In a meeting recently the conversation started down the "how can we grow the church?" path. As a lot of questions were raised and ideas bandied about, I was feeling uncomfortable, but I couldn't figure out why. It wasn't until I was in the car (of course) that I realized what was making me uneasy: we were asking the wrong questions.
We were asking the "if we build it they will come" questions, or rather "if we make it better/more interesting to young people they will come" questions. Questions that worked 50 years ago, but in our new cultural environment don't work anymore.
Here's the hard truth: they aren't coming anymore and if we keep doing what we're doing now by asking the wrong questions they probably will never come.
Just a few days ago I saw Billie Joe Armstrong of the band Green Day say on Bill Maher's HBO show that all organized religion is bull-you-know-what. The audience cheered, Maher was delighted. Armstrong and his fans are never going to come to our churches no matter what we do to our worship/buildings and grounds/programs. They think they know what we offer and they are not interested.
We have to start asking new questions of ourselves if we're to find a way to share the Gospel with today's non-Christians. I've broken this down in two ways, Come and See vs. Go and Act. Another way of putting it would be Easter Questions vs. Pentecost Questions.
Come and See used to work for churches. And there are still times it's relevant, like Easter. My church did a lot of come and see a couple of weeks ago, and I fully support that. But Easter is over, and now we're living in the times after Pentecost. Our questions have to shift from Come and See to Go and Act. How can we go and act in a way that brings the Gospel to non-Christians in our communities?
There's a lot of Come and See in the Gospels. In John 1 Philip tells Nathanael that he's found the Messiah, son of Joseph from Nazareth. When Nathanael asks, (and don't you love this part) "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" Philip responds, "Come and see." Throughout the Gospels there are times when people tell others, come and see this rabbi, come and see this man who heals, come and see this man who is saying new things about God.
Even after the tomb is found empty, there's Come and See. In Matthew 28 the two Marys go to the tomb, the earth quakes, the stone is rolled away, and an angel tells them Jesus is raised from the dead. Come and see the tomb is empty, he tells them. Then he tells them to go tell the disciples.
Toward the end of Jesus' time on Earth, there's a shift to Go and Act. In John 21 there's the famous fish breakfast on the beach when Peter gets to atone for previously denying Jesus three times by proclaiming his love three times. Jesus implores Peter to "feed my sheep," "tend my sheep," "feed my sheep." The time is coming for the disciples to act.
As he is about to ascend into heaven, Jesus gives his disciples - and us - The Great Commission: go and make disciples of all nations. And at the start of the book of Acts, he says he is leaving them, but he will send the Holy Spirit to be with them. Pentecost arrives, the disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit, and their ministry of acts begins. Go and Act. And not just act only, act AND proclaim the Good News.
Let's start asking the Pentecost, or Go and Act, questions. How can we Go and Act in our communities? Can we go to where people are hanging out already? Here in the 21st Century that could be literal places, like physical places in our communities where people hang out, or it could be virtual places, like social networking sites. What sorts of acts can we perform for others? How can we be prepared to proclaim when people ask, "why are you doing this?"
A great resource I've mentioned before, but bears repeating is Reggie McNeal's The Present Future; Six Tough Questions for the Church. His latest book is also good: Missional Renaissance; Changing the Scorecard for the Church.
If you have a great Go and Act story from your church or your own life, share it with us. Let's learn from one another and encourage one another on this journey.