Excerpt: Reggie McNeal, "The Present Future"

"The current church culture in North America is on life support. It is living off the work, money and energy of previous generations from a previous world order. The plug will be pulled either when the money runs out (80 percent of money given to congregations comes from people aged fifty five and older) or when the remaining three fourths of a generation who are institutional loyalists die off or both...

"A growing number of people are leaving the institutional church for a new reason. They are not leaving because they have lost their faith. They are leaving to preserve their faith.

"Faced with diminishing returns on investment of money, time and energy, church leaders have spent much of the last five decades trying to figure out how to do church better. Emphases have come and gone in rapid succession. Church and lay renewal has given way to church growth, which has given way to church health. The results beg the question.

"An entire industry has been spawned to help churches do whatever they decide to do... the mailings keep coming, and the conference notebooks stack up on the shelves.

"All this activity anesthetizes the pain of loss. It offers a way to keep busy and preoccupied with methodological pursuits while not facing the hard truth: none of this seems to be making a difference. Church activity is a poor substitute for genuine spiritual vitality."


"Fallout is not limited to the clergy... The faithful.. wonder when they are going to experience the changed life they've been promised and expected to experience at church. In North America, these people have been led to believe that their Christian life is all about the church, so this failure of the church not only creates doubt about the church, it also leads them to all kinds of doubt about God and their relationship with Him."

"Many congregations and leaders.. adopt a refuge mentality. This is the perspective that withdraws from the culture, builds the walls thicker and higher, hunkers down to wait for the storm to blow over. Those with a refuge mentality view the world outside the church as the enemy [and] live within the bubble of Christian subculture.. Refuge churches evidence enormous self-preoccupation. They deceive themselves into believing they are a potent force.

"Some churches go to the opposite extreme. Instead of choosing refuge, their response to the collapse of the church culture is to sell out. [In one congregation] the only music sung was the soft-rock tune, "I can see clearly now the rain has gone." Not one word about resurrection .. on Easter Sunday!

"The point is.. all the effort to fix the church misses the point. You can build the perfect church--and they still won't come. People are not looking for a great church... The age in which institutional religion holds appeal is passing away.

"Church leaders seem unable to grasp this simple implication of the new world--people outside the church think church is for church people, not for them."


"The church was created to be the people of God to join him in his redemptive mission in the world. The church was never intended to exist for itself. It was and is the chosen instrument of God to expand his kingdom. The church is the bride of Christ. Its union with him is designed for reproduction, the growth of the kingdom. Jesus did not teach his disciples to pray, "Thy church come." The kingdom is the destination. In its institutional existence the church abandoned its real identity and reason for existence.

"God did not give up on his mission in the Old Testament when Israel refused to partner with him. God is a reckless lover. He decided to go on with the mission himself. We do not need to be mistaken about this: if the church refuses its missional assignment, God will do it another way. The church has [refused], and he is [moving on]. God is pulling end runs around the institutional North American church to get to people in the streets. God is still inviting us to join him on mission, but it is the invitation to be part of a movement, not a religious club.

"When Jesus came on the scene he entered a world very similar to our own in terms of its spiritual landscape. No one really believed in the Greek or Roman pantheon of gods. Judaism was also exhausted. The collapse of institutional religion in the first century was accompanied by an upsurge in personal spiritual search for God and salvation.

"Jesus tapped into this widespread sentiment of disillusionment with religion but hunger for God with his teaching about the kingdom of God and how people could become a part of it. His emphasis was on universal accessibility as opposed to the exclusivity of the Pharisees. He taught and practiced grace.. at the same time as he elevated standards of personal behavior by looking past externals to heart motivations. The movement Jesus initiated had power because it had at its core a personal, life-transforming experience.

"The time is ripe for recapturing this original appeal of the Gospel. People are interested and searching for God and personal salvation through a relationship with him. Increasingly they are not turning to institutional religion for help. They don't trust religious institutions because they see them as inherently self-serving. So they are off on their own search for God.

