Setting the Stage
Not everyone’s personal experience and context will reinforce this fact, but based on this insightful article, it seems, if we are looking at what is actually happening as opposed to what people report about themselves, that church attendance across the United States is somewhere in the neighborhood of 17%. Translated into actual numbers, that means that out of the 300M+ people in the US, some 51M are attending a church service on Sunday morning. For those of you familiar w/ the Church scene (and the courage to do it!) I dare you to begin to consider what percentage of those 51M church attenders might actually be vibrant (or at least growing) and devoted followers of Jesus – actively engaged in learning to see, live, and love like him. Not a pretty picture.
Last week I piled in a car along with David Fitch and two other friends who are part of church plants that have been born out of Life on the Vine and we took off for Canada. Our trip included spending some time with other church planter friends in Sarnia, Ontario at The Story, a theology pub where Dave Fitch and Craig Carter debated the significance of Anabaptism for the future of the Church in Post-Christendom, visiting Toronto Alliance Church in downtown Toronto, and connecting with Gary Nelson, President of Tyndale Seminary. It was a whirlwind trip of dialogue, learning, and activity.
Lots I could reflect on about this trip, but what punctuated all of our conversations was this: if the Church/Christian situation in the US is advancing toward a culturally marginal existence, Canada is way, way ahead of us. Some place Church attendance in Canada at under 10% of the population (closer to only 3.5M people), and again, that’s just attendance – not a measure of discipleship.
There are at least three ways to receive this picture.
- Deny it/ignore it – this is easier for people in contexts where the Church seems vibrant and Christianity continues to be the religion of choice, but even in these contexts (which I’ve lived in and know well), if we’re honest and open, it’s easy to see and feel that something is amiss.
- Fight it - this is often, though not always, a reactionary disposition, emerging from a place of fear or sense of entitlement. Or, in a better light, it emerges from a righteous indignation that corresponds to the conviction that this is precisely the kind of engagement God is calling us to.
- Embrace it – this doesn’t mean giving up, it means that in our acknowledging of Jesus as the Lord of history, the best way forward isn’t denial or fighting, but receiving a new imagination for what a faithful engagement of this new cultural context entails. This will mean revisiting key theological categories, asking fresh questions, pioneering new models of leadership and formation, and listening exceedingly well to one another as we grapple with core cultural concerns and methods of engagement.
Enter Missio Alliance
I am privileged to be part of a team of people that is seeking to catalyze an initiative marked by this third disposition, Missio Alliance. After being in development for over a year and a half, just the other day we extended a public invitation to our first national gathering. In line with our resonance with the third way of receiving the situation we find ourselves in, the theme of this gathering is…
The Future of the Gospel: Renewing Evangelical Imagination for Mission
We’ve done some regional events and have some coming up (Everyday Theology in Austin, TX, A Larger Story in LA, and the annual Missional Learning Commons in Chicago, but this gathering is our first large-scale attempt to bring practitioners and thought leaders together to converse and work together out of this third way of approaching our rapidly shifting cultural context. In dialoguing about topics as fundamental as the nature of the gospel, the authority of Scripture, the condition of humanity, and the role of the Church, what we are ultimately after is seeing the Church and her leaders more fully equipped for a faithful, missional engagement with a “new North America.”
We are excited that such a wide and diverse group of trusted mentors will be joining us to guide and shape our conversations together.
So, if you’re not busy next April 11-13, I hope you’ll consider joining us in Alexandria, VA for this gathering. We are hopeful that the relationships that emerge out of this time together will lead to creative partnerships, networks, and future endeavors that will continue along the same path of seeing the Church in North America equipped and mobilized to join God in his mission in the world – as we embrace the new cultural context in which we find ourselves and ask him to renew our imagination for a faithful way of life and witness in it.