do himself or herself a favor, by reading Newbigin’s Open Secret.
Ogden, Greg. Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples a Few at a Time. Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2003.
This is a decent book, not the best, but still very edifying. To write his book, Ogden utilizes his involvement as the director of the doctoral program of Fuller Seminary and his pastoral experience. He illustrates how Jesus and Paul utilized discipleship as transforming and empowering agents of people and the church.
Exposing today’s weak manner in which churches engage discipleship, Ogden provides biblical solutions to assist in fruitful multiplication. I thought Ogden’s book was well developed, reflective, and very practical, but it’s not a “one size fits all” band-aid to correct years of church disciple-making neglect. For Ogden, discipleship and transformation take patience and time and occur best in sharing life.
Schnabel, Eckard, J. Early Christian Mission: Jesus and the Twelve. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004.
This two-volume work is by far one of my all-time favorites. In actuality, I think I love anything written by Schnabel—his work is very thorough. Schnabel teaches New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and has been a missionary to the Philippines and Germany. This exhaustive and immensely in-depth academic work make Early Christian Mission a must-have resource for any serious student of Christian history.
Jesus and the Twelve(vol. 1) contains over nine hundred pages expounding upon the early Jewish Christ-following movements into pagan societies and their missionary practices. Leaving nothing out, Schnabel’s work includes illustrations, a multitude of scholarly resources, biblical exegesis, cultural hermeneutics, theological analysis, first-century missionary strategies, and more.
Schnabel’s work becomes an excellent resource for information, background, and understanding of early Christian mission.
Watson, David, and Paul Watson. Contagious Disciple Making: Leading Others on a Journey of Discovery. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2014.
Contagious Disciple Making won’t be considered a comfortable read. The Father and son duo, David and Paul Watson, analyze the differences between contextualization and understanding culture, teaching doctrine and Great Commission obedience, and the importance of making disciples, not converts.
The Watsons do create an easily readable format, but if you’re a traditionalist, be forewarned, their hard-hitting emphasis on thinking outside of traditional practices may cause your blood to boil.
Far from the classic style of classroom discipleship models, Contagious Disciple Making will stretch your understanding of mission with practical experiences of church planting movements and perspectives. Overall, the Watsons’ book illuminated me for innovation and development of new and extant methodologies concerning the goal of making disciples—but really good for parachuting church planters.
Bosch, David J. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1991.
AWESOME! This is the all-time best book regarding the theology of mission—but, be prepared, it is NOT an easy read. This book even comes with a manual on how to read it! The picture shows a yellow cover, mine is purple, so it may be different, but the content is the same.
But, Transforming Mission has become one of the most popular books concerning mission. David Bosch was a missiologist and professor at the University of South Africa. Bosch’s book illustrates the shifts within the ecclesiastical mission throughout the centuries. He identifies the dilemma of postmodernism and the paradigm shift that needs to—or must—occur.
Bosch expertly explains how to see and engage the mission during the shift. For Bosch, Christian mission transforms the realities of everyday life that surround it. Bosch’s in-depth biblical, theological, and ecclesiological understanding of the Great Commission makes Transforming Mission a bank vault of knowledge. With nearly six hundred scholarly pages of research, Bosch’s book should be on every church planter’s library shelf—I’m not kidding.
Green, Michael. Evangelism in the Early Church. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004.
I think this book has also become one of my favorites, but once again, I’m an early church nerd.
Michael Green is not some academic push-over, he has served as the senior professor of research at Oxford University’s Wycliffe Hall. Green has also published several books illustrating his knowledge regarding the early church—yet, I think this is his best work.
Green revisits the early church and the secularized relativistic and pluralist society it lived within. He addressed how the modern church would benefit to engage the first-century church’s evangelistic fervor. For Green, the modern church lives when it sacrifices itself and it grows when it gives itself away.
In this revised edition, Green examines the transforming power of the gospel. As well, Green validates his points with hundreds of footnotes from scholarly sources—that’s the real deal. With multiple mentions concerning the early church’s baptismal rite and the Great Commission, Green’s work can be beneficial to revitalizers, planters, and disciple-makers.
McClung, Floyd. Basic Discipleship. Downers Grove: IVP Books, 1992.
Ok, I threw this one if the pile. It’s not one of my favorites, but it is well written. Floyd McClung has published over fourteen books. He founded All Nations, a church movement that engages disciple-making, leadership training, and church planting—so, he’s got the clout.