"Unfortunately, the North American church has lost its influence at this critical juncture. It has lost its influence because it lost its identity. It lost its identity because it lost its mission.

"The correct response, then, to the collapse of the church culture is not to try to become better at doing church. This only feeds the problem and hastens the church's decline through its disconnect from the larger culture. The need is for a missional fix.

"The appropriate response to the emerging world is a rebooting of the mission, a radical obedience to an ancient command, a loss of self rather than self-preoccupation, concern about service and sacrifice rather than concern about style."

"We have a church in North American that is more secular than the culture. Just when the church adopted a business model, the culture went looking for God. Just when the church embraced strategic planning (linear and Newtonian), the universe shifted to preparedness (loopy and quantum). Just when the church began building recreation centers, the culture began a search for sacred space. Church people still think that secularism holds sway and that people outside the church have trouble connecting to God. The problem is that when people come to church, expecting to find God, they often encounter a religious club holding a meeting where God is conspicuously absent. It may feel like a self-help seminar or even a political rally. But if pre-Christians came expecting to find God -- sorry! They may experience more spiritual energy at a U2 concert or listening to a Creed CD."

McNeal says that we must transform members into missionaries; but this amounts to a shift in paradigms and always precipitates a crisis.

"Member values clash with missionary values. Member values are all about real estate, churchprogramming, who's in and who's out, member services, member issues ("am I getting what I want out of this church?"). Missionary values are about the street, people's needs, breaking down barriers, community issues ("am I partnering with God's work in people?") Club members are clueless about developing relationships outside the club."

"Adopting a missional approach requires changing the scorecard. Church scorecards reflect member values: how many show up, pay up, and participate in club activities. These numbers are used to compare one church against another. A missionary culture needs to keep score on different things. These may include how many ministry initiatives we are establishing, how many conversations we are having with pre-Christians, how many volunteers we are releasing into local and global mission projects, how many groups use our facility, how many church activities target people who aren't here yet... Until we bless people who go out from us to reach people who may not come to us, we will continue to have a kingdom vision that is shrink-wrapped to church programs and church real estate."

"Wrong question: how do we grow this church? Several decades of the church growth movement have conditioned leaders to look for the next program, the "latest model," the latest fad to help grow the church. The focus is on success. But more energy on survival is misplaced. We can keep trying to get them to want what we have or we can start offering what they always need: God in their lives.

"Right question: how do we transform our community? The North American church culture is not spiritual enough to reach our culture. In our self-absorption we don't even see the people we are supposed to reach. Growing up in the church we are concerned with internal issues rather than keeping our eyes on the harvest. Missional spirituality requires that God's people be captured by his heart for people, that our hearts be broken for what breaks his, that we rejoice in what brings him joy (Luke 15)."

"Wrong question: how do we develop church members? We have made following Jesus about being a good church member.

"Right question: how do we develop followers of Jesus?"

"I am recommending that churches provide life coaching for people. We need to view this as spiritual formation. We cannot take the approach that we just need to teach people the classic spiritual disciples, assuming that a person already has a developed center. We must use spiritual disciplines to help people form the center. We must attend to their self-awareness and life relationships."

"The first Reformation was about freeing the church. The new Reformation is about freeing God's people from the chruch (the institution). The original Reformation decentralized the church. The new Reformation decentralizes ministry. The former Reformation occurred when clergy were no longer willing to take marching orders from the Pope. The current Reformation finds church members no longer willing for clergy to script their personal spiritual ministry journey. The last Reformation moved the church closer to home. The new Reformation is moving the church closer to the world. The historic Reformation distinguished Christians one from the other. The current Reformation is distinguishing followers of Jesus from religious people. The European Reformation assumed the church to be a part of the cultural political order. The Reformation currently underway does not rely on the cultural political order to prop up the church. The initial Reformation was about church. The new Reformation is about mission."

Reggie McNeal, "The Present Future" Jossey-Bass, 2003

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