Get Out of Big Boat Church and Into a Missional Life Raft!

Kathy Escobar, co-pastor of The Refuge in Colorado and leadership team member with TransFORM Network, had a great post yesterday about where she sees the Church in North America headed:

Kathy Escobar“i think new forms of church will look a lot more like holey dinghies than cruise ships or pretty sail boats.

they will be rag-tag groups of misfits thrown overboard & dreamers who-couldn’t-stand-being-a-tourist-on-the-big-ship-anymore & pioneers who know there’s something better out there beyond the horizon.

“here’s my hope in the years to come in all of the shifts we’re seeing in ‘church’: that more and more people who-long-for-something-different will bravely jump ship from comfy cruise ships & pretty sail boats and land in some kind of holey dinghy, either one that they inflate or one that’s already out here.

that more and more start rowing in little weird wild & crazy missional ministries and pockets of love, whatever shape or form they take.

that more and more will come alongside others-dedicated-to-love & mercy & justice that desperately need help to sustain.

that more and more of those who feel so alone, clinging to a little life preserver by themselves, will somehow find community & hope in all kinds of these rag-tag rafts.

and that more and more of our dingheys will tie up together for some respite & sharing of supplies and to laugh & learn from each other.

I think the statistics show that churches in North America are getting bigger and bigger and smaller and smaller (growing at both ends of the spectrum). It’s the medium/mid-size churches (which make up the majority of churches in the U.S. today!) that are becoming less and less sustainable financially.

So far, churches on the smaller end of the spectrum seem to be more successful at being missional, but there are a handful (and a growing number) of larger churches that are embracing missional and trying to make that shift.

What do you think of Kathy’s exhortation to “big boat” (or “big box”) churchgoers to jump ship?

  • Paul

    I go to a large (?) (800 people) Evangelical Free Church. It is broken up into small churches/community groups. Durring the week the Community Groups are out, well, in the community, ministring and meeting the needs of both the members of the groups and those that God brings to us. For example, one group focuses on teaching classes at the mens homless shelter. The classes include finance management, business skills, english, and math, as well as bible studies. Other groups focus on other areas of need in our city. We come together on sundays for worship, encouragement and teaching.

    • Steve Knight

      Thanks for sharing that example, Paul. I think when megachurches work “well,” it is this kind of structure that is the reason. As long as the emphasis can stay on the outward focus, rather than getting turned inward on the corporate worship gathering, I think you’ve got a missional megachurch. (Anyone want to argue with me on that? ;-)

  • Chris Smith

    Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m a fan of the mid-sized church…
    I agree that many mid-sized churches will fade away if they don’t rethink the economy of their church community. BUT, I am hopeful that such churches can change the way they think about the resources they’ve been given. Many mid-sized churches (such as the one I belong to here in Indy, Englewood Christian Church) are already doing creative things to become more sustainable (renting buildings/land, starting businesses, doing common work, doing bivocational ministry in ways that are missional, etc).

    There’s a host of economic possibilities, but we have to start expanding our imaginations about the resources God has given us and how we can leverage them to sustain the witness of the church in our particular places.

    Chris Smith

    • Steve Knight

      Thanks, Chris, you’re absolutely right, there is hope for the mid-sized church, but it will only be because of creative rethinking of resources, like what Englewood is so powerfully modeling. Great stuff! You should write a book about that ;-)

  • Brian

    I think there is merit the call. However, I really think that financial sustainability is the result of two commitments: first, a commitment to the Gospel mission of making disciples; second, a commitment to “out of the box” thinking towards minimal infrastructure commitments such as buildings, entertainment electronics, and paid staff. I’m not against any of those things, but I think we should challenge ourselves to figure out the real requirements to reach out and build community.

    • Steve Knight

      thanks, Brian!

    • Paul

      Brian . I agree 100%. I would alo add commitment by the people to the community of believers. Seldom do churches ask that of its “members”. It always kills me when i hear that someone has “left the church”. I always ask “why?’ What infraction happen that could have been adressed, repaired? Or was it just they were seking to get thier needs met and when that didnt happen or stopped happening they up and left? I beleive that when God said ” I hate divorce” he was speaking of ALL relationships, including, that of believers with thier faith community. so i would also add commiment by people.

  • Ken Crawford

    I don’t think life raft is a good metaphor for church – that implies a desperation and end of the road kind of rescuing. It implies that the church has no resources, when the church is God’s and “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” I get what she’s saying about folks jumping from the cruise ship into the dinghies, and that makes some sense, but its such a limited vision in my opinion. Maybe it is intended to be, as it is only speaking of a particular expression of church life, not the breadth of its glorious diversity. She is just describing the experience of those folks who have left the big ship and gone off to this missional church planting adventure. Me, I’m drawn to the transformation of the church in all its manifestations, from the inside. So, maybe not so many cruise ship or luxury yacht. What about a Mercy Ship bringing much needed aid to hurting people without resources or hope, or a Coast Guard Cutter patrolling and rescuing, or a fleet of light and agile one design sailboats riding the Ruach Elohim or a raft of canoes and kayaks floating an adventurous river, or a whole collection of different kinds of vessels (there’s a biblical word) to hold God’s children and accomplish God’s work on the great faith journey toward a place of wholeness and peace – and why can’t it be a tropical island while we are at it?

    • Steve Knight

      Good thoughts, Ken! I agree with you that we should have an attitude of abundance, not scarcity. I love those other images you bring into this discussion (and the tropical island, too ;-)!

  • Charlotte Hoppe

    “and that more and more of our dingheys will tie up together for some respite & sharing of supplies and to laugh & learn from each other.”

    Good image for regions/areas too – as well as other sorts of networks and communities of communities like TRANSFORM!

    • Steve Knight

      You’re right, Charlotte, I think this applies just as well to regions/areas/presbyteries/parishes/conferences/etc. of denominations!

  • Laura Odiorne

    I think too many congregations today (especially the medium to larger small churches, and including my own) are already operating out of the scarcity/survival mode. Couple this with the aging membership’s ongoing sense of entitlement and “membership has its privileges” mentality and transformation and transition become an extreme challenge – one that baffles and/or burns out many a good pastor along the way. If the church could remember, in the core of her being, that Jesus did not make surival his goal, but ministry and salvation – and that ultimately he surrendered his life for that cause – perhaps we could get ourselves out of the way and be more passionate in our ministry – willing to take risks, make sacrifices, build missions instead of savings accounts – at least that way, even if we fail and ultimately lose our financial solvency, we will have gone out swinging, doing everything we could for the glory of God.

    • Steve Knight

      Amen, Laura!

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