Plus, this isn’t McClung’s first go around regarding discipleship. I will admit, Basic Discipleship far exceeds anything ordinary, for this reason, do not expect the basic definition of discipleship. McClung challenges the aspect of obedient discipleship and an enacted Christ-centered faith. A consistent theme of Christ’s Lordship over life, seeking God through humility, and the compassion of others, reveals Basic Discipleship as an edifying tool for spiritual formation and Great Commission living. Disciple-maker…put this book in your quiver.
Western Christianity is hemorrhaging!
70% of the U.S. population reports a connection with Jesus Christ, yet according to David Olson, on any given Sunday, less than 17.5% of the population actually attends an orthodox worship service. Even more sobering is the reality that American churches would need to plant 2,900 new churches a year, just to keep up with the current pace of population growth (some research states 15,000).
In an interview with a Liberian church planter, he revealed that God called him to come to the United States to plant churches; he’s not the only one among the diaspora missionaries from Africa. With 80 to 85 percent of churches in America either plateauing or in decline, there is an urgent call for church revitalization and planting. For this reason, the church must re-engage the missio Dei, the sending of God, and shift to a missional praxis. The Western world has once again become the mission field.
When relating to Western culture, I understand the ambiguity involved in such terminology; therefore, for the purpose of this article, the term “Western culture” refers to the United States of America. I hope to illustrate our culture’s need for an apostolic movement and a call for a reestablished Trinitarian mission.
First, I’ll address the historical and present reality of the Western church’s decline and imperative nature as a mission field. Second, I’ll explore a biblical and theological reflection on the Western church within culture.
Historical and Present Reality of The Western Church
We don’t need to go too far back into American history to notice that a transformation has occurred. Just one hundred years ago, back to the 1920’s, Christianity was once was so enmeshed within its culture that capitalism and faith were nearly inseparable—it was virtually improbable to receive a bank loan without church membership. John D. Rockefeller, who organized the Interchurch World Mission (IWM) once proclaimed, “A Christian is a Christian no matter what church he belongs to…What nobler aim can a man have in life than to be Christlike?”
Studying Rockefeller’s business practices, it would not be against popular opinion to question his biblical faith, but as many Americans, Rockefeller assumed that everyone in American society were automatically Christian. Alan Hirsch clarifies, “In the American expression, Christianity was not married to the state but is nonetheless seen to be an inextricable part of American culture and identity; until the last thirty years or so, if you were American, you were a Christian.” Church membership was more about being a part of the social norms and values than it was conviction of the heart.
An interesting statistic from the North American Mission Board (NAMB) shows research concerning American churches. NAMB found that in 1900 there were twenty-eight churches for every ten thousand people; by 1950 that number declined to seventeen; by the year 2000 it declined even more to twelve, and by 2004, it was down to eleven.! There are no current numbers, at least that I have discovered.
As stated, Olson’s statistics display that only 17.5% of the population in North America is attending Sunday services, but Doug Murren of the Murren Group, declares that number to be too high and suggested Olson’s 2008 numbers were lagging a bit behind—his ghastly number of only 12% is staggering. Furthermore, Murren’s research indicates “20% of people leave their church every year, which would require a visitor rate of at least 30% of a church’s size per year, just to grow.”
The Western church is surely in decline and hemorrhaging, as the culture pulls away from Christianity. The Barna Group assesses that “more than one-third of America’s adults are essentially secular in belief and practice.” With a population of roughly two hundred forty million Americans, one hundred seventy million of them (71%), either consider themselves as having no religious affiliation at all or Christian in name only. As JR Woodward observed, “Functional Christendom has given way to a ‘spiritual,’ secular and pluralist society where a growing number view the church with suspicion and some with downright disdain.” The Western world is officially a mission field and is in dire need of apostolic movement.
However, while it’s good to recognize numbers and statistics, the church should not become depressed—only motivated. As the culture shifts, the contemporary church must be reminded that it’s not in the first-century. As early church historian Michael Green notes, “They lived in a world more relativist and far more pluralist that our own.” Of course, to some, like Ted Turnau, who projects in his book, Popologetics, that “each idolatrous cultural act inspires another that is darker and more deceptive,” this would place humanity into a more darker culture than ever before.
