I am chewing on some excellent food from Alan Hirsch’s book, Forgotten Ways. He asserts that we have cultivated a consumerist approach to Christianity and that our typical church models feed this consumer mentality.
Sound harsh? Didn’t church-growth proponents explicitly teach us to mimic the shopping mall and apply it to the church? In this they were sincere, but they must have been unaware of the ramifications of this approach, because in the end the medium always becomes the message. They were unaware of the latent virus in the model itself—that of consumerism and the sins of the middle class. Much of what can be tagged “consumerist middle class” is built on the ideals of comfort and convenience (consumerism), and of safety and security (middle class).
Hirsch goes on to present three diagrams, displaying different church shapes, and the ramifications of these shapes.
The most traditional church looks like this:
Obviously, as Hirsch points out in the diagram, there is physical space for no more that 5% of the church to be active in the gathering. He goes on to point out that "the vast majority of the church is passive in the equation. They are in a receptive mode and basically receive the services offered. That is, they are basically consumptive. They come to 'get fed.'”
As church-growth models encouraged a more contemporary approach with inspiring music and excellent preaching, churches were built looking like this:
Even so, 90% of the church is on the receiving end. The church is still a “service provider, a vendor of religious goods and services.”
Hirsch, offering his own confession, did his best to move his church away from monological sermons to dialogical discussions. They put couches in semicircles and pop art over the walls. “But in the end all we had succeeded in doing was making 20 percent of the community active in ministry, while leaving about 80 percent passive and consumptive. The result is this diagram:
Hirsch reflects on the need for the church to move out of its institutional forms in order to involve and engage every member. But reader take note! This book does far more than simply challenge that we simplify church or make church more organic and interactive. Hirsch is convinced that we are missing the mark if we are not becoming truly missional people and truly missional communities:
The absolutely vital issue for newer emerging churches will be their capacity to become genuinely missional. If they fail to make this shift, then they too will be another readjustment of Christendom. A mere fad.
We have often asserted that house church / simple church is far more than simplifying structures, rather it is the re-awareness of what it means to be the church—dynamic followers of Jesus in every moment and situation of life. In keeping with this, Hirsch offers a very rich description of what it means to live fully in God’s missional adventure.
More to come…