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How we introduce the church to people has a lot to do with how they interpret church. We introduce the church poorly to people when we leave “church” out of our weekday conversations. We introduce the church poorly when we just tell people “how to get there” on a website. How we introduce people to the church, especially on Sundays, is important if we want to re-arrange their expectations around a gospel view of the church.

Here are a few ways we’ve done it. I’m not being dogmatic, just suggestive. I think this is important, but I also think you should introduce people both theologically and contextually. In other words, rearrange their view of the church around the gospel, but do it in language that is true to your vision and your context.

Introducing Church on Sundays

Over the past couple of years we’ve changed the way we introduce people to the church on a Sunday morning, but all in all we’ve had minor variations. We used to say stuff like:

If you’re visiting today, we’re so glad you came. We hope this is the last time you come to church, because this building isn’t the church. These people are.

Early on this certainly weeded out the consumer, but probably also ran off a few potential disciples. With time we softened our introduction to tell people that:

“The best way you can get to know the church is to visit a City Group, where the church is the church to one another and the city.”

This was more welcoming and still community affirming. It mixed more grace into the welcome. However, as we continued to reflect on this introduction, we still felt like it was, at times, intimidating for front door visitors. Why? Because we pushed City Groups so hard. You’re bound to feel out of place if you aren’t in one, especially since the majority of our church is. We wanted to relieve the person who unreligously visited out Sunday gatherings once every 4-5 weeks, while remaining true to our vision of the church.

So we went this this, roughly. People laugh every time they hear it (the bold part), but I can tell they love it. They tell me so.

Welcome to Austin City Life. My name is ____, and I am one of the Partners with our church. If you’re visiting, we’re really glad you found us. We would love to meet you, so hang around afterwards over coffee, join us for lunch, or fill out a visitor form on a lap top.

You should know up front that we are a very imperfect church. We will disappoint you, but we’ll do our best to point you to a perfect Savior. That’s the Gospel, and we believe it converts us to Christ, to Church and to Mission. It’s why we’re here, to be the church to one another and to the city. To be in the city and for the city, redemptively engaging peoples and cultures.

The best place to figure this all out is in our City Groups, gospel communities that serve one another and our city. You can check them out right here by hanging around afterward and chatting in the back, by our sign, or learn more online at austincitylife.org.

Introducing Church on Websites

Your introduction to the Church on Sundays should resonate with what you say on your website and, most importantly, your small group/missional community experience. We’ve changed our web wording to reflect our actual gathering, keeping the non-Christian in mind.

Sundays Gatherings are an important part of being the church at Austin City Life. Although we want to avoid the mistake of seeing Sunday as “the Church”, we believe it is important to gather every Sunday for worship, preaching, communion, and community.

On Sundays you’ll find an interesting juxtaposition of theological depth and cultural expression. We are in line with historic, orthodox Christianity, but express that Christian faith progressively, in a venue on Austin’s renown 6th Street.

What is Sunday Like?
We gather every Sunday at The Parish, one of the best music venues on 6th, where you’ll hear our musicians play rich, stirring, God-focused music, not as a performance but as an act of worship. You’ll also hear substantive gospel messages that regularly engage cultural issues. Best of all, you’ll get to meet a community gathered around Jesus that loves our city.

These people are like you in many ways. They are citizens, creatives, moms, dads, young marrieds, professionals, college students, and singles. They are Christian and not Christian. We are all imperfect people looking to a perfect Christ.

This certainly isn’t the last “word”, and introducing people to the church is so much more than what you say. But what you say also affects how you live.

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Some of you may have read the beginning of this series, How Not to Be a Missional Church, on my blog. I’ve pushed the series to Resurgence, where it will be running all week, and will conclude with the Evangelism-Driven critique. Others of you are reading some of this for the first time. As each post goes up this week, I will post some further commentary for explanation and interaction.