It’s probably safe to say that humanity is, well, humanity, and a depraved unregenerate people will not flock to the gospel, but toward sinful tendencies. One cannot fault culture for shifting, nor for humanity in embracing relativism, new age spiritualism, or even atheism. If the church is not spreading the love of the gospel and making disciples within its community then the current culture cannot be faulted for failing to possess a Christian worldview. David Hesslegrave defines, “A worldview is formed by hearing and learning a big story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.”
The church is failing to present a transformation story in Christ, filled with the Scriptures, and the application from within our current lives. Society is only doing what is expected of it, to live life according to the desires of the heart. Western culture must be a mission field engaged by a missional people with a passionate and harmonious unified church at its core. The culture has shifted from the church to the workplace—hence, the church must engage the marketplace—and engage it as a movement.
The call for an apostolic movement is vital. If as Malphurs stated, “Only five to twenty-five percent of pastors are equipped to turn around churches” then only a paradigm shift in thinking will work. J.D. Payne rightly observes that the American church, which once was filled with missional church planters has developed into a pastoral missiology of “maintenance and conservation of structures and organizations.” Hirsch adds to this line of thinking, “We forgot that it’s not so much that the church has a mission as that the mission has a church…missional church is apostolic church.” To combat the decline of Western culture, the church must reengage its apostolic past, while communally embracing its missional future.
Biblical and Theological Reflection on The Western Church
As Lesslie Newbigin so eloquently, yet blatantly put it, “The Christ who said, “Come unto me and I will give you rest,” also said to those same disciples, “As the Father has sent me so I send you,” and showed them the scars of his battle with the rulers of the world (John 20:20-21). John’s passage reveals the Greatest Commission; the missio Dei, it’s theologically steeped foundation within the Omnibenevolence of God.
To know God is to love him. Jesus told his disciples that they must love their neighbors as they love themselves; this is the second greatest commandment (Matt 22:39). When questioned as to whom was their neighbor (Luke 10:29), Jesus responded with a story pertaining to the Jews’ detested race of people, the Samaritans (Luke 10:30-35).
In connection, the story of the Good Samaritan is an applicable imperative to know and love those within our culture. Christ’s incarnation provides an example of not only understanding culture, but tabernacling within it (John 1:14). In Kevin Vanhoozer’s book, Everyday Theology he explains, “Cultural literacy—[is] the ability to understand patterns and products of everyday life—[it] is thus an integral aspect of obeying the law of love.” To effectively engage Western culture, the church must not abandon the ancient faith, striving to embrace secular values to become relevant, but adhere, apply, and act within Trinitarian koinonia.
At the heart of the reconciliation of all things, whether Western culture or otherwise, is the love of the Father, explicitly sending the suffering Son, to vicariously be victorious over sin and death for humanity, “through the eternal Spirit” (Heb. 9:14). The love of God cannot be disseminated from the three persons of the Trinity, nor divorced from the missio Dei, as the conceptual understanding of homoousis underlies the Christ as the same eternal substance with the Father; so to, Christ is the head of the church.
Robert Webber’s book, Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World expresses the church’s role and functions within a changing culture— “Our calling is not to reinvent the Christian faith, but, in keeping with the past, to carry forward what the church has affirmed from its beginning.” The church was given a mandate to make disciples while going about life (Matt 28:19), through the worship of the Father (Matt 4:10; John 4:23), obedience and submission to Christ (John 14:15), by intentionally heeding the Holy Spirit’s voice (John 14:26; Acts 1:8).
Making disciples means that the church expresses,reveals, and manifests to culture the reality of the Trinity’s nature, by the gospel of Christ. As Adam Dodds confirmed, “Jesus cannot rightly be identified without describing the triune nature of God…Although the gospel is the gospel of Jesus Christ, this gospel begins with the Father sending the Son who is conceived by the Holy Spirit.” Therefore, for the church to engage the Western culture with the gospel, it is to reveal God’s Omnibenevolence with the missio Trinitas. A call back to understanding that the Godhead propels and sustains the missional church community is at its core. Woodward validates, “since the church is the icon of the Trinity, true personhood is found in community.”
When the Apostle Paul was called to go to Macedonia, he first made plans to go to Asia, but as Erwin McManus linked, “The entire Trinity got involved in keeping Paul from going to the wrong place.” Currently, the Western church is not listening and it seems to be going to the wrong place. The church abides in Christ, having its resolve to fulfill the missio Dei, as the Imago Dei. As Christ’s body on earth, the church’s missional DNA (mDNA) exists in Jesus as Lord.
