I've been asked variations of this questions quite a lot recently, and in some interesting circumstances. As many of you know, I spend some of my time supporting families through times of loss as what you would probably call an independent funeral celebrant. I always take the time to introduce myself and explain briefly my background and current situation. I'm not trying to impress people, I just want them to understand as well as they can what I do and that I'm not currently "in charge of a church".
After the funeral, if I find myself with the family, there's usually someone who comes to speak to me about this rather strange notion of starting church from scratch. For some it's strange because church is an ancient building with long traditions and unfathomable rituals. For others, church planting is exciting but typically a matter of gathering a reasonably sized group in a borrowed building on a Sunday morning to "do" church where there either isn't a church at all or there isn't a particular brand of church.
Each time I have one of these conversations, and it doesn't just happen after funerals, but in lots of settings, I find myself struggling to describe anything recognisable to either group. not wanting to stick 30 people in a local hall seems odd to the churched, and smacks a little of being somewhat weird. To the unchurched it's hard to articulate the concept of trying to discover what the incarnated gospel looks like in a community without the trappings of "normal" church life. Remember that for some folk Songs of Praise is the only expression of church they come across.
But maybe I'm not the only person who should be answering such a question. Maybe everyone who is involved in kingdom stuff should be answering the very same question. Each time I'm faced with questions about what I'm doing, two things generally happen. I get excited about describing the vision while struggling to find an adequate vocabulary to make it accessible, and secondly I remember Craig Groeschel's Leadership Summit session from several years ago. The phrase that reverberates around my head is this:
If we are going to reach the people other people are not reaching, we are going to do things that other people are not doing.
It might no longer be a verbatim quote, but the message clear. Of course the flip side of this equation is that if we keep doing what we've always done, we will get the same results we've always got. A different result requires a different approach.
Sadly in church, as in so many institutions, we are stubborn enough enough to simply carry on doing what we've always done in the hope that the response will change. We presume our way of "doing church" is somehow ordained and therefore the problem doesn't lie with the pattern, it lies with the world outside that fails to engage. Yes, people love darkness because it covers up their fallenness, but that's not the reason we fail to reach them.
I have no idea whether what we are doing will be any more successful than anything else I've done over the last 30+ years of following Jesus. I just know it has to be different. Not for the sake of being different, but for the sake of the kingdom and the sake of the missing.