My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I firmly believe that if every pastor in America read this book, two things would happen. First, we would have a major disruption and church-fight on our hands. Second, a stronger, healthier, and more effective church would emerge in America. While Hugh Halter and Matt Smay temper their criticism of the contemporary American church with exhortations to proceed slowly and patiently, their vision (and their practice) is truly counter-cultural and revolutionary.
It is counter-cultural in that it challenges the “church culture” that so many churches mistake for the essence of church life. Why do we go to church? To hear a sermon, to hear a great praise band, to have great fellowship, to have a potluck. Then, after all our felt needs are met, we go our separate ways and never see our church buds until next Sunday. AND shows that the church is called to more than this.
Halter and Smay note that there are two types of churches: “attractional” and “incarnational.” Most churches are “attractional”—they try to attract people to their service, or to all their wonderful programs, through various means. They might go out into the culture (door-to-door), but the main point is to get more people into the building, and to keep them there once they’ve been lured into the church. The “attractional” model engages culture after establishing a church/ community. In contrast, the “incarnational” model engages the culture first, forms a community, which then attracts people to a life of following Christ. The “incarnational” folks would spend more time in coffee shops, in pubs, or in throwing block parties. They proceed in the assumption (a Biblical one, I think), that people will find true godliness and holiness beautiful and ultimately more attractive than programs or good preaching (how many Christians even care about good preaching!?). They may not be able to put their finger on it, but they will notice that Christians are living differently, living more deeply, and they will want to be a part of it. A good sermon might move them for 5 minutes (just like a politician’s speech), but a community that loves them and is helping them to see what it means to live in God’s Kingdom–that’s something the world doesn’t offer!
While joining a church is the part of this process, it is not the final goal. The final goal of being “missional” (the new catch-phrase, but I think it’s a needed one), is to go on mission yourself. Not on a short-term mission to some South American country, as valuable as that might be, but on a life-long mission to everyone we come into contact with. This means that we actually have to come into contact with people, rather than just creating a really cool web-site with solid theological slogans 🙂 It’s a sad fact that most church growth now seems to be “transfer growth,” rather than conversion growth. People just leave one church and join another.
Halter and Smay balance both sides of being the church admirably. The church must “gather” as the church, but it must also “scatter” into the world. Most churches just focus on one side of the AND–thus the title of the book!
My only criticisms would be along the lines of “don’t throw out the baby with the bath-water.” Although “churchianity” has failed in many ways, I would meditate deeply on the words of G.K. Chesterton: “Christianity has not been found tried and wanting. It has never been tried.” If the historic structures and liturgies of the Church seem to have failed recently, then perhaps it’s because they weren’t being done in the right ways. We don’t have to re-invent all of the wheels on the Church-wagon–maybe just re-inflate a couple.
I’m just getting into the whole “missional” and “emergent” scene, and learning lots of valuable things from these folks. But, as I read what they’re doing, I keep thinking, “That’s the early church!” So, perhaps we can all agree on that. If we get our hearts right and focus on community and evangelism in the same way as the early church did, amazing things will happen in the American church. Amazing things are already happening, in America and throughout the rest of the world. The only question is whether existing churches will be a part of it, or whether God will work through up-starts like Halter and Smay and whether the established churches will some day be as empty as the grand cathedrals of Europe are now.