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Forming Church, Forming Mission

Posted by Mark Lau Branson on October 15, 2010

From 1985 to 2000 Nina and I were active in a United Methodist church in Oakland. The church had experienced serious decline and we were among a few new arrivals who began to experiment with alternatives for life and mission. After we moved to Pasadena I was invited to a meeting in Germany sponsored by the Council on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches. The purpose of the week was to connect church leaders from several continents who were engaged in the missional church discussion (picking up on the writings of Newbigin, Guder, Van Gelder, Hunsburger, and others.) I was asked to provide a case study on our Oakland experience; that presentation is the basis of this article: Forming Church, Forming Mission in the International Review of Mission vol 92 (April 2003).


24 Responses to “Forming Church, Forming Mission”

  1. Ciprian Boitor said

    I liked the focus on hermeneutics, relationships and organization. It makes sense that people tend to keep the organization even when the meaning behind it and the relationships that were its lifeblood have changed. Operations can run on “auto-pilot” for years if there are no overt difficulties, because it takes a lot of dedication and commitment to reflect on changes that need to be made unless there is a pressing need. I feel a deep sadness as I reflect on the article that I just read. It seems that I have opened a window into a story world; a myth that sounds nice but will vanish quickly. Maybe I am romanticizing what I have read but regardless, I felt a very strong desire to be a part of the church that was described in the article. The description of covenant groups, flexible leadership and ambiguity seems difficult to manage. How does a movement like this start? What kind of committed energy does it take on the part of various members? It all seems very radical. As I was reading through the article I was criticizing the approach because of the focus on Bible study, prayer and personal accountability. But when I got to the description of the ways in which these spiritual practices and corporate life spilled out into practical life I was left with mixed emotions. I reiterate the sadness that I feel that I am not a part of this church and at the same time a weariness and fear that it might take a lot of work to implement something like this in the church that I attend. I was particularly touched by the question “What kind of people should we be so that this question makes sense”? This question focuses on the transformational work that we invite God to do in our lives. These activities seem like they would take up a lot of time; volunteering at a school, building apartments, fighting for political change and various other activities. Who has time for all these things, to do them well. I feel reluctant to become more involved in ministry. I like my comfortable spot and am afraid of change, but am willing to face it.

    • Jason Tom said

      I thought you brought up an important point of operations running on auto-pilot for years even when they are not achieving their intended ends. Your post reminded me of some of what I’ve seen in a church I used to attend that was also decreasing in number like in the article, and in vitality in the church. They never really addressed the needs and I think part of why is what you mentioned about how much dedication and commitment it takes to reflect on changes even though things are changing. Since there were no overt difficulties, it was assumed that if they kept doing the same things that things would change or get better eventually which, 10 yeas later, has still not happened.

      You mentioning that also made me wonder, how do you reform a church that has already begun if you don’t have that same kind of commitment and cohesion from the group? Part of what I think made it possible was the investment of the people remaining at the church to question and come to a new understanding of their role in the community and that it would require a lot from each person to make it happen. While I think this is great and something we can hope for in churches, I wonder if this can happen in all places.

  2. Jason Tom said

    One of the things that I liked in this article was that the church has to be a stable and persistent force in a specific location and that it must develop relative intimacy, proximity, and permanence (161). While on the one hand, I’m not sure if this appeals to me particularly because I commute so the idea of investing into a neighborhood seems especially appealing. At the same time, I thought this spoke powerfully into cultural values it mentions and I have seen as especially apparent, such as people unknowingly subscribing to the idea of being a mobile work force.

    There are many advantages to having such a high level of commitment involved, especially coming from within a culture that devalues anything that requires that much commitment from someone. At the same time, I wondered what happened with people who were not as committed or to either church visitors or newer members of the church? While I understand that this was a specific response in a specific location but also wondered if the church was able to do some of these things only because it was small and its history of diminishing attendance. On the other hand, what structural changes would have changed had the number of congregants had grown? This is not to say that attendance should be the primary measure of church vitality. Instead, I wonder what would have happened had attendance continued to grow or what this would have looked like in a larger church setting.

