Friday, August 20, 2010

Alan Hirsch on reaching the non-churched

This short conversation is well worth reading if you are wondering why or if church needs to change. Given the differences between America and the UK, our challenge here is possibly greater than it is in North America. Where they may have 40% of the population that would be drawn to an attractional model (read the article to get picture), we have probably less that 20%.

In response to a couple of questions, Hirsch had this to say:
Ever since Constantine, who gave us the institution, we've seldom been able to see the church outside of that paradigm. And so you have the high church going into Protestant churches and traditional into contemporary, but all of them are really variations of the same paradigm of church, the institutional paradigm. I'm not saying it's all wrong. But if we think that simply rejiggering the same old paradigm is going to solve all our problems, I think we're going to be very disappointed. We need to change the paradigm. We need to fundamentally shift the way we think about church.

The contemporary church is an example of the institutional paradigm. Basically, it's still an attractional model, which only works with people who are like us. The people who come to our churches speak the same language, follow the same socio-economic route-basically, they are like us. Their normal form of engagement is attraction.

The attractional model can work well when the people we're trying to attract are within the cultural distance of the church. But when everyone is moving further away from us culturally, it's not going to work. Because what you do then is extract people from their environment and then inculcate them into a different environment. If we assume that people have got to come to us on our cultural turf in order to hear the gospel, we remove them from the natural cultural environment from which they were extracted.

I really sense God is saying, "You're not meant to tell people how to live. That's my job. Your job is to introduce people to Jesus and a true understanding of who Jesus is. You don't have to control their lives." And I find that incredibly liberating. When I play Holy Spirit, I usually do a very, very bad job. Christians are certainly known to be moralists, and I think we need to chill out a bit.

It seems to me that we're in a time of potential change provided we're willing to have our imaginations stretched and reshaped. Our problem, and Hirsch's analysis puts a finger on this, is that whenever we think about what needs to change we do so within the current model. We may think that by being contemporary we're naturally going to think in contemporary terms. But if our model is a reworked version of the institutional church, then our thinking will be a reflection of that underlying model.

To engage our shifting culture we will have to seek out a fresh imagination beyond the predefined restrictions of the institutional church model. So, for example, when we think about mission, the question is not how to get the community into church but how to get the church into the community.

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