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On the Verge
By Alan N. Hirsch David W. Ferguson
ZondervanCopyright © 2011 Alan N. Hirsch and David W. Ferguson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOn the Verge of the Future ALAN AND DAVE
The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. —ABRAHAM LINCOLN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES In times of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned find themselves well equipped to live in a world that no longer exists. —ERIC HOFFER Yet the truly great companies of the 21st century will change within the context of their core ideologies while also adhering to a few timeless fundamentals. —JIM COLLINS
The fact that this book is the defining document of the Exponential 2011: On the Verge conference, the largest gathering of church planters and pioneering church practitioners in the Western world, is very significant because for the first time, the frontier idea of missional movements as it relates to the multisite and church-planting movement is being main-staged. But when one considers that this conference is actually a fusion with Verge (one of the new, highly energetic, missionally oriented gatherings in North America), it further demonstrates that something momentous is happening in our day.
But this isn't about big-staged events and theoretical writing: this book represents an effort by Alan and Dave to articulate a dynamic learning journey called Future Travelers. Future Travelers is a two-year learning cohort initially composed of twelve megachurches (representing more than eighty thousand people) committed to seriously factoring missional movements into their current equation of church. For many of these churches, this journey is not just tinkering on the side; it involves a major commitment to somehow reframe their relative churches as high-impact, exponentially reproducing, missional movements. In many ways, these pioneering churches represent the widespread interest, in evangelical church circles, in becoming more genuinely missional in approach. Because of these reasons, Future Travelers will provide a window into the future of the church in the West. In many ways, we will be weaving this book around the stories, experiments, learnings, and best practices of the innovative, frontline churches in this forum.
We feel very excited about what God is doing in the church at this time. And while we're fully aware the movement is in the early stages of the life cycle, we believe there's a certain inevitability about what is happening. According to the sociology of ideas and theory of tipping points, all that is needed for an idea to become an inevitable reality within any given population (in our case, American evangelicalism) is for significant adoption by the first 16 percent of that population. This is because the first to adopt represent the innovators and early adopters and therefore represent the progressive, future-oriented, and creative side in that population sample. We believe there is now a growing momentum, and if we haven't already passed the tipping point, it will happen sometime soon. We are bold enough to say that adoption by the more vigorous and authentic sectors of evangelical Christianity is just a matter of time. And while, at the time of writing, we acknowledge there are few mature expressions of apostolic movements in America, the paradigm of missional church is receiving a growing acceptance by our best leaders and most progressive thinkers.
This is why we call this book On the Verge and the churches are described as "Verge churches." There will be times when we use the more technical and somewhat descriptive phrase "apostolic movements" to describe what we are on the verge of seeing here in the West. Whatever terminology we might employ, we do believe we're on the threshold of something that has profound significance for the future of Western, and therefore global, Christianity. What were once conflicting approaches to church (such as incarnational or attractional) are beginning to seriously interact. Each informs the other, and it's only now becoming clear what is emerging. Because of this intermingling of diverse and energetic idea-spaces—missional theology, new church practices, glocal cultural shifts, and breakthrough technologies—a new paradigm is emerging. Our idea or conception of church is being changed as we speak. This doesn't happen very often in the life of the church (see table on pp. 34–38), but when it does, it fundamentally alters the nature of the game.
And because it's the missional God (initiator of the Missio Dei) who's most invested in the church becoming missional, we have cause for great hope. And because it's the Holy Spirit who moves and shapes the church, equipping us to fulfill our purposes as God's people, this is not simply something ideological; in fact, it goes to the heartbeat and the very purposes of God's people in the world. In other words, we are on the verge of something very significant in the life of the church in the West. This book is dedicated to the articulation, the development, and hopefully the eventual triumph of what God is doing in and through his church.