    Much of what was done in the church seems to be made possible by the high commitment level which directly challenges, as noted in the article, many parts of American culture. While I agree with its importance, how does one challenge that societal view with people who are not as committed to such a radical restructuring of church and life? For example, how would the church address if church members possessed but did not want to challenge a consumerist mindset to church.

    Lastly, what was most impactful for me was one of the questions raised in the article about how one is to be the church in a specific place and time. I believe that is the central question of all missional church work.

    • Renee Rector said

      Like you I also wondered about the people who didn’t buy into the commitment. There was mention that some people left to find different congregations, but were there differing levels of commitment among those that remained? At the first there was only one covenant group and later a second one was added. What were the others in the congregation doing while these covenant groups were pushing deeper? Did this create a gap in maturity and development? Were there many in the congregation who were merely consumers? I love the level of commitment that was present and believe that this is something that people who truly desire to follow Christ should desire, but how far and how fast should we as leaders push for this?

  3. T Hopkins said

    The incredible amount of “activism” (to summarize the church’s activities) blows me away. Most churches find it hard enough to get people to come to services every week, and expecting a full show at the weekly Bible study is just delusional. I’m wondering how much the exploration of this church represents Christianity vs an active social organization. Much of it seems like active spiritual practice on the part of the members — the concern about what their smaller groups look like, the deliberate way the church approached its sermons and studies, etc. But all of this is taking place within a very structured setting that does not seem to fit well in American life. Perhaps American Christians need to give their institutional church life more focus? Or perhaps all that church-centric practice is not for everyone? I’m not sure what to make of the organization’s approach to being a church. Certainly, the local church should have a good reputation in the local community. But how far does a church’s responsibility go in that community? Is it to be a force of social service and justice? Or is it primarily to be a community of worshiping believers? Obviously the praxis here is considered worship. The activities seem largely world-centered, with the study being largely church-centered. But even then, I wonder if the church is becoming too localized, so that all of the growth and activities are done under the banner of the local church rather than being done by individuals and groups of Christians more generally? The local church is a great way to organize things, but it can also become both confining and defining. Confining in that inability to participate with the local group means that you are excluded from worshiping and serving with “the church”, and defining in that your identity as a Christian becomes largely one of the specific methods and ideas of your local church community. I would be interested in seeing how these things would play out in more churches, with various philosophies and histories. Lots of good ideas, but I’m not sure I have a firm grasp on the takeaway for other churches.

    • Ciprian Boitor said

      I enjoyed reading your perspective because it was different from my own. You are more critical in your analysis. You raise the question of whether American’s need to give their institutional church life more focus. I wondered the same thing as I was reading the article but at the same time I think most churches that I know run the risk of doing to little and being bystanders in pews. I think that most churches would do well to have their members more involved so the approach described in the article would likely be a welcome corrective measure. I think the dichotomy of being a social force for justice or a community of believers is unnecessary because i think it should be both. I think that you do raise good points that such a community can become confining because people may feel pressured to worship God in only that particular mode. I think that more effort might be made to ensure the freedom to explore what it means to be a Christian in a community of beleavers. Going back to your initial question, I would answer yes, we do need to be more focused on our church involvement. I have often asked myself if the church is meant merely to function as a glorified social club or whether we are meant to function as the salt in our community. I was drawn to the descriptions of a new life. To me it felt like a prophetic imagining of the first century church life, but maybe I am being a romantic.

    • I think the efforts made by the leaders of the church is exactly what needs to happen. How can one expect things to change within society and a community without doing it yourself. This is exactly what these new leaders did to create change within their church community, help the children of the neighborhood community and maybe even gain or provide some expertise in other areas of society while still getting credit for it in the church. It is a wonderful exercise of faith , belief, and praxis that should be exercised by many of todays believers and church membership. Especially today, because we have so much knowledge and so many tools of education, media presentation and are able to start grassroots organizations that help others at the drop of a hat it is almost our duty to do so when it comes to helping others of our own church or neighborhood community as well as others.

