Shifting from membership to missionary engagements
When the world we are called to reach is increasingly secular, unchurched, de-churched and non- interested in church, it’s time to reframe membership policies and practices. ‘Membership’ served a church culture fairly well. Today, it leaves many churches under shadows of discouragement, hopelessness, economic and leadership challenges.
There’s a solution that can not only make church more appealing, fruit-bearing and meaningful, but it can also increase leadership and their economic base. Church becomes a sending place rather than just a gathering place. Church becomes a place of mobilization rather than just a place of sanctuary and preservation. Jesus died for the world that the church might be a place of meaning, influence and impact. Membership has encouraged attendance, giving and involvement. I’m proposing that we reframe and make a shift, from focusing on membership that encourages attendance, to a missionary engagement that focuses on going out and giving of who God has gifted and called each believer to be. Church becomes not just a place of inspiration and tradition but a people of intentional incarnational impact and influence. Let’s explore what this might look like in some ministry settings.
A New Framework for Missionary Engagement AS Church
Today those who join clubs are considered ‘members’. Clubs are primarily for fellowship, networking and collaborating with those of similar interests. Churches are not clubs (or at least they are not supposed to be). Churches are to be places of worship, mission, impact and influence for the cause of Christ in the world. If this is to happen, churches in an increasingly secular world, need ‘missionaries not members’. Missionaries who are sent out, commissioned and equipped for their mission AS the church in the world. So when we gather, and we must not forsake the assembling of ourselves together for worship and equipping, we gather to ‘go’ not to stay or fellowship. We gather to ‘go out’, not come to or stay in. We gather to celebrate our impact AS church and to be equipped to be part of the work of God in the daily world. Church is sent out as teachers, mechanics, managers, business owners, families, community club members, athletes, medical personnel, first responders, attorneys, government employees and the list goes on. We are to go and ‘be salt, light and leaven in the world’! (John 17:18, Luke 2:32)
Consider these descriptions of a variety of missionaries that would make up the life of a congregation who functions IN, THROUGH and AS church. All show up AS church serving in a culture that is more unchurched than churched. Aware that language, teaching framework and worship must be sensitive to the dominate culture we are called to serve and reach.
- Dispersed Missionaries – are those who ‘go out into the world’ AS church during the week. They serve in a variety of places AS church needing encouragement, equipping and coaching support ‘as they go’. This ministry can be a nurturing and support system for those ‘former members who grew up in the church’ but moved away from the church. Dispersed missionaries can have a vital ministry in sustaining engagement of those who ‘moved away’ or who are ‘serving as designated or deployed missionaries’.
- Designated Missionaries – are those called out of the congregation and designated to a place of service AS the church. They are intentional, prayerful, coached and commissioned to engage others in the walk with Christ.
- Deployed Missionaries – are those who serve in other countries, cultures and ministry contexts unlike the culture in which they were born. They are seeking to consistently and meaningfully engage searchers, seekers into the faith walk.
- Discipling Missionaries – are those who are called to work with believers desiring to find their call, gifts and mission in the world. They serve IN and THROUGH existing and created discipling structures to ‘equip and engage the saints for the work of ministry’. (Ephesians 4)
The intent and design is that we have the largest number of ‘dispersed’, fewer more skilled ‘designated’, fewer ‘deployed’ and a remnant of strong ‘discipling’ missionaries. Some readers are saying, but what about the ‘buildings, budgets and staffing’ needs. They are needed in the new design but they serve very different functions and will be shared and funded through multiple income streams and support systems for missional/incarnational engagement. (I will continue this writing to unfold my thinking and experiences at this time) I have a dream about the reformation of the church. I share this as the epilogue of my Recovering Hope for Your Church book released in 2014.