Event-Driven Missional Church:

I am not saying events are bad, but that event-driven churches miss the mark of missional church. If we put all our eggs in the basket of out-reach events, in the name of mission, we have misunderstood the purpose and nature of the missional church. The missional church is a Jesus-centered community that redemptively engages peoples and cultures. It’s not a switch you turn on or off, a date on the calendar, or an item we tick off the list. Mission is our identity, because we have be rescued by a missionary God and placed in his missionary family.We live missionary lives, doing everyday things with gospel intentionality.

At Austin City Life, we do events. We baptize, we preach, we gather on Sundays, we do fund-raising garage sales for Operation Turkey, we clean apartments for homeless women and kids, we visit nursing homes, we do Teen Therapy Room Renovations. One difference, however, is that these missional events are typically linked to a greater community over time. They are done with non-Christians, for non-Christians, to address real needs in the context of a long-term relationship. I like to call them strategic social partnerships (in-house language), to convey the importance of missional churches/communities making a long-term social, cultural, and relational impact through gospel witness. Events aren’t bad, but when we mistake event for missional church we get off track. People will see it as just another program, which it is, unless we explain to them that mission is our identity, responsibility, gifting, and joy. (scroll through to our mission series for more)

Brad Brisco is a thoughtful academic and practitioner and author of Missional Church Network. He is graciously giving us free previews of his doctral work on Missional Ecclesiology.

Part I

Part II

Neil Cole’s new book Organic Leadership is insightful, provocative, and prophetic. The first section of the book points out the weeds growing in the soil of the American church. One particular weed is the parasitical effect of parachurch ministries. To be sure, Cole does not view all parachurch organizations as an impediment to the church; however, he prophetically points out how the parachurch has assumed the role and mission of the church leaving her weak and anemic. Consider these areas of capitulation:

  • Her leadership development has been assumed by colleges, seminaries, and Bible institutes.
  • Her compassion and social justice have been given over to nonprofit charitable organizations.
  • Her global mission has been relinquished to mission agencies.
  • Church government and decision making have often been forfeited to denominational offices.
  • Her prophetic voice has been replaced by publishing houses, self-help gurus, and futurist authors.
  • Her emotional and spiritual health has been taken over by psychologists, psychiatrists, and family counseling services.

The Anemic Church

Now, before you react let this settle. Detect the truth in these statements. Where can your church recover certain elements, perhaps not in totality but in measure? Cole is not sweeping all parachurches aside. Rather, he is pointing out the professionalization and specialization of the church into ministries that have left the church anemic. We have capitulated to this fragmentation of the church. Cole notes:

The world today looks at the church wondering what relevance she has. The only use they see for the church is performing the sacerdotal duties of preaching, marrying, burying, baptizing, and passing around wafers and grape juice. The church was once a catalyst for artistic expression, social change, and the founding of hospitals, schools, and missionary enterprise, but today she has settled for providing a one-hour-a-week worship concert, an offering place, and a sermon. (116)

Ralph Winter: Sodality and Modality

Cole is careful to note the distinctions made by Ralph Winter regarding sodalities and modalities. Winter’s helpful article emphasizes the more apostolic, missionary nature of certain entities like Paul’s roving, planting, missionary bands. These are sodalities. These sodalities don’t do everything that the church is responsible for, instead they specialize. Modalities, on the other hand, are a little more static though missional and are churches. The church is a modality because it is given the responsibility to do everything that God has commanded us to do (feed the poor, disciple, translate the bible, etc.). A church is modality and parachurch sodality. Sodalities can weaken or strengthen churches.

Cole affirms the need for both modalities and sodalities but contests these distinctions as a point of division between church and parachurch. He writes: “both modality and sodality are part of God’s redemptive purpose. Both are the church in the eyes of Paul. I do no think he saw himself as at all separate from the church…” (122).

What do you think? Where has your church capitulated to the parasitical parachurch? Is there a way forward? And what of the modality sodality distinction? Are both mission agencies and local churches together the church? Much more could be said on these matters.