  4. Justin Beck said

    The case study of the United Methodist church in Oakland gave me a renewed perspective on the future of the Church. I often get discouraged by story after story of churches closing or churches slowly dying off, but the story of the Oakland church revitalized my hope in the future of the Church. However, the work conducted by the Oakland church was not easy and often times was messy. If people are not willing to enter into the messiness of revitalizing church life, then churches will continue to slowly die off in America. The Oakland church study gave us a great example of the importance of entering into the messiness and doing the difficult work in order to bring a congregation back to life.
    One of the points in the case study that resonated with me was the concept of belonging before becoming a church member. I have been thinking about this idea a lot lately. The church plant that I have been apart of has been walking through this issue as we continue to discern what being church looks like for us. Our church would lean on the side of belonging before believing. We want to invite people to be apart of what were doing and not have a precondition of believing the right things before they can participate in what is going on in our community. I believe this concept of belonging before believing is essential for the health and life of the church community. We have to be inclusive and walk with people as they ask the difficult questions about life. My hope would be that as people participate in the life of the church community that they would be pointed towards God and their beliefs would be shaped by what they experience in the church.
    The Oakland case study presented the importance of being of one mind. The one mind does not mean everyone is conformed, but that each person shares a similar mission and vision. The concept of one mind brought me back to my church experience in Michigan. I entered into a messy situation where the former youth pastor had caused some deep wounds in the community. I had some hard work ahead of me, but my first task was getting people on board who shared a similar vision and mission of youth ministry. Once I gathered a like-minded group, we were able to revitalize the youth ministry and have a lasting impact on the lives of students. The shared vision and mission of youth ministry allowed for us to work in cohesion towards a common purpose.

    • Jason Sisk said

      Justin, I agree that being of one mind means having a common vision and mission. It doesn’t mean having to agree on every single piece of doctrine. It really sounds like the common vision and mission was what was lacking in your church in Michigan. I am glad to hear that once that was addressed, the youth ministry changed. This story really inspired me, too. We should include this kind of shared vision and mission into our group project!

  5. Pisey Sok said

    The case study of the United Methodist church in Oakland was insightful and inspiring. Reviving a church and a community that was decline took a tremendous amount of vision, community building, intentionality, organization, and discerning. The fact that the church was located in a culturally rich urban community brought many challenges and opportunities for the church. I was impressed by the intentional aspects of recovering personal and historical narrative of the church community. Much like we read in Wimberly’s book with the need to connect personal narratives with the narratives of the church and the Biblical narrative. The UMC in this case study found that gathering narratives from seniors in the congregation and having a “homecoming” event to have former pastors share their stories uncovered deep roots of what God did throughout the history church. In doing so the church discovered many of its past glories, along with many of its blind spots. Reflecting on the past memories of the church opened up the possibility to develop new vision. People sharing their spiritual autobiographies in intimate settings helped the community to value aspects of commonality and diversity. It was not surprising to see the power of how sharing life stories can increase the support, friendship, and care in the community.

    Along with having the shared memories, the community found their stories unified through the exploration of the Biblical narrative. The role that Scripture played in the formation of this church was apparent. The understanding the Biblical narrative was a priority that was intentionally weaved into worship setting, the preaching, small group time, and Sunday education class. The community shared their life together with an attitude of learning and becoming a community that was informed by the Scriptures and Wesleyan tradition which cultivated imaginative vision for the mission of the church.

    The church gave serious attention to the aspect of hermeneutics, operations, and relations. These three aspects were essential elements in the case study. The congregation was an interpretive community reflecting on their stories, traditions, and the Scriptures to establish a common vision and meaning for the church. The operational aspect of the church established structures and activities that foster the mission of the church. The relational element established the relational network between the groups of people in the church. The covenant accountability groups in the church were a great example of modeling these three elements. The covenant incorporated hermeneutical elements of prayer, reading scripture, discovering spiritual gifts, and personal reflection. There was a commitment to participate in weekly worship and education, giving of tithes and the missional call of the Spirit. The intentional covenant groups naturally deepened the relationships and call of discipleship in the church.