Catalysts for Ecclesiological Shift
Cultural Shifts The cultural shifting we speak of relates not so much to the over-hyped rise of postmodernism alone but rather to the emergence of various large-scale cultural forces in the twenty-first century: globalization, climate change, technological breakthroughs, international terrorism, geopolitical shifts, economic crises, the digitalization of information, social networks, the rise of bottom-up people-movements, the rise of new religious movements, even the New Atheism, and others. These all conspire together to further accelerate the marginalization of the church as we know it, forcing us to rethink our previously privileged relationship to broader culture around us.
The logic of Western civilization is the increasing secularization, or at least increasing de-churching, of society as ushered in by the French Revolution. This in effect means the Europeanization of Western culture. While there are factors in American culture that work against the radical secularization of culture, the encroachment of European-style de-churching is clearly evident in the cities and population centers of the northeastern United States (for example, New York, Washington, D.C., Boston) as well as the northwest (for example, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle). However one might conceive it, there is no doubting that Christianity, as a vital religious force, is on the wane in every Western context. Many in the U.S. are just beginning to feel this, but thankfully many are also beginning to respond. On the Verge is one such response.
One of the biggest cultural shifts of our time is the increasingly multicultural nature of the West. The brute fact is that most of the evangelical church leaders who will read this book will be white, suburban, and middle-class, and the equally stark reality is that within decades, Anglo-Saxon Americans will be in the minority in the U.S.—yet our churches don't seem to be responding to this reality. In fact, the old adage that the most segregated hour in America is on Sunday mornings still holds truth. Not only is multiculturalism a missional challenge, but it's also a challenge to our ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church as Jesus designed it to be. It's going to take a lot of thinking, loving, and reaching out to correct this imbalance in the people of God.
Engaging the 60:40—The Blue and Red Oceans
The Future Travelers conversation was catalyzed, in part, by the probing of questions raised by the changing role and appeal of the church in Western society. Until recent years, the church—especially in the Christendom period—retained a very significant cultural connection with the prevailing society around it. In other words, most people were within the cultural orbit of the church and open to being influenced by the ideas that energized the church. However, this has definitely begun to shift in the last fifty years.
It is our opinion, and that of the Future Travelers group, that the prevailing, contemporary church-growth approach to church will have significant cultural appeal—marketability, if you will—to about 40 percent of the American population. (This is informed opinion, anecdotal in nature because to date there is no hard research on this.) This is not attendance; we know that attendance in these forms of churches is far less than that. This means that the prevailing models of evangelistic churches could likely max out at around 40 percent of the population, perhaps 50 percent at the very best. However we cut it, it leaves us with two major problems.
The first one is a strategic problem. Most of our churches believe and act as if modeling on (and perfecting) the successful contemporary church approach will resolve their problems of mission. But even if they could all become successful megachurches, the vast majority of churches cannot and should not. The financial capital, managerial infrastructure, leadership ability, communication strategies, and amount of artistic talent are huge in megachurches—all making for a model that is not very reproducible.
So we have a vexing situation where probably 90 percent or more of evangelical churches in America (and other Western contexts) are aiming at becoming a model that not only is improbable for the vast majority but also (even if they could crack the codes) effectively would still just be competing with other churches for the same 40 percent. This should concern us very deeply. Anyone with a sense of strategy should be immediately alert at this point.
Why? Because all our missional eggs are in one ecclesiological basket! We have no diversity of options—most of our current practices are simply variations of the same model. This is not to say it's wrong or not used by God, and so on. Please don't hear us wrong here. Clearly, God uses the contemporary church. It is simply to say it is not sufficient to the increasingly missional challenge now set before us.
It was psychologist Abraham Maslow who noted that when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail. The tool itself begins to define us and determine our approaches. However, if we are going to rise to the situation we face, we are going to need more tools.
More disturbing, perhaps, is that this dearth of options demonstrates a serious poverty of imagination in the way we think about the church and mission and indicates why we desperately need to innovate.
