By Peter Meier | January 15, 2018
For several years now, I have presented the case for urgency in church planting using the “declining church” narrative. You know it; it goes like this: The church is in decline. Numbers are down. People are more and more disconnected from the church. Lost people need to be connected to Jesus – if they are not, they will die apart from Christ and will perish eternally. We live in a post-Christian culture; North America is becoming less and less Christian. We need to win this and coming generations back! Church Planting is the best and most Biblical means of getting the job done!
I still believe that the planting of the Church is the best way to get the job done, to get people connected to Jesus. However, at the recent Church Planting Leadership Fellowship gathering in New York City, Daniel Yang challenged that narrative and made me re-think my “case for church planting.” Here are some of the thoughts and challenges that God, through Daniel, put on my heart.
The culture and cities of North America are indeed changing. Our largest cities are growing, and less than half the population of these cities today is white. While that’s typical of mega cities, other cities will soon follow. We know in our heads that we live and work in a global context, but it’s not quite in our hearts yet. It hasn’t shown up in our strategies.
The actual context of our cities is not decline. What we are seeing is the rise of a new majority world – the diaspora world. Diaspora is the dispersion or scattering of people away from ancestral homelands. This is the new narrative for missions – a Diaspora missiology, a non-European narrative which is being written in our largest cities, and soon will be echoed in other cities and towns.
This changes the church planting narrative. The decline narrative can no longer be used to motivate mission urgency. The new and more accurate narrative for church planting is a non-European diaspora narrative.
By the year 2043, there will no longer be a majority race in North America. The Northern European population is aging and having fewer children. Other populations are growing, moving, and having larger families. Asians are the fastest growing population in North America, followed by Africans. Our mega cities already have the social and ethnic makeup of what North America will be like three decades from now. This must inform our missiology and church planting strategies going forward.
Given this new narrative, how will we need to change our church planting strategies?
Daniel Yang suggests the following shifts in church planting thinking and action:
1. While the current North American model works for now, a new mission field is emerging. The hardest groups to reach are no longer the unchurched, de-churched, or religious nones. Our missiology needs to ask how to reach the second generation Muslims and Buddhists who run the shops and businesses in our cities. How will we reach the pre-Christians?
2. It doesn’t help to demonize Muslims or LGBTQ or other groups and then complain how hard it is to reach them. God’s work is adopting orphans as His beloved children. Instead of demonizing individuals and groups, humanize them. Be filled with compassion for them. Listen to their stories. Be upfront with our solid orthodox theology. Never bait and switch. Our neighbors who are not Christian are spiritual orphans who need a Father. That Father makes Himself known through His Son, Jesus, and through our words and actions. Let’s start to see them as fellow human beings, people who need to be part of God’s family.
3. Affirm that immigrants and refugees are here so that you can reach them, but they are also here so that they can reach you. God is indeed sending the nations here so that we can reach them, but there is a complementary narrative – God is using them to reach us too. Listen to our immigrant neighbors and learn from them. This is a very different approach than the tired, “We are losing the cultural war” narrative, or the narrative that says, “You are welcome here, but you must first become like us and learn from us.” We must be willing to learn from those Christians who come to us from other nations and peoples; they have much to share with us.
In our own denomination, how many churches are we planting that are not white anglo churches? Our way of thinking of “missions” has been “foreign missions” thinking – we send and support missionaries who go to other nations. Yet, the new narrative is the story of how God is sending missionaries to North America. Second and Third generation immigrants offer greater opportunities for cross-cultural, multi-ethnic mission planting. Who are the planters we are raising up? How many are white anglo clergy? How many are representative of the diaspora population? Often minorities think they cannot lead anglos, but God is doing a new thing - the diaspora narrative suggests that they are here to be leaders in church planting for the future.
Questions for Discussion
Some strategy questions to wrestle with in view of the new narrative:
1. How do mission leaders support people who are planting in this new context, especially over a longer period of time?
2. How do you reckon with the “large launch” mentality that many people have, when that simply isn’t the case anymore in most contexts?
3. How much do our funding models dictate planting strategies? Do we lead with funding models, or do funding models support our planting strategies?
4. What does sustainability look like in urban contexts versus other contexts?
5. What opportunities do you see in your city or community? How has your community changed over the past five or ten years? What is the new narrative for your church?
Resources You Can Use
Resources to help understand the new narrative:
Mission Nation Publishing exists to give a voice to the 'Missionaries to America'. These are men and women who have taken the missionary nature of the church seriously, and have risked everything for the sake of the gospel. The world-wide church can gain from hearing their stories. This website provides access to biographies being written about the missionaries, as well as other material that will encourage churches to share the love of God shown chiefly in His Son, Jesus. It contains interviews, videos, links to books and Bible studies. You may also want to visit the Mission Nation Publishing Facebook page to follow the most current activities.
Diversity Explosion, William Frey looks at how new racial demographics are reshaping America.
The End of White Christian America, Robert P. Jones.
The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity. Pastor and Professor Soong Chan Rah calls the North American church to escape its captivity to Western cultural trappings and to embrace a new evangelicalism that is diverse and multiethnic. Many white churches are in crisis and ill-equipped to minister to new cultural realities, but immigrant, ethnic and multiethnic churches are succeeding and flourishing. This prophetic report casts a vision for a dynamic evangelicalism that fully embodies the cultural realities of the twenty-first century. Spiritual renewal is happening within the North American church, from corners and margins not always noticed by those in the center.
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