Enculturation occurs when “an existent, prevailing culture influences” a church to “imbibe its accepted norms and values.” By enculturation, the contemporary church has separated itself from the imago Dei. Rather than retaining its innate DNA (2 Cor. 5:17), Western Christianity has lost the power of the cross, the dynamic of the Holy Spirit, and the fear of Almighty God. The church’s enculturation has stripped it of the convicting influence of the Holy Spirit (John 16), causing, in part, the West to become the mission field.
However, all is not lost. As Jesus stated, “I will build my church, and the gates of hellshall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18b). The church, from its earliest inception, faced political, religious, and even internal opposition with councils, proconsuls, governors, kings, and tribunes, but the “powers that be,” hinder as they may attempt, could not and cannot cease a missional movement of God. When the church relinquishes control of all earthly things to God and basks in his presence, it can expect an apostolic Trinitarian movement to occur. During trials, tribulations, and opposition from society, the New Testament (NT) church was in the midst of an expansion explosion, and God was on the move.
The church must re-engage Western culture by relinquishing its boundaries to the missio Trinitas. Rolland Allen expresses this as the church’s primary fear, “There is always something terrifying in the feeling that we are letting loose a force which we cannot control; and when we think of spontaneous expansion in this way, instinctively we begin to be afraid.” As the Apostles Paul and John declared, “God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7) and respectively, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…” (1 John 4:18a). Therefore, in moving ahead within the cultural divide, the church must relinquish its thoughts of controlling Christ’s body. The church has all the resources, power, vision, people, and God-given authority to reach the West for Christ—may we be so emboldened to do it!
David T. Olson, The American Church in Crisis: Groundbreaking Research Based On a National Database of Over 200,000 Churches(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 181.
J.D. Payne, Strangers Next Door: Immigrations, Migration, and Mission(Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2012), 151.
Aubrey Malphurs, Look Before You Lead: How to Discern and Shape Your Church Culture(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), 200.
Charles Edward Harvey. 1982. “John D Rockefeller, Jr and the Interchurch World Movement of 1919-1920: a different angle of the ecumenical movement.” Church History51, no. 2: 203. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost(accessed July 7, 2015).
Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson, On the Verge: a Journey Into the Apostolic Future of the Church(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 130.
Ed Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), 9.
Olson, The American Church in Crisis,181.
Doug Murren, “De-Churching or Re-Gathering,” themurrengroup.com, March, 2015, accessed March 2, 2015, http://www.themurrengroup.com/de-gathering-or-re-gathering.html.
George Barna and David Kinnaman, Churchless:Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them(Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2014), 16.
Aubrey Malphurs, Planting Growing Churches For the 21stCentury: A Comprehensive Guide for New Churches and Those Desiring Renewal, 3rdEd. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004), 12.
JR Woodward, Creating a Missional Culture: Equipping the Church for the Sake of the World(Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2012), 30.
Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church. Rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), 21.
Ted Turnau, Popologetics: Popular Culture in Christian Perspective(Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2012), 65.
David J. Hesselgrave, Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: North America and Beyond(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 146.
Malphurs, Look Before You Lead,173.
J.D. Payne, Pressure Points: Twelve Global Issues Shaping the Face of the Church(Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2013), 24-25.
Hirsch and Ferguson, On the Verge, 130-132.
Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: the Gospel and Western Culture(Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 124.
Ross Hastings, Missional God, Missional Church: Hope for Re-Evangelizing the West(Westmont, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 19.
Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Charles A. Anderson, and Michael J. Sleasman, eds. Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 19.
Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1999), 17.
Adam Dodds. “Newbigin’s Trinitarian missiology: the doctrine of the Trinity as good news for Western culture.”International Review Of Mission99, no. 390 (April 1, 2010): 17. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost(accessed July 6, 2015).
Woodward, Creating A Missional Culture, 91.
Erwin Raphael McManus, An Unstoppable Force Daring to Become the Church God Had in Mind 2001 Publication(Loveland, CO: Group Pub. Inc., 2000), 77.
Hirsch and Ferguson, On the Verge, 158.
Hastings, Missional God, Missional Church, 18.
Steve Walton. “What Does ‘Mission’ in Acts Mean in Relation to the ‘Powers That Be’?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society55, no. 3 (2012): 546.