    Within these groups emerged the desire for missions to move beyond the walls of the church, and the corporate worship setting became a powerful space for re-imagining not only Sunday mornings, but to participate in what God is doing both in the church and outside the church. I was glad to hear that the church realized that the sermon was not going to be sufficient for the formative task of the church. I was encouraged that the community made the Scripture a part of every aspect of community life. The leading of the Spirit to make this community a “people of the book” allowed the community to discern what God was doing in and through them. The interpretative task was upon the community, not simply the clergy or leaders. The communal task of interpreting naturally moved the church towards a communal understanding of missions. In the process the community embodied the metaphor of salt and light and urban village metaphor in Jeremiah. It was encouraging to see the humility of the church wanting to learn about outreach from a local school setting. The neighborhood school setting became the context for the church to be a part of the community. Even in the midst of some setbacks in the school system, the church realize that the systemic issues in the local context, which gave the church more reason to be a place of stability in its local setting.

    I appreciated this case study, but it shows how the church as a learning and interpretative community can be attentive to the work and correction of the Holy Spirit. The church took seriously their local context in which they were situated and did not look for easy solutions to problems, but worked through the challenges by being open to learning present in the community. Investing in housing for the local community and having members move into the community was a real tangible missional action for the church.
    I currently attend a commuter church and the vision to be present in the local community seems to be an ongoing dream, but I am not sure what it will take to break the inertia? We have a good blue print for being an interpretive community, and structurally and relationally the church is setup for deep relationships in our small group ministry. Since our church has a large young adult population, I am beginning to realize that many who attend don’t have a deep connection with the church’s history and narrative. Perhaps there is a disconnect between people commuting from different parts of LA and not feeling invested because the neighborhood where the church is locate is not considered “their neighborhood.” People are willing to be salt and light in other parts of LA but being salt and light in the local community around the church may be an inconvenience. I am still trying to figure out what it will take to move the church outward into local community.

    • Hyukwoo shin said

      My church has the same issue. I never would have called it a commuter church but most people have to drive more than 20 minutes to reach it. None of our church members live in the neighborhood. We never tried to evangelize in the neighborhood, there is no interest. I remember once the children ministry went out with door hangers but nobody showed up the next Sunday. I know one person who will come to our early morning service because of the convenience living nearby but he will go to his other church on Sundays.
      It pretty much shows you need members that come from the communities around your church. As far as I remember your church has multicultural background so could reach out, right? Another way is to connect with churches within your neighborhoods. Have an event together, visit each other churches to open doors both ways.

      You possible will need a determined small group like the mission covenant group (MCG) to focus on this task only. Are you really sure nobody wants to be salt and light in your neighborhood like you? Did you share your idea with all other members?

  6. Renee Rector said

    I think it was incredibly interesting to see how came out of merely starting covenant groups. It seems like such a simple thing to engage in disciplined accountability. I also like that there was a direct effort to keep the groups oriented specifically to this purpose rather than moving into prayer meetings, outreach groups, or other common ideas along these lines. I also really appreciated that they realized they needed to take it slow. I am one of those movers and shakers that were described in the article that got frustrated at the slow pace. however I recognize the wisdom in taking time to really engage in discernment and cultivating depth before starting to step outside the box into the world. I think seeing the framework of how this program was put together and the steps that were taken towards was helpful. It started primarily with sharing personal spiritual autobiographies so people could get to know each other on a deeper level and would be able to connect and communicate more effectively. I also appreciated the attention to denomination ties, yet being willing to experiment and adapt those worship practices to be within the basic framework but contextualized to their own situation. It was encouraging to see that these people were willing to engage in this depth of discipleship. I imagine many people would offer up much resistance to this level of commitment of their time and personhood, but this is a testimony to the fruits of making that kind of investment.

    • T Hopkins said

      I agree that the personal connections (via spiritual autobiographies, in this case) seems like a great thing for churches to focus on, and I wonder if it wouldn’t fix many of the problems in local churches. The idea of covenant groups is probably quite foreign to most people, myself included. Although I think it seems to reflect what individual pairs or small groups of friends seem to form organically. For instance, the college I attended for a while had a Christian group on campus, and though the group itself did not do much besides a weekly meeting, the 10 or 20 Christians who went to the group would often make it a point to connect with each other, hold each other accountable, study, witness, etc, without any motivation provided by the group itself. This is more difficult when people have families and jobs and live further apart from each other, so perhaps a more deliberate approach to create covenant groups is necessary. Either way, it seems to work well. My biggest concern is in the way this is established in a larger setting with specific rules and a bigger push to do things the way the larger group instructs. People are quite different from one another, as are situations, and I’m not sure that something like these groups really suits everyone’s needs. Nor do I think that John the Baptist would be lacking in his formation, despite his absence in any such group. I guess the conclusion I come to is simply that I’d like to see the ideas played with more, applied to different situations in a more adaptive way, and see where it works well and where it doesn’t.