The Austin Stone and Acts 29 are hosting a Missional Community Leadership Conference on Feb 6-7 at Great Hills Baptist. This is the kind of conference that is long overdue and will deliver on Gospel, Community, and Mission for the practitioner.

Main Speakers:
Matt Carter: Leading your Community to spiritual health
Darrin Patrick: Leading your Community to gospel repentance
Alan Hirsch: Leading your Community to missional discipleship

Breakouts:

There are too many to list, but include topics like Missional Leadership, City-wide Networking, Discipleship, Communication & Conflict.

More Info here. Register there.

The audio is up for my recent talk at Acts 29 Dallas Bootcamp on Spirit-led Ecclesiology: Following the Spirit thru Church Planting. This talk explores how planters lean away from the Spirit-led center of church planting and addresses how they can practically apply a biblical theology of the Spirit to the challenges of unplanned change in planting churches. Perhaps a timely topic given the buzz over renaming church planting to gospel planting.

A couple of weeks ago Acts 29 hosted a Church Planting Bootcamp in Dallas, hosted by the Village Church. The aim of these bootcamps is to assess, equip, and release church planters into planting gospel-centered, missional churches that plant more churches. The theme of the Dallas Bootcamp was Depth.

The were a number of plenary speakers and a variety of breakout sessions (see schedule here). Audio and electronic resources are being released as they are ready (I am trying to figure out how to upload my audio to wordpress). Mark Driscoll’s talk on the Mission and Vision of Acts 29 includes a clear and compelling vision for a church planting movement that keeps Christ at the center and takes the gospel to periphery of the world. My session was Spirit-led Ecclesiology: Following the Spirit thru Church Planting, which critically examined motives and methods of church planters that lean away from the Spirit-led center of church planting. This was followed by a brief biblical theology of the Spirit and practical reflections on how we can follow the Spirit through unplanned change, resistance and barriers. In short, it was a plea to not replace the Spirit with the gospel in church planting.

For now, here are the resources I have gathered:

  • Driscoll on Mission & Vision of A29                                 audio manuscript
  • Dodson on Spirit-led Ecclesiology                                    audio manuscript
  • Dodson & White on Building Missional Core Teams                notes

Drew Goodmanson has posted the audio files from all of the plenary and breakout sessions from the Total Church Conference. This was a very good conference. Of all the sessions I attended, these talks stood out the most:

Taught our first Partners Class last night. Here is an overview and an outline of the class. Before jumping into things I shared three reasons why we are having a Partners Class. Then, inbetween coffee and brownies in the Schwedland’s living room, we all went around and shared something that has shaped our story and how we got connected with Austin City Life. That was the best part.

Why A Partners Class?

1. Why Partners not Members? Some churches do members classes; we have a Partners Class. There are some really good members classes out there, but there are also a lot of jacked up ideas of what it means to be a member of a church, especially for de-churched or unchurched people. So, we decided to go with “Partners class” to clearly communicate that the church is a partnership of Spirit-led disciples who follow Jesus. The church isn’t a country club bound by exclusive membership; it’s a missional community bound together by the gospel. Everyone is invited to be a partner. It’s about responsible partnership, not exclusive relationships.

2. Three Reasons for a Partners Class

o Cultivate Community: lets us get to know one another more intimately, ask questions. It also allows us to shepherd you more effectively, so you aren’t just some random person in a seat (1 Tim 5:9; 2 Cor 2:6-7).

o Clarify the Gospel: allows us to communicate clearly the gospel of Christ and what we consider essential and non-essential doctrines of the church.

o Communicate Mission: fosters sense of mission through ACL vision and explore how you can fit into that mission.

3. What to expect: In addition to Gospel, Community, & Mission, we will:

o Share the History and Vision of Austin City Life.

o Upon completion of the class we will not issue certificates. We will ask that your City Group Leader indicate your participation in the life and mission of your community. Your participation is evidence that you are, indeed, a partner in our mission.