Grant Osborne. “Moving Forward On Our Knees: Corporate Prayer in the New Testament.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society53, no. 2 (June 2010): 259.
Roland Allen, The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church: and the Causes That Hinder It(Grand Rapids, MI: Wipf & Stock Pub, 1997), 13.
One of my professors suggested that our doctoral cohort study culture and trends—something I was already inclined to do, but he offered a website that provides great insight. While the site, Faith Popcorn, doesn’t provide much analysis, it provides provoking thought and reflection. Reading the predictions through gospel lenses allows me stay a step ahead of culture.
I realize that this title may sound somewhat Orwellian, but humanity has arrived in the twenty-first century technological age. There are no flying cars, yet, or humanoids; however, not unlike the twentieth century we are still—perhaps even more so—engaged in an age of fear, anxiety, and paranoia.
Faith Popcorn predicts, “people will want guarded homes, there will be ways to filter your water, maybe bullet-proof houses, working more at home, not wanting to travel, armored communities where you will swap privacy for the privilege of living in a safe bubble.”
While some fear may be substantiated, Popcorn noted that “74% of Americans fear ISIS,” so the trends of tiny techno chips and fully disclosing our lifestyle seem to be the writing on the wall.
What do these future trends reveal?
Living With Full Disclosure
Does living within an armored city sound appealing to you? What about having all of your emails, phone calls, texts, and social media updates viewed and scrutinized—for the good of the community?
I see something grander at work here than protection or information gathering. I believe if people swap their privacy for safety something radical may occur. A community may accept sin as normal and justifiable.
Man will always desire to gratify himself. Sin feels good, tastes, good, and looks good. So, to think that an armored community would halt this would be naïve. Since the fall of humanity, man quests for pleasure, while also longing to hide the sin (inject Cain and Abel story, here). While armored communities may sound somewhat attractive at first, the realities of having every near-thought recorded and dissected will inevitably change how we will view sin.
If this future trend of walling ourselves in and being monitored by the thought-police occurs then we will inevitably be encountering some way to moralize or justify sinful behavior. Basically, no sin will be hidden from prying eyes, so to justify one’s actions; acceptability of the sin becomes normal. The community’s hearts become seared and accept sin.
Armored communities could easily become modern Sodom and Gomorrahs, not necessarily in a sexual sense, but in the sense of Ezekiel 16—following vanity and self-gratification.
The Fitbit Frenzy & Fear
Fitbits are probably some of the neatest gadgets manufactured. To think that this Star Trek-like accessory can sense our heart rates, fitness activity, record calories, receive text and call alerts, play music and wirelessly sync with our smart devices is pretty amazing. Newer technology trends are being developed to alert us if someone is strapped with C4 explosives or some type of dirty bomb.
I know, you’re probably thinking, how does this reveal the need for the gospel? A bomb sniffing Fitbit is just a man-made device created to help protect humanity—that’s good, right? Sure it is. But it is also revealing. It’s not the Fitbit itself that is so revealing; it is the reason for the ability’s design and demand. Why would people demand such a device? Surely, Apple would not create a product that people wouldn’t purchase—so, what does this tell us?
How These Trends Reveal and Plead For The Gospel
These two future trends reveal the hearts and minds of fearful living. The gospel’s power delivers people from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of God’s Son, Jesus Christ (Col. 1:13–14). Paul asserted, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7).
There’s nothing wrong with protected neighborhoods, many well-known pastors live within them, and nothing wrong with an explosive-sniffing-micro-chip—don’t misunderstand me, but the fact that we live in a society where these are good things, detects more than bombs—it detects man’s bondage to fear, lack of love, and trust in God—something which only exists in the gospel.
The art of neighboring seems to be long gone. Both of these trends spell out what the church will be faced with in the coming future—fear and paranoia. But, we, as gospel-centered people, must strive to boldly proclaim man’s redemption from sin, God’s graceful gift of joy, and the freedom from the bondage of fear, to the world. We are ambassadors and ministers of reconciliation, as God makes his appeal through us (2 Cor. 5:17–20). Trends of fear should be countered with gospel-saturation. “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).
If you’ve been in church planting for any amount of time, at some point you have dealt with demographics. As a pastor, I believe it is just as important to know my demographics. However, most pastors have no idea what to do with demographics or even how to read them effectively and apply them.
