The following is an excerpt from a free local church resource. The resource is a quick reference for carefully examining your local church in its missions context. You can download the resource at the end of the post.
“The gospel never fits properly within a culture.”
That is a quote by Ed Stetzer from a chapter in The Mission of Today’s Church. In the chapter, Stetzer is detailing the plight of Southern Baptist churches in relation to the North American mission field. He goes on to say, “Two parallel problems keep many believers from truly engaging the unchurched culture. Christians tend to love or despise the culture too much,” (Stetzer, 152).
Stetzer is onto something here, and it would do us well to take note. For as long as I can remember, churches have seemed to fall somewhere on a spectrum of trendiness. Some churches are total sticks in the mud. Changing the carpet color in the sanctuary is just shy of heresy, and they have split over less. Other churches seem to try so hard to be cool. They are the high school cafeteria equivalent of the guy doing the quarterback’s homework so he can sit at the cool kid’s table. These churches try to look trendy, dress trendy, sing trendy, and preach trendy, and they will do anything (read change anything) in order to appeal to the masses.
So, which one is right? Is there not a better option?
Churches can, in fact, strive to be both biblically faithful and culturally relevant, and a great deal of church health requires maintaining both priorities. Without a focus on biblical and spiritual fidelity, a church ultimately ceases to be a church. However, without an eye toward the culture and a heartbeat for expressing the Christian gospel in manner that makes sense to their community, churches will lose the voice necessary to execute their mission.
Biblical faithfulness and cultural relevance require constant examination. Over time, churches lose sight of their vision or the context around them shifts, and familiarity allows blind spots to develop. The results of this misalignment are often easier to see than the root causes. Enlisting the help and counsel of trusted outsiders, such as denominational leaders and fellow pastors, is an important step in accurate examination. Then, with the help of others, a church can examine and assess the relevant information to understand both the state of their church and their local context of mission.
In order to thoroughly examine a church, it helps to consider the purpose of the church in the first place. Why do churches exist? In short, churches exist to bear witness to the glory of Christ through the making of new disciples from all nations. In order to do that, two big categories must be considered: the local church itself, and the context they are attempting to reach. Too often, people attempting to revitalize, plant, or replant a church do so with an eye on only one of these categories. That is always a recipe for disaster. It may, in fact, be why the church is in its current shape. It is possible to polish up a church real nice, and due to a lack of contextual understanding, create the fanciest obstacle to the gospel in a particular neighborhood. Church and community are both objects of examination done well.
However, even that is not enough. In order to view both of these categories accurately, it must be done from more than one angle. Multiple perspectives exist for the local church and for the community: an insider perspective and an outsider perspective. Insiders have information only those who are a part of the church (or community) would know. Outsiders, on the other hand, provide a unique vantage point, and if the goal is making new disciples, then their perspective is crucial.
Considering all of these perspectives in examination results in a fourfold approach that provides a panoramic view of the church in its community. Like a panoramic portrait of a stunning landscape, the complete picture for the church and its context of ministry come together. This picture then becomes the basis for decisions in strategy and planning moving forward. It is important to consider each of these viewpoints in turn.
Click below to download a quick guide for performing a fourfold panoramic assessment on your local church or click on the resources tab in the website header to check out other free, downloadable resources.