This is my second post to consider Alan Hirsch’s book, ‘The Forgotten Ways” and pick up on just a few of the points which particularly interested me.
Hirsch notes times when the Christian Church experienced sustained, rapid growth, majoring on two examples: the early new testament church, which he suggests grew from 25 thousand people in AD100 to 20 million by AD310 and also China, where at the beginning of Mao’s rule (and severe restrictions on the church) it is estimated there were 2 million Christians, reaching 60 million by the time of his death.
In the first case, the church was often illegal, had no buildings, no full New Testament Scriptures, no professional leadership, no ‘seeker sensitive’ services, no youth work, no professional worship leaders…it was hard to join the church
So what were the special elements of thsee Church movements that allowed this growth to happen? Hirsch refers to the combination of qualities as ‘Apostolic Genius’, which is made up of ‘Missional DNA’, of which more, later.
What’s the problem with successful, contemporary attractional Churches? Hirsch notes a number of challenges they face:
• However well thought out and presented programs may be, they reach a limited audience. The book refers to Australian research suggesting contemporary growing churches are attractive to only 10-15% of the population.
• He believes that the main reason for the lack of sustained long-term growth is the inability to consistently make church members into disciples.
• Further, there is a huge danger in consumerism in church – a ‘get fed’ culture – the middle classes seeking comfort and convenience. Typically only 5%-20% of members, even in successful contemporary churches are actively involved in any form of leadership.
Hirsch suggests the root of the problem might be traced back to the original official “sanction” of Christianity, in Constantine’s Edict of Milan (AD313). Christianity’s adoption as Rome’s official religion began the Christendom Shift and the institutionalization of faith. This may have ‘worked’ when Christianity was the dominant religion…at times attendance was obligatory, indeed everyone was considered ‘Christian by birth’.
But now we live in a fractured / tribalised society, so that the Church’s domestic role has become like mission to another culture. And the majority simply does not see the institutionalized Church as relevant.
Crossing these barriers will require us to develop a new church story, confronting the challenges of disciple-making and consumerism and transforming our relationships with the world.