If the first problem is a strategic one highlighting the need for genuine ecclesiological innovation and a diversity of approaches, the second one is a very serious missionary problem taking us to the core purposes of the church Jesus built. This problem is perhaps the most important question facing us in relation to the long-term viability of Christianity in Western contexts. As Jesus' sent people, we have to ask ourselves, what about the possible 60 percent of people who for various reasons report significant alienation from precisely the contemporary church-growth model(s) we rely so heavily on? What will church be for these people? What is good news going to sound like for them? And how are they going to access the gospel of Jesus in ways that are culturally meaningful for them?
The reality is, if we expect more variations of the prevailing practices to reach into increasingly de-churched and unchurched populations, we are fooling ourselves. We're avoiding the missionary call of the church to take Christ's message to the people and nations.
In many ways, our situation is experienced in the broader world of business strategy and global markets. Leading strategists Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne use the vivid metaphor of red and blue oceans to describe the situation. The red oceans concept is used to describe all the industries in existence at any given point—the known market space. In the red oceans, industry boundaries are defined and accepted, and the competitive rules of the game are known. Here companies try to outperform their rivals to grab a greater share of product or service demand. As the market space gets crowded, prospects for profits and growth are reduced. Products become commodities or niche, and cutthroat competition turns the ocean bloody. Hence the term red ocean—the sharks battle it out with each other for survival.
Blue oceans, in contrast, denote all the industries not in existence today—the unknown market space, untainted by competition. In blue oceans, demand is created rather than fought over. There is ample opportunity for growth that is both profitable and rapid. In blue oceans, competition is irrelevant because the rules of the game are waiting to be set. There is no frenzied feeding, and so little competition. Blue ocean describes the wider, deeper potential of spiritual idea-space that is not yet explored.
Kim and Mauborgne suggest that the cornerstone of blue ocean strategy is value innovation—that is, the creation of innovative new markets to unlock new demand. According to the authors, organizations must learn how to create uncontested market space by reconstructing market boundaries, focusing on the big picture, reaching beyond existing demand, and getting the strategic sequence right.
To illustrate this point, Rob Wegner of Granger Community Church (GCC) recently told us that back in the early days of GCC (late eighties to midnineties), they were literally the only contemporary church in their community. Nobody was doing what they were doing in the region. It was unique; it was a breakthrough. They had created the buzz and set the tone. He says,
Friends would tell friends, "You've got to check this out. This is not like any church you've ever seen." But nowadays there are a number of churches in this community doing contemporary church, and they serve with excellence. It is not unique anymore.... Before, we were the only church reaching the 40 percent; now we have a whole slew of churches in our community trying to reach that 40 percent. I'm excited about that. I even think our presence helped facilitate the growth of contemporary church in our community. But it's definitely a red ocean scenario.
This is exactly the issue we face. We are all competing in the red waters of the 40 percent while the 60 percent remains largely untouched. It's time for some value innovation. Christian churches with a strong sense of missionary calling—while maintaining best practices in what they do— will also venture out to innovate new forms of church in the vast uncharted territories of the unchurched populations of our day. To do less is to fail in our missionary calling.
More of the Same?
It was Einstein who said that the problems of the world couldn't be resolved by the same kind of thinking that created them in the first place. And he's right, of course—we do well to take note! The popular application of this maxim comes to us in the form of what has become known as the definition of organizational insanity: trying to achieve significantly different results by doing the same thing over and over. In other words, what got us here won't get us there if "there" is missional movements in the West. Perhaps a more visual way of saying this is that we cannot dig a hole over there by digging this hole deeper—and yet that is what we seem to do most of the time.
The combination of strategic and missional problems creates more than enough anomalies to precipitate a major paradigm shift in the way we do and be church. But other reasons also have caused us to move toward more missional forms of church, namely that of apostolic movement.
Excerpted from On the Verge by Alan N. Hirsch David W. Ferguson Copyright © 2011 by Alan N. Hirsch and David W. Ferguson. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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