  7. Hyukwoo Shin said

    It is an amazing success story of a truly missional church. You and your mission convenant group (MCG) become the salt, light and leaven of this world. There were several key steps that I think were important. 1)Personal interests are not sufficient basic convictions count. You have to build a covenantal relationship with your brothers and sisters at church. 2)Worship is the power centre of trinity, especially the Holy Spirit, to form a covenantal leadership and congregation. 3)You need to read and live by the world. If you do not close the bible on Monday but put the living word of God in your heart every day, the words come alive through the Holy Spirit. You truly will speak and act according to the Word of God. 4)Practice becomes praxis and praxis forms several mission covenant groups (MCGs). Through discernment you become involved in a mutual supportive group displaying cohesiveness, commitment, and cooperative engagement in discipleship and mission. I will talk about “covenantal relationship” at next my small group meeting and see how my members respond.

    • Pisey Sok said

      I would also add that exploring the narratives of the congregation and personal narratives of the congregants were absolutely essential. Having a Biblical frame with helpful exegesis of the text is fundamental, but without personal and community narrative the text will be applied in a vacuum. Having the stories of the community was important because it provided the canvas on which the Holy Spirit can use to paint the colors of the Biblical narrative upon the faith community. The missional aspect of the church emerged from the Biblical narrative shaping the cultural narrative of the congregation. Much like we read in Wimberly, there were aspects of story-linking that happened in this case study. The church uncovered their Wesleyan roots, with their cultural context and narrative, and were committed to being “people of the Word.” I was amazed how understanding our cultural and personal narratives play a major role in what the Holy Spirit wants to do in our formation and praxis.

  8. Ian B. said

    A few points in this church’s transformation were particularly interesting for me. First, it is informative that the rebuilding community began by sharing spiritual autobiographies and stories of faith and worship in the local church. If a community is to develop out of a diverse bunch of people, it is imperative that common memories, identities and visions be espoused. I recently heard a speaker argue that the best way to create dialogue and unity in an ethnically diverse community is to have each group recount their own experiences of pain. While uniqueness and diversity are to be valued, the common stories and visions that bring people together are essential to creating close community.

    Also, I liked the assertion that modern people in America are formed more by their modern experiences and social lives than the biblical narrative. This calls for not only a renewed emphasis on biblical reflection and work on our historical faith traditions, but also affirms that our lives are socially embedded. The evangelical tradition has often equated the Church’s role with a traveling salesman who offers the same gospel pitch to any audience. The image of the Church as an “interpreting community” tempers the prior image by giving contextual and social reading significance along with biblical reading.

    The image of the church as missional and local could be particularly significant for the suburban church scene. At least in the Midwestern United States, suburbia represents the historical trend to escape from big cities, and consequently escape from social engagement. My suburban church experience involved little direct community engagement, but instead focused on the efforts of “professional Christians” to develop short term missions programs located in neighboring states and countries. In fact, when my church’s mission council developed a vision for emphasis on local mission, we discovered many things about our community that we had overlooked or withdrawn from (like the high levels of “invisible poverty” in the city). For the suburban church, a missional focus may mean re-engagement with a fragmented community.

  9. Jason Sisk said

    The Oakland United Methodist Church of 1985 is an example of how Mainline Protestant churches became more and more culturally irrelevant since the 1950s. It is a clear example of a very large problem. It is encouraging that it was able to pull itself out of its death roll by rethinking church, including the mission of the church. Other churches that weren’t able or willing to question their beliefs about mission continued to be more and more irrelevant to the point where not even 15 members attended and the churches closed.

    Instead of repeating the same style of service and simply expecting people to show up, church leaders approached the members and asked for their story, showing them that their contributions to, and inclusion in the church mattered. People were asked how they felt about the sanctuary, the service and mission for the first time. It takes courage to be vulnerable and admit that you don’t know what’s working and what’s not. And clearly since the church had decided to shut its doors, a lot of things weren’t working! They discovered that the institutions of the church–formed in a time when they were helpful to the church–didn’t accomplish anything, yet they continued to populate them. Discipleship had to be rethought also, because disciples in the church were neither growing nor multiplying, another sign that something was wrong.

