In seeking to lead a church into a more missional quality, it can be helpful to recognise that there are three broad options. All can be effective, but wise leadership will assess which is appropriate for the stage of the church’s life and the context. Some contemporary literature may suggest that one or other is preferable but it is our contention that best practice involves selecting the right option based on these highly variable factors.
Now in setting out these three broad approaches, we build on the work of Hirsch & Frost in “The Shaping of things to Come”. They contrast two methods. The “Attractional Method” and “Emerging Method”. They are somewhat critical of the former and strongly enthusiastic about the latter!
However, Bob & Mary Hopkins have taken these two alternative approaches and firstly, affirmed the first as still having missional potential in todays’ western context where strong elements of Christendom are still hanging around. Then secondly, they have added an intermediate method, commonly being used with good missional effect… which they have called “the Engaged Method”. And finally, they are as enthusiastic about the “Emerging Method” as Hirsch & Frost and they relate it directly to the practice of planting ‘fresh expressions of Church’.
So, in a healthy mixed economy church there are broadly three categories of response as follows. And some churches may adopt all three!
This method is where the main thrust of mission is invitational – COME to us, as we are. And such an invitation will normally be to a worship gathering, typically in a special building on a special day of the week. In this method, if it to bear missional fruit, it is vital that where folk respond to an invitation to “come” to church as we currently express it, they find two things.
First, there needs to be a warm and appropriate welcome. Some research studies show that in the UK the most unwelcoming place is the local church! So much work may need to be done here. The welcome needs to be real but not pressured … new people are often nervous in an unfamiliar setting.
Second, what they hear during the experience of inherited church better relate to their experience of life of “Monday morning”. Too often church has had a language and focus completely foreign to non-church folk.
‘Back to Church’ is a good example of this.
In the U.K. a really good example of the attractional method bearing missional fruit, is ‘Back to Church Sunday’. Invented in Manchester nearly a decade ago, this is now a national initiate in which churches prepare for a Sunday in October when existing members are equipped with all sorts of invitation approaches and special “visitors’ services” are offered. This has resulted in tens of thousands of non-churched folk responding positively and ‘coming back to church’
This method is characterised by a change of direction. Rather than ‘Come!’ the challenge is for church folk to ‘Go!’ The movement of mission is for the church to GO out, listen and respond to the hopes and fears of the community; engage with these needs in all sorts of appropriate ways. Then as relationships are built and folk respond, there is an invitation to COME back with us, to church as we are.
Using this method, churches need to have learnt the lessons of the first method … providing a warm and genuine welcome and being relevant to “Monday morning”!
‘Hope’ (formerly Hope 08) is a good example of this.
In the U.K. a really good example of this ‘engaged method’ which is bearing much missional fruit, is represented by the national initiative of ‘Hope’, initially ‘Hope 08’. This initiative encourages and equips local churches to research local felt needs in their communities and to find creative responses. Now this initiative has been complemented by ‘The Cinnamon Network’. This informs and promotes a range of excellent programs for engaging with the community beyond the church walls. Examples include things like ‘Food Banks’; CAP (Christians Against Poverty) and ‘Street Pastors’. All these are having major impact on social needs but are also building relationships which can open the door to an appropriate invitation to ‘come to church with us!’
This is the third method… and maybe Hirsch & Frost’s favourite. Where some from the church GO and STAY permanently in the community where they are being called to engage, allowing a new community to emerge in that context. And if they get the incarnational mission right, they will go on a journey of becoming like them… and a ‘contextual’ expression of church will emerge.
Fresh expressions of church are often examples of emerging church.
As with many church plants, fresh expressions are usually examples of emerging church, where communities of faith are encouraged to reflect the culture and values of their community and where not-yet-Christians are able to relate to and understand Jesus as one who meets them where they are in order to take him where he is.
This is incarnational mission, reflecting the incarnational example of Jesus. As ‘The Message’ paraphrases from the beginning of John:
The Word became flesh and moved into the neighbourhood.
John 1.14 (The Message)