This is something long overdue. I’d temporarily set aside doing blogs because of the continuing problem of paralysis in my hand due to the stroke I suffered on April 20, 2008. In fact the last blog I wrote was January 22nd of this year and coincidentally it was similarly themed to this. I’m continuing on with the subject of churches, church growth, and evangelism and I’m trying to kind of combine those topics into one blog and look at them as though they were one subject, which I believe they are. At the very least the topics are interrelated.
Another thing that’s different about this blog is that I’m approaching it from a different way of writing it. I’m using voice transcription software called Dragon Naturally Speaking© and this is a real challenge for me. I’m one of those people who writes better typing as they think. In other words, my thoughts seem to flow more easily directly from my head to my keyboard. The idea of going from my head to my tongue is a new concept for me as a writer. I’m able to do it easily enough as a teacher, as a lecturer, as a preacher and in general conversation but as a writer this is a new concept for me. This is something I’m having great difficulty teaching myself to do even with a Facebook IQ app telling me that I’m smarter than 98% of the population with an IQ of 148, this difficulty is probably going to be reflected in the end result of this document.
Let me first try to define the problem as I see it. In my immediate community there are a half a dozen or so churches whose worship services follow a very similar format. I call this format the “Field of Dreams” format. Let me explain what I mean by that. You remember the Kevin Costner film Field of Dreams? The tagline for that movie was “if you build it they will come.”
Now let me translate that into form and function. What the “Field of Dreams” church is doing is creating fantastic new programs, defined by exciting emotional worship music in a concert type venue, four color advertising with which they anonymously flood their community. Then they sit back in their “Field of Dreams” (buildings) and wait for the unsaved world to come to them. As I’ve said I called this “Field of Dreams” church. They call this the “Seeker church.”
What you end up with is a half dozen churches within a 5 mile radius who are basically doing the same thing just packaged slightly differently. Every 6 to 12 months a group of people that make up any given set of members of any given Seeker church congregation will tire of their particular group of Seekers, get up and migrate to another Seeker church just like the one that they left. When they get to this new Seeker church, many of them; not all but many of them will once again be converted, baptized, and be assigned a position in their new church as new converts. They will be replaced at the church that they just left by a similarly sized group of people that left another Seeker church in the community performing the same pew swapping ritual they just did.
In 6 to 12 months it’ll happen again, and this migration will continue throughout the community every 6 to 12 months. There will be a change of congregations of basically the same people moving to a new Seeker church going through the whole program of conversion and baptism, become recounted as new converts, and each of the Seeker churches will call this process church growth.
I’m calling this musical pews because no real growth has taken place. All that’s happened is a sizable portion of the community has revolved like the spinning barrel of an old time handgun and moved from one place to another and gone through all of the steps again. Don’t get me wrong. Along the way there have been some new genuine conversions, but mostly it’s just a migration.
Now how does this happen? I believe it’s a misunderstanding of the great commission and I’d like to try and explain why I come to that conclusion.
I believe when God says things, He says what He means and He means what He says. For example if He gives you a list; let’s say, as an example, in the list of gifts of the Holy Spirit that Paul details in Corinthians an with minor differences in Ephesians, there is a reason that that list is given in the order in which it’s given. Paul even explains that the last gift in the list is there because it’s the least important of the gifts. Another example of this is when God sets out steps to do something, and he gives an order to those steps. Let’s take the Great Commission for example, as it is given in the book of Acts. We’re told in the book of Acts “daily were added to the church those who were being saved.” (2:47)
Now there are two things happening in the sentence, apart from the fact that both were ongoing processes, and the order is of great importance. Be in very careful not to miss them.
Number one: new believers are being added to the church daily.
Number two: those new believers are being added to the church after they have been converted, again, a daily occurrence for the first century church in Jerusalem.
