Here vs. There
When we relocate abroad to be missionaries, it changes the rules of engagement and strategy. We spend an inordinate amount of time looking to become an “insider” or at least become fluent in the local language and culture. We look for persons of peace. We hammer through contextualization not only in how we teach and proclaim the gospel, but in how we demonstrate the gospel. We exegete our cities and communities. We put on our contextualization goggles again when it comes to gathering new believers together for instruction, discipleship, worship, and prayer. We think and talk about movements and exponential, multiplicative growth. There is a myriad of other missionary skills that we embrace and live out.
But, when it comes to church planting in North America, we jettison most of these things and immediately begin planning for “launch Sunday,” focusing all our efforts on making a trendy and entertaining worship gathering. Even when confronted with these truths and this dichotomy, church planters are quick to point out that here we simply do church like we’ve always done in the West. Church planters seem like they can’t wait until they get an office and can move in with their books so they can spend fifteen hours a week studying and writing their sermons. Supposedly most of the rest of their time is then dedicated to the Sunday gathering—pushing social media, coordinating graphic design and other media, picking out the song list (and tweeting about it), and so on.
That was my story. And if you’re planting a North American church, I suspect that is your story as well.
In the process of church planting, whether we’re “pre-launch” or “post-launch,” this is how we think. I don’t remember anything other than the inordinate amount of work and planning that went into “launching big,” even though our launch more or less resembled a toy rocket falling off the launch pad. All our efforts were focused on growing our core group, multiplying community groups, marketing, pre-launch events, and the like. Then, once we started with weekly gatherings, all attention was directed towards growing that gathering numerically.
I found out later, or maybe I should say I realized later, that I wasn’t good at any of that. I’m not that good at marketing and hyping a new church plant. I hate self-promotion. I’m simply not the kind of leader who can passionately stand before crowds and woo them into getting onboard to head in a certain direction.
Maybe that’s the crux of the matter. Maybe if I was talented in those areas I wouldn’t be writing books like Intrepid. Instead I’d be into writing books about growing your church, turning crowds into disciples, leadership principles, bold vision, and the like. Instead, I write about niche topics such as church planting in obscure places, walkability and bikeability, urban cycling, gentrification, and other topics in which the church-planting mainstream is seemingly not interested.
The questions then are … (a) who wrote these rules? (b) why do we have to “do church” here so differently than over there if we went as missionaries? (c) Why can’t we do here what we’d do there? (d) What is stopping you?