Demographics are important. But, let me be particularly clear: demographics will never replace the working power of the Holy Spirit. Demographics are a tool to understand culture, age, ethnicity, education, ideology, and religion(s) in any specified region.
Demographics & Exegeting Culture
Exegesis. Before my undergrad work, I thought I knew the Bible—then I was introduced to exegesis—everything changed. Biblical exegesis is a critical examination and explanation of a text, employing the original languages of Scripture.
If I am assessing a church or church plant, an imperative question is, do you know the demographics of your neighborhood, community, or city? While some pastors may be able to spout off percentages, reality comes when there’s a lack of application and comprehension. Similarly, if I can see Greek words, but have no idea what they mean, I cannot exegete a Bible passage—I’ll need help.
So, let me provide some help in which exegeting demographics can assist you to understand your culture and context.
Targeting. I won’t dive too far into targeting, but it can be highly effective. If you don’t know whom you are targeting and why (besides the gospel), you will never know how. With the ever increasing population shift of people groups through immigration, urbanization, and gentrification, church leaders must know who is in their community, the projected growth, and why they are there. People don’t just migrate somewhere for no reason.
Targeting specific people groups within my neighborhood is done when I notice a growing population shift within a specific grouping. Maybe there is a rise in a particular ethnicity, race, religious affiliation, or socio-economic status. Targeting will help leaders critically examine and explain what is occurring in their region, along with actually reaching them.
Community Needs. Every community has a need —when exegeting a community, you may uncover areas of plight, addiction, homelessness, or any myriad of social injustice and demand. The church should not only be serving these needs, but reaching the people affected by them, with the gospel. A comprehensive approach to help break the chains of poverty, despair, and bondage are fundamentals of the gospel.
Areas of Resurgence. Perhaps within your community an old box store was torn down, an old strip mall demolished, or restaurant closed? What’s replacing it? That’s the question you need to be asking. Municipalities must have tax revenue. Something will either be built in tis place, or your community is seeing a decline, both provide ample answers. We need to be observant and do a little homework. Is the old strip mall being torn down for some surge of economic growth? If a new restaurant is being built—what type is it? What does that tell me about the neighborhood? Should the church be revisiting its vision?
Areas of resurgence seem to occur within regions periodically, or cyclically. We once were geared up for the suburban sprawl, as people left cities. Now, people are leaving the ‘burbs and flocking to urban neighborhoods. Likewise, trends are showing that Wal-Mart and some of the bigger corporations, like Anheuser Busch, are in decline, as Millennials shift to more organic shops and craft brews. What does that tell us? It tells us that the church may be seeing a shift in mega-churches, possibly seeing future decline, while smaller more personal churches/church plants may be seeing growth.
Demographics & Spiritual Pulse
Spiritual Warfare. When I came to Richmond I wanted to know a little more about where I was engaging gospel ministry. It was revealed that Richmond, Virginia was one of the few cities along the eastern seaboard that was not affected during the Great Awakening. As well, there was a notable revival among African-Americans just prior to the Civil War, but the war squashed the Spirit’s zeal. Why is that important? History tells me what occurred within my community.
I know that some may not be advocates of prayer-walking, but there is most definitely a spiritual warfare taking place behind the scenes of your church. Do your homework and know your history.
Assessing Culture. While the Apostle Paul walked around Athens he was assessing the culture (Acts 17:14–31). With demographics in hand, what should I be looking for? I think if we are wise stewards of this information, we try to assess who lives within our community, city, and region. We want to know which religions are here because they’re not the same, nor can they all be approached in the same manner. Likewise, ethnic groups are not the same and bring with them a culture, perhaps, much different than our own.
If I want to engage the culture, I need to get out and view the community (walk it, ride it, experience it) and then read the demographics. For instance, our church has an inner city Liberian church plant. In questioning their pastor, he expressed that he wanted to reach his neighborhood more. I took one glance at the demographics and assessed that he should engage the culture with diverse arts projects (graffiti & folk art), music, celebrate recovery, and helping homelessness. Did all of that come from one look at the demographics? No, it came from experiencing the neighborhood and then reading the demographics.
Demographics & Sermon Delivery
Contextualization. I’ll use the same passage from Acts 17:14–31 regarding the Apostle Paul. When Paul was in Athens, he wandered around the marketplace (17:19) and assessed the culture, what they bought, how they talked, what they talked about, and how they worshipped.
