On July 11th, 2017 the Barna Group published an article on their website that began with this paragraph:
“It may come as no surprise that the influence of Christianity in the United States is waning. Rates of church attendance, religious affiliation, belief in God, prayer and Bible-reading have all been dropping for decades. By consequence, the role of religion in public life has been slowly diminishing, and the church no longer functions with the cultural authority it held in times past. These are unique days for the church in America as it learns what it means to flourish in a new “Post-Christian” era.”
Before I could read on, I was already processing an important question:
What does it look like going forward for the Church in America to flourish in a post-Christian era?
This question deserves more than just some mental attention, but it must become a significant matter of prayer for every follower of Jesus. Church leaders, it’s time to circle up and figure out how to advance the Gospel in the new American landscape.
We have to start thinking in terms of a paradigm shift for the Church. Some of our deeply held assumptions regarding Church need to be unlearned if we hope to reach the growing harvest in America. It will also likely require a new posture for those who desire Kingdom impact in both the current cultural reality and into the future.
Currently, there are pioneers of the faith who are experimenting with what many are beginning to refer to as “fresh expressions of the church.” Freshexpressionus.org is one network working hard to empower, resource, and celebrate the growing number of fresh expressions of the church.
They define these fresh expressions of the Church this way:
“A Fresh Expression is a form of church for our changing culture, established primarily for the benefit of those who are not yet part of any church.”
They go on to add:
“Fresh Expressions is an international movement of missionary disciples cultivating new kinds of church alongside existing congregations to more effectively engage our growing post-Christian society.”
These expressions of church are taking many different forms. There are many creative variations of the Church emerging, and God is calling up creative and courageous people to generate new pathways for people to explore and discover all the fullness of Jesus. People searching for God have more accessible options to meet Jesus within contexts they understand rather than them trying to fit into a one-size-fits-all model. Gatherings take place in coffeehouses meant to be an epicenter for disciple-making. Group meetings may also include weekly dinners that foster an intentional spiritual conversation, where people can come and feel free to wrestle with some of the difficult truths of Scripture. Some churches are meeting in bars to attract those who may never feel comfortable stepping into a church building.
Micro-Churches or Missional Communities
Francis Chan’s book, Letters to the Church, (amongst others) has inspired pioneers of the faith to launch networks of what is commonly referred to as micro-churches or missional communities. These fresh expressions of church are the most basic expressions of the church that are seeking to be the hands and feet of Jesus in their neighborhoods and cities. These fresh expressions include individuals deeply passionate and committed to both meeting the needs of those in the margins and making disciples who make disciples.
The Tampa Underground Network
The Underground Network in Tampa, Florida has been a tremendous kingdom resource for those seeking to launch a network of micro-churches or missional communities. Brian Sanders, one of the founders of the movement, went back and took a deeper look at the way the early Church functioned and then designed ecclesiastical minimums accordingly. They say it this way:
“When believers work together in sincere worship and genuine community to accomplish part of the mission of God, they are the church.”
As you read that statement, I hope your mind races with the plethora of fresh expressions of church that could change the world for Jesus. What would happen if the Church empowered everyday missionaries to launch fresh expressions of the church in the places where they live, work, and play? Is there any doubt that even asking the question puts a huge smile on the face of our heavenly Father?