    When the leaders took a closer look at the Methodist narrative, they discovered the rich practice of daily prayer, Scripture reading and spiritual reflection. This was adopted into small groups that formed within the Oakland Church, as well as a commitment to weekly worship and education, a commitment to discover and use our spiritual gifts, sensitivity to the Spirit and generous giving. All of these things were part of the Methodist story that had somehow been left out of the Oakland Church. These groups became part of the movement within the church to rethink everything from worship to committees to mission.

    These Mission Covenant Groups became active in the community and touched many people’s lives. People who had given up on the church began rethinking their decision. In 1997 the church received more than a tithe from its members. The process of rethinking structures, discipleship but most importantly mission helped the church rediscover its power to reach the local community with the hope and love of Jesus Christ. This was a truly incarnational model–a model that didn’t wait for people to come to the church but rather took the transforming message of the church out to the people. It could only be done though after serious, committed reflection on who Jesus was and what claiming him as our Lord means. As God came to us in Jesus, so this church went out to their local community.

    • Jason, You made an outstanding point in your second paragraph when you said, “It takes courage to be vulnerable and admit that you don’t know what’s working and what’s not.” I believe more people do not do this because of the state of being vulnerable. Insecurities kick in and people often times do not want to show weakness. But within my own ministry experience, every time I have been vulnerable, God has used that in powerful ways. When we get out of the way is usually when God will move the most. Maybe we need to use John 3:30 as a reminder, “He must become greater; I must become less.”

  10. Carl Amouzou said

    The part that struck me the most as I read this article was the shift in the hermeneutical question when reading Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. To me it seemed like a shift from how does this text revolve around me to how can we revolve around the text. I was very encouraged reading the story of how a church that had become a relic of days past transformed into a vibrant community with revitalized vigor and life. Two things really challenged me as I read this article. First, the history of the church’s racism truthfully would have been enough to give a long hard pause about joining the community. But the reality is we are all victims of history, the goal is to learn from it not necessarily repeat it as this church did. The second thing ties into the first. The amount of patience it must have taken to walk through this transition. The pragmatist in me would have been tempted to just start from scratch rather than see transformation take place. I applaud this community’s journey, grace, and perseverance. I cannot help but wonder how the community is doing now.

    Another part of this article that really jolted my thinking was, “The exilic call by Jeremiah for transplanted Israel to seek the shalom of Babylon, and the “new urbanism” image of the “urban village” also fueled our imaginations. That part combined with the church’s narrative of relocation to avoid the “other” plays a powerful chord of reconciliation and transformation. Instead of choosing to flee for shalom the community decided to impart it. It leaves me with this question for myself, how can I and the communities that I am a part of seek shalom for our neighborhoods?

    • Justin Beck said

      Carl thanks for your thoughts. I was struck by your honest observation about the patience involved in reviving the Oakland church community. I like you would have probably wanted to start from scratch. In America, churches are continually closing and the church seems to be dying a slow death. People would argue that we need to let those churches die and start from scratch in order to revitalize the church in America. I am not sure how I feel about this, should we just start new church communities or should we try to save the dying churches? The Oakland case study gives us an example of hard work and patience paying off, but what happens when the church continues to diminish in the midst of hard work and patience? Do we continue to try an restore a church even if no progress is being made after one year, two years, five years…? There are no easy answers to these questions, but I do believe the work of trying to stimulate church life is an essential call for followers of Christ. I believe in church planting, but I also believe in engaging in the messiness of struggling churches in order to help bring them new life.

    • Ian B. said

      I liked your reflection that slow transitions require a lot of patience. When I witness a church that is insular, reactive and focused on preserving its identity from outsiders, I often think there is little hope of transformation. From a pragmatic standpoint, I might say that an old and dying church has less need of my energies when I could be helping a transitioning church to transform. This case study revealed to me that the cycle of praxis requires extended periods of reflection and re-examination. I wonder how many years is “typical” for such a transformation across several church stages to take. Also, this article reaffirmed my conviction that Christians may hope for transformation regardless of present circumstance.