Paul was examining how he was going to deliver the gospel to the Athenian people. While he was exegeting the people, he must have witnessed or understood much about their culture because he utilized an Epicurean philosopher and a Greek Stoic to explain the gospel (17:28–29). This is so important.
As a pastor I need to know the education level of my audience. If I’m constantly utilizing twenty-dollar theological terms with a congregation of people that have not graduated high school then I will have a hard time contextualizing the gospel to them. This is true if I am reaching a different ethnic group, or socio-economic group, as well.
There’s no reason to spend countless hours studying and preparing a message that no one understands. Demographics will help you understand who are the people within your region and help you reach and teach them the gospel.
Tools for How to find demographics:
Mapping: www.peoplegroups.org; www.census.gov; www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/00
Community facts: www.factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml
Psychographics (lifestyles, values): www.neilsen.com/us
Religious Data: www.thearda.com; www.religions.pewforum.org
If you’re a church planter and you haven’t heard the term diaspora, you will—soon enough. One of the major shifts in global population is the flowing dispersion of immigrant people groups. Envision how airplane traffic controllers track flights.
The world is seeing great numbers of people shifting from country to country. Whether the movement is due to refugees—fleeing persecution, or for temporary visa status—for work—regardless, the peoples of the world are on the move—and God is doing something amazing! He’s bringing people to us.
What Immigration Tells Us
Western churches, especially urban church plants, will be forced to reach people of ethnicity—not that urban churches haven’t always done this—as cities become more diverse than culturally segregated (think Chinatown, Little Italy, etc.). The good news comes to us by reaching the diaspora of the nations. Almost makes me think of Psalm 2:8, “All the nations you have made shall come…”
Immigration to the United States is the cause for population growth. Without immigrants (legal), the United States would not be growing in population, but declining. Just to clarify, if you’re linking immigration with the Hispanic culture, let me help you. Currently, Germany and Ireland are the top two countries with diaspora peoples coming to the U.S.—Mexico is third, but only by a small portion of one percent, compared to the United Kingdom (4th).
Being Great Commission Churches
Great Commission (Matt 28:19) churches will need to engage the diasporic peoples in order to see the gospel delivered domestically and globally. With the recent news of the IMB’s shortfall and need to release close to 800 people, churches will once again have the pressure of the Great Commission task. This may be a good thing (not people being laid-off, that’s always bad), in the sense that churches will be forced to evaluate their understanding of the missio Dei.
So, if we cannot send more missionaries overseas, what is the answer that God may be giving us? Here’s the bigger picture: there are immigrants who choose to return back to their homeland after getting settled within a new country; those who do return are known as the diaspora. Reaching the diasporic peoples within urban communities is one way to help spread the gospel, while alleviating the costs of training international missionaries.
How Does This Effect Church Planting?
The immigration “game” and diasporic models play a huge role in urban church planting. Since urban areas across the globe are growing (urbanization) then planting more churches within the urban context is necessary. Domestic church planters will be expected to reach across cultures, socially and evangelistically. We call this E–2 to E–3 evangelism.
To see a true church planting movement (CPM) occur within the U.S., church planters must be prepared to contextualize the gospel with simplicity—for the purpose of reproducibility. The current model is not sustainable; meaning, we cannot expect to wait for church planters to graduate seminaries and become some type of dynamic leader. Only a lay leader style of bi-vocational (at best) ministry is simply reproduced through discipleship—much like the first century or any major CPM in history.
Regardless, things are changing, and if you’re an urban church planter or a pastor, you might want to begin considering how you are going to reach these people groups. But don’t worry, this stuff is what guys like me study and try to develop (working on it now!). Just think about it. Tell me your thoughts…
 J.D. Payne, Strangers Next Door: Immigrations, Migration, and Mission (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2012), 151.
 Steven A. Camarota, “Projecting Immigration’s Impact On the Size and Age Structure of the 21st Century American Population,” www.cis.org, December, 2012, accessed September 3, 2015, http://cis.org/projecting-immigrations-impact-on-the-size-and-age-structure-of-the-21st-century-american-population.
 Susanna Groves, “Http: //www.diasporaalliance.org,” http://www.diasporaalliance.org, March 13, 2015, accessed September 3, 2015, http://www.diasporaalliance.org/americas-largest-diaspora-populations/.
 Payne, Pressure Points, 9-10.