McNeal begins with a challenging story from a church plant he started twenty plus years ago. After a meeting, God spoke to him: “Are people better off for being part of this church, or are they just tireder and poorer?” It bothered him – because he thought he knew the answer. He didn’t know how way to measure people’s spiritual growth – only church involvement. This is the most difficult shift for leaders to make. We know how to cross programs and events off our calendar, but people are never ‘done.’ This is a trap for the missional church, not just the traditional. We can feed the poor, but that’s just step one. How do we mentor them or help them get jobs or whatever’s next.
The rise of the program-oriented church came in the wake of WWII with the rise of the service economy. People outsourced things they didn’t like to do, including spiritual formation. According to McNeal, the church isn’t supposed to be the center for spiritual development – “everyday living” is. In all our programming, the church is disliked by many because we have not loved like Jesus, despite all our programs.
McNeal isn’t calling for the death of programs. Rather, the issue is making peoples’ success the end, not the program’s success. The quality of people, not the programs is what we’re looking for. (Note: McNeal is quick to point out that this isn’t a mega-church vs. small church issue. Both have successes and disasters in their portfolios).
What does this look like? We’ll start this week with “Fostering a People Development Culture” and we’ll finish it next week. Like moving from internal to external, this is going to take some shifts in our thinking and behavior. Just one of these changes won’t work, but taken together, they can get us on the right track.
From Standardization to Customization
For a long time churches were like McDonald’s. You knew what you were going to get at a Baptist church all around the US (or any other denomination, for that matter). It started with the desire to target programs to people, but things were inverted in time. But just as the previous era was mass standardization, now the mode of operation is mass customization. You don’t have to buy a CD for one song or go to Bible study on Sunday only – with people others have chosen for you. This creates challenges for the program-oriented church, but opportunities as well.
From Scripting to Shaping
Pastors are trained to give people the script for growth, but people are less inclined to listen to experts and want more control over their lives. The role needs to shift to coaching, which people are more inclined to receive. Leaders should know what people need, but we need to help them participate in the process by coaching them. This is labor-intensive, but worth it. And this is a place where you can direct people to programs that will help them build their growth portfolio.
From Participation to Maturation
People can participate in a bunch of church activities and never actually be changed. They can tithe and still be as mean as ever. Go to Sunday School and still defend racist views, etc… The missional church focuses less on what people are doing and more on who they are becoming.
We’ll cover the rest in two weeks. Next week we’ll be walking through Passion Week.