  11. I love how it describes the state of the church on page 157, “Over the coming years, worship became a powerful centre of God’s work of reshaping us personally and corporately, largely because this new group had the capacities to help us re-imagine Sunday mornings, to draw on ancient and new resources, and to nurture a highly participative experience.”

    This is a powerful statement that every church should strive for. There are three items in this statement I would like to highlight.

    First, the church, both on Sundays and throughout the week should be an agent of “reshaping” people’s lives. The church is the catalyst of bringing people to God. It must be a place that people can come as they are, but not stay as they are. To see a church like this, mentioned in this article, analyzing their past, to begin to move forward to effectively reach people is encouraging for me as a church leader. I love hearing stories like this.

    Second, the church should be a place that creativity and imagination is used. The secular world has unfortunately set the bar of creativity and imagination. Why is this? God has uniquely created us. Why not use our abilities to be creative to find new ways to “reshape” people’s lives? Find creative ways to draw on “ancient and new resources.” I feel that as the church, we are the only ones that have limited ourselves. So stop, be creative, and find new ways to reach the unchurched.

    Finally, notice the word “experience” is used. As the church, we must cultivate an environment to experience God. Many people think the church is boring. That is because we have created a learning environment that does not experience, but rather one where you can only sit and listen. I think we should challenge ourselves with the ministries we lead to make sure we are creating an environment that encourages people to experience God.

    • Carl Amouzou said

      I agree with you about the need to cultivate an environment to experience God, but I think if we use “boring” as our measure we run the risk of creating a cycle of diminishing entertainment returns. Many churches have gone to a model of sensory engagement, but after a while it still becomes boring. In essence the church is a 1.0 experience (a monologue), while the culture around us is 2.0 (participatory). One of the things that I really liked about this case study is the equipping the saints for the work of the ministry approach vs. downloading information to the Saints approach. I think your assertion that “the church should be a place that creativity and imagination is used,” is so key. The church should always be innovating and creating culture. Thanks for your insights.

  12. “Forming Church, Forming Mission” by Mark Lau Branson is a great article about how
    a church in Oakland, California with originally Evangelical United Brethren roots that was dying and came to find renewed life through a merger with The United Methodist Church, and re-identification with a Wesleyan model for theological and church practices. (153)

    The article begins with an overview of the church in 1985, its membership of older commuting members, and low attendance of members who did attend worship services. However, with the changes mentioned above the congregation within about ten years was able to boost its membership worship attendance up four times to 80 people.

    There was a complete overhaul of a church that found its strength in militaristic ideology and the exclusion of racial integration policies. However, because there was such great tradition within the church, new leaders found it necessary to discover what strengths were in the original church that once made this particular church the flagship church for the EUB San Francisco Bay area. New leaders went into homes of seniors and asked the questions: “What happened on Sundays?” “How many children were here?” “What are your favorite memories?” “How were you connected with missions?” etc. and found that the fruit of the church was in supporting missionaries, ministry, sponsoring affordable housing for retirees, and planting a daughter church in the suburbs. (154) So what new leaders did is followed up with the original ways the church was successful and brought those facets of church work into the current community that had changed according to racial demographics from a mainly Euro-American neighborhood to a racially mixed environment.

    There was a celebration of a ‘homecoming’ of the church of original members and pastors who helped start the church. But the celebration was dubbed a ‘letting go’ for members who were too old or too prejudice to continue to participate in current church affairs and activities.

    Committees were eliminated and revamped to deal with only the specifics that mattered. Covenant clauses and budgets were established that required full participation from its clergy, leaders, and membership.

    Missions groups were established to put into practice what Jesus spoke of during his Sermon on the Mount. Revitalization of Rockridge United Methodist church slowly began through community outreach programs, school training and tutoring programs, housing development, and participatory living of church members within the community. Leaders not only spoke of the things that needed to change in the community but actually began to initialize the change by becoming soccer coaches, teacher assistants, and reading specialists at the neighborhood school of the community versus committee members with an individualist mentality that merely looked upon the needs of their society from behind the Bible scared to lose what they have in order to help make that change that must happen according to Jesus’ words within today’s society.

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