Do you see the importance of what’s happening in Acts when compared to what’s happening in today’s Seeker church? The order in Jerusalem is that new believers are welcomed into the church after their conversion. New believers are welcomed in to participate as fully vetted members of the family of God, welcome to worship, participate in the Lord’s table, be part of the family because they already are! This question of before and after is critical, and that’s what the Seeker church is getting wrong.
The Seeker Church/”Field of Dreams” church operates on the premise that if you build the building, design a great program, and have a band that can sing the K-Love Top-100 by memory, lost people will come seeking the truth where you are. Here is your first problem. The Bible says that there none who are righteous, (Romans 3:10) and none who seek after God (Romans 3:11). How can you have a church based on the premise that there are seekers when the Bible says that no one is seeking?
The second problem is a little more complicated. It presumes that the Bible was written for everyone, and it’s not. The Bible is written for the Church. The Church is made up not of the building where people worship but of the worshipers themselves! The Bride of Christ. Those who have committed their lives to Jesus Christ as Savior. They have repented of their sins, they have asked him into their life as Lord and Savior and accepted him as such. That’s the church, and it is to this group of people that the Bible was written, not the rest of the world.
The book of Acts rendering of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:119-20) works this way. The members of the church, from the preacher to the janitor, go out into the world, and communicate the Good News. That’s what the word Gospel means – Good News! They evangelize the world. When they are successful in spreading the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ: the death burial and resurrection of our Savior and people become born again, where they live, then they are to expand out into the rest of the world. That’s the message of Acts 1:8! Don’t stand around waiting, GO GET THE LOST, and when you’ve found, converted and baptized them, then welcome them into the church. That’s what the verse and emphasis that daily were added to the church those who were being saved means. That is the order. It doesn’t say daily those who were seeking the church, found it and got saved after they were added to the church. The “Field of Dreams” model is simply not in harmony with the biblical model.
The problem then is that the Seeker church, no matter what their programs, no matter what music, no matter how loud or soft they play, it no matter how many screens they show it in however many campus satellite facilities they use, no matter what graphic tee of the week they’re wearing, or what hip new English translation of the week they’re preaching from, an evangelistic model that continues to expect the world to find you instead of you going out into the world preaching the gospel is going to continue to result in exactly what it has resulted in. As wise old preacher friend of mine used to say: “if you do what you’ve always done you’ll get what you’ve always got”, and for the field of dreams church, church growth is going to continue to be nothing more than a rotation of the same group of people moving from church to church to church to church. And as they get to church to church to church to church, and as they continue to be reconverted and re-baptized and re-101’d and re-102’d only to move on to a new place and do it all, all over again in another 6 to 12 months, the church continues to be a nursery when it should be a seminary!
Church, we’re getting it wrong. We need to take another look at the direction that God gives us through the Holy Spirit in the words of Dr. Luke in the book of Acts and go out in to the world 2 by 2 as Jesus commanded us (“And He called the twelve to Himself, and began to send them out two by two,” Mark 6”7a) and preach the gospel to Jerusalem Judea Samaria and on to the uttermost parts of the earth and when we see conversions, then bring them into the church and train them. Disciple them. What Acts is talking about is how one on one personal out in the real world face to face evangelism was how the first century church could proclaim, ”daily were added to the church those who were being saved.” That’s still how a church grows. Not by having blocks of born-again people moving from congregation to congregation to congregation and get reborn and get re-baptized every six months to a year.
I trust you will take another look at Matthew 28 and the Great Commission and that you will re-read the first three chapters of Acts and you’ll read through them prayerfully, and just as prayerfully consider how you’re doing church. Rethink the “Field of Dreams” Seeker church and really think about why you’re not reaching your community for Christ. The end is coming. It’s closer than we think. Jesus could return tomorrow: are you ready? Is your Church ready? Is your community ready? My community needs Jesus, and I want to see it turn to Jesus Christ. Who is willing to help me? Let’s commit ourselves to work pray and see our communities turn to Christ and see revival sweep our land before Jesus returns.