Tuesday, January 15, 2008

No Perfect People Allowed

I've just started reading a new book, No Perfect People Allowed: Creating a come as you are culture in your church and I thought it would be good to blog my way through the book, to share some of the insights.

I read chapter one yesterday, The First Corinthian Church of America.
The author's name is John Burke, he planted Gateway Community Church in Austin Texas. His story immediately won my respect.

When John first moved to Austin, he began building a core group to launch his church. He spent a year building this core up to about 100 people but he took a different approach than most church planters (myself included) he wouldn't allow church people to join his core! One church person said, "God told me to join your church" and Burke responded by saying, "I don't care, God told me not to allow you to join." Gateway runs in the thousands now, but according to their yearly surveys, 60% of the people at their church were not following Christ before coming to Gateway. Wow! That's certainly bucking the mega-church trend. Like I said, he quickly earned my respect. I want to hear what he'll say.

Burke tells the story of a small group he's been leading. 10 of the 12 members were completely unchurched. He describes the one previously churched couple as "a bold new genre of missional Christians who are not content to play church by just huddling up with Christians. They wanted to be in a place where real, worldly people, with real messy lives, were seeing the real God in action. But unfortunately, they represent a minority of churched Christians - Christians who, like the apostle Paul, willingly venture out of their comfort zone into the messy, pagan culture of Corinth or Austin." Wow - that hurts! Burke goes on to tell an amazing story of how a guy came to small group right after doing crack and how his confession and the group's acceptance sent him on the road to recovery. He told other similar stories as well.

On page 23 Burke gives another theme from the chapter. "But have we considered the soil needed for a healthy Christian community in a hard-packed, post-Christian society? God is responsible for the growth, for changed hearts, but the soil is the responsibility of the leaders and Christ-followers who make up that church." Burke goes on to say the way we tend that soil is to create a come-as-you-are culture. The culture of a church is more important to connecting with unchurched people than the music, preaching or any other ministry. Do new and unchurched people feel welcomed? This sounds like an easy no-brainer, but the cultural gap between pre-Christians and Christians is huge. I've seen this exact phenomena take place during unchurched-churched interactions. The church people don't realize they're pushing the unchurched people away, but they often are.

I need to develop some questions for unchurched people as to the "feel" of TF's culture. I may also ask an unchurched leader in the community to come to church for a few Sundays to give me some feedback.


masbury said...

Good, provocative post! I remember hearing some tapes a few years ago by a guy who had been a small groups pastor at Willow Creek. He left, to plant. His approach was not to have a worship gathering until groups were established!
I feel like church culture is one of the last bastions of modernism in American culture. We don't even talk the same language of the majority around us, let alone realize how offensive "taking our stand" on conservative political issues is from a post-modern viewpoint.
Good news is, tho, that since post-mods tend to evaluate truth on the basis of whether it can be shown to function in community, our gospel seems especially suited for this moment: they will know you are my disciples by your love for one another.

masbury said...

Here are a couple of "I thinks" - for whatever such things are worth:
1) I think it is more than "are unchurched people welcome." I think it is "does this body look and feel like Jesus himself?"
2) I think programs are almost irrelevant. Yes, they can draw people; my experience, tho, is that they mostly draw either a) people who are already convinced we have something worthwhile to say or, b) people who really don't want to be there but will put up with it for a time because the program is cool. Nothing has sent us backward as much as growth.
3) I think - though I have no evidence - that the question is "what was it about Jesus that was so attractive to non-religious people? How do we become, together, like that?"
They're just "I thinks", remember. I'm sure they're at least partly wrong.
Great post, I like your thoughts!

Donnie Miller said...

If we look and feel like Jesus then the evangelistic by-product is that we're welcoming to those outside the Christian subculture.