By Jeff Brumley
Traditional churches must wake up and reinvent themselves if they are to remain — or become — relevant, some Christian leaders say.
“We have to think the way missionaries think,” said Larry Hovis, executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina.
Thinking like missionaries is necessary to relevantly preach the gospel in an age when small missional church starts are drawing more and more people, Hovis said.
Hovis and others have gotten the message after years of watching the growth of the missional church movement across the nation and in other parts of the world. Led often by small, scrappy church planters with subtle or no denominational affiliation, the movement emphasizes hyper-local community and social activism in the neighborhoods where they are located.
Those churches have proven successful to luring Americans generally craving fellowship but disaffected by organized Christianity.
But by no means is the steeple church out of the game, said David Crocker, executive director of Operation Inasmuch, a Knoxville-based ministry that trains churches to adopt outward-focused programs.
Crocker said he’s working with 1,600 churches mostly in North Carolina, the Southeast and other parts of the nation to reinvent their mission and equip their members to serve outside the four walls.
Those churches include CBF, Southern Baptist, United Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran and other denominations.
“Leaders and rank-and-file believers are awakening to the reality of what was there all along: What it means to be a follower of Jesus,” said Crocker, a former pastor.
How that looks often varies from congregation to congregation, but the common denominator is a shift in priorities, allocation of resources and programming, Crocker said.
CBF churches in North Carolina are learning that prime location and excellent facilities are no longer drawing new families through the doors, Hovis said.
A handful of them are experiencing success on the traditional model, “but the majority are in decline,” he said.
Which accounts for a growing interest in the missional way of being a church.
CBF of North Carolina has responded with two conferences and a third, “Impacting Tomorrow: A Missional Event for Churches,” scheduled May 18-19 in Charlotte.
“We want to focus less on worship and the building and more on how do we use those to push us into the community,” Hovis said.
Hovis said he also doesn’t buy the claim by some that traditional church buildings are doomed. It’s just a matter of perspective.
“It’s not that we’re going to blow up our buildings or stop having services,” Hovis said. “We’re just having to relearn what it means to be church.”