Monday, January 17, 2005

Post-Restoration Hope #4: Target, Mission, Let’s Go Fishin’

Now, as I grew up in my little white Church of Christ, having been significantly whitenized (I guess it didn’t take all the much social bleach to whiten me up since I am only partially Mexican, but mostly Norwegian), I never heard the terms like target in speaking about people who we thought we wanted to come to our church. The term would have been offensive. We wanted EVERYONE to come to our church. We were there to seek and save the lost, and pretty much everyone not attending our church was lost, so, we did want everyone to come to our church…Or did we?

Reading Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church was the first time I ever read that a church intentionally went after a certain kind of person. In that book I was introduced to Saddleback Sam. He was the guy they were going after. They did their market research so well, and got it down to such a science they could probably have predicted how many “Saddleback Sams” in the area wore boxers and how many wore briefs…and how many fell into the “other” category.

Although this method of evangelism smacks of all kinds of things none too pleasant, it did several good things as well. It was honest. It was intentional. It was effective so far as its goals were concerned. It was culturally relevant so far as marketing strategies are concerned. And, one thing it did for me was help me realize that all churches have a target whether they know it or not. Churches which say they have no target may not be intentionally programmed to go get their Saddleback Sam, but their target is no less real. It is their accidental target. In fact, the accidental target (which most Churches of Christ I’ve been a part of employ) is probably even more powerful at keeping their untarget out as intentional target models are of getting their target in. I would say that they only way not to have a target is to intentionally not have one, a very challenging (idealized perhaps) vision. One of the emerging churches called, Solomon’s Porch, claims to intentionally have no target. Read Reimagining Spiritual Formation by Doug Pagitt for more on Solomon’s Porch.

The target of just about every Church of Christ I have known is this: people just like them. They are programmed for, languaged for, structured for (and on and on and on), people who already hold their beliefs, share their traditions, and speak their language.

-It is why so many churches still clutch on to the Sunday PM service: “What if someone comes in town on Sunday evening and needs to take communion?”

-It is why the idea of praise teams (or any cosmetic or semi-substantial change in worship services) is so vile - they might offend their brother (offending their sister, by the way, never seems to get a mention). The thought of offending a lost person gets even less attention than offending a sister.

-It is why small groups are initially strongly resisted and in some churches banned.

This list could get lengthy, but the point is, without an effort not to have a target, you have one whether you mean to or not. Having an accidental target is the worst kind of prejudice as it is not even aware it is doing so. The intentional target is honest, at least, but can be prejudiced. The intentional no-target is ideal, but perhaps utopian. I say shoot for inclusion.

The concept of target is closely connected to the church’s mission and mission statement. Many churches now have mission statements. Many, however, do not. I think mission statements are excellent, if they are theologically sound, culturally relevant, and actually practiced. However, you cannot tell the mission of the church by the mission statement written on the bulletin or painted on the wall, you can only tell the mission of the church by what the church does, allows, pursues, avoids, encourages, is silent about and so on. Many Churches of Christ, if their mission statement were determined by their current corporate behavior would be something benign such as:

The purpose of the “10th and Main” church of Christ is to maintain our current level of familiar activity for the benefit of other people just like us so that we do not make people just like us feel uncomfortable - Some churches would add - because the preacher and elders do not want to have to answer hard questions.

OR something a little more malignant such as:

At the “10th and Main” church of Christ, if you don’t believe what we believe and do what we do, get out. If you do not get out, we will do our dead level best to either make you feel so much discomfort that you will eventually leave or we will make you one of us, making sure all the while you realize how not one of us you really are.

OR something weak-kneed such as this:

At the “10th and Main” church of Christ, we are open to talking about new things so we can feel enlightened and forward-thinking, but it is just easier to do what we have always done – for the sake of unity.

It is time for our Churches to open up, the ones that can at least. I know that the words, diversity and tolerance are highly charged political words, and I wish there were other words that meant what I want these words to mean, but we need more of both of these in Churches of Christ and the entire RM.

I am most impressed with churches like Impact in Houston and Central Dallas Ministries. There are many, many other churches which do this well. Feel free to post them. They have “targeted” people in culturally relevant, yet countercultural ways.

1 comment:

David U said...

Chris, as you seem to do every time these knocked another walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the 9th inning with 2 outs in the World Series. Did I mention a 3-2 count?

As long as we prioritize being "unique and distinct" from other fellowships as a higher priority than teaching the Gospel to a lost world, then we will continue to have the struggles you talk about.

Thanks for doing such a good job of communicating this struggle.

God bless you brother!