I'm reading "Recreating the Church" by Richard L. Hamm.
He writes about organizational patterns, following common wisdom that organizations start out as dynamic movements, become institutionalized, then bureaucratized, then typically begin to decline. The reason for the decline, he says, is that the "bureaus" of the bureaucracy "become less concerned about the work of the organization than they are about 'life inside the box'." (p. 28)
In other words, the bureaucracy becomes focused on "self-service and survival" instead of the mission of the organization.
Herein lies the church's inherent tension. When the church defines its mission as "making disciples" and making disciples is defined in terms of increasing attendance and membership numbers, we get caught in that self-service loop. The bureacracy wants to turn from internal to external in order to revitalize the organization, but that turn is itself defined in terms that are focused internally.
Using Hamm's language, when the church tries to transform the way our bureaucracy functions, we correctly say that we need to be driven more by mission than survival. However, when the mission is subsequently defined in terms that sound like survival, nothing really has changed and we are right back where we started again. It actually perpetuates the problem to define the mission of the church in self-service terms.
So I think we need a new mission.
There, I said it. Whew! I feel so much better with that out there! But really, I think that a church whose mission is exclusively drawn from Matthew 28:19 is missing something. Surely there is more that disciples of Jesus are supposed to be doing that making more of us. When the institutional crisis is defined as shrinking numbers and the institutional mission is defined as growing numbers, you've got a big mission problem.
I don't think the church's problem is an organizational problem or a relevance problem or a generational problem. (Sorry, all those experts who are way smarter than me.) It is not a problem of a lack of clarity in mission, either. I think the problem is that the mission we are trying to be so clear about is actually counterproductive to the attempt to stem the decline of the institution.
(I'll write more next time about the reasons I think the church is in decline, which are in fact much more ingrained and may be more difficult to address.)
A new mission is needed. Different than, "...to make disciples." I have a few ideas. How about, "The mission of the local church is...
- ...to be disciples of Christ in all nations."
- ...to love God and love neighbor."
- ...to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor."
- ...to announce and embody God's reign on earth."
- ...to make the world a better place."
Mission foci like these would give people something to be disciples of. Imagine this conversation.
Church person: Please come to church with me!
NonChurch person: Hmm. Why?
Church: Because our mission is to make disciples, and so that's what I'm doing.
NonChurch: So what would I do when I get there?
Church: You would make disciples, too.
NonChurch: So you are inviting me to church so that I'll invite people to church?
NonChurch: Sorry, I think I'll go to Starbucks.
See, the point of Starbucks is coffee, not getting people to come to Starbucks. People come to Starbucks for an actual reason - to drink coffee. I guess I'm saying that I think people need a better "actual reason" to come to church.
I've got more; I'm saving it for my next post. But I'm still working on it so I'll have it up in a few days. And I hope that all of you reading this understand this is all me thinking here, just working ideas out onscreen. I am hopeful that any comments you might have will help me processing my thoughts, and I look forward to reading them!