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How to Grow an Adaptable Church

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Here’s how our church rejected the false dichotomies that were keeping us stuck, and embraced Spirit-led change.

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“What kind of church is {Insert the name of any church}?”

You’ve heard it before.

Most of use have even asked it before.

Back in the day, that question would have been answered one way: with a reference to a denomination. They were trusted institutions, places of safety. People loved putting their faith in an organization.

But in today’s post-everything world, people aren’t looking to institutions for answers. They’re looking for something they can figure out on their own. So today’s church is described by characteristics that pastors and scholars love to attribute to different families of faith:

Seeker-sensitive
Missional
Attractional
Evangelistic
Disciple-making
Liturgical
Vintage
Hipster
And the list goes on …

And often it’s assumed if you are one kind of church, you can’t be the other kind. You’re either missional or attractional. Either evangelistic or discipleship-based. You’re either seeker-sensitive (i.e., often characterized as biblically shallow) or rigorously biblical. You are either a cross-centered church (consistent focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus) or a kingdom-centered church (focused on fixing the pains that society faces through social compassion).

It’s either one or the other, right?

What bothers me about the whole thing is I can’t imagine Jesus being that simplistic.

If we were honest with ourselves, we would call that line of thinking a false dichotomy. And here’s the thing … the problem with a false dichotomy is that it’s false. It’s just not true. And Jesus is the truth, so we know that kind of thinking never originated from him.

The more we look at it we realize false dichotomies make a ton of sense to us. We all have preferences. And in our insecurities (and our reactions to other people’s preferences), we lean into what we know. We embrace one quality, and dismiss whatever the “opposite” is.

And what I’ve embraced with our staff and volunteers and church family at Crossroads Community Church where I get the pleasure of being one of the pastors, is that in order to follow Jesus and worship him in Spirit and truth, we have to reject every false dichotomy.

For centuries, authors and pundits used the classic straw man argument to make their point. And today’s world is even more [polarized]. So it’s actually rare to read about a church being missional without figuring out the author is coming from an anti-attractional point of view. And this is true for every one of these church characteristics. It’s “too hard” for us to put the time, resources and energy into a truly holistic view of ministry. It’s so much easier to prop up one distinctive and be dismissive of another.

But here’s the thing we miss out on …

Jesus is all of these things!

He said, “Come and see.” (That’s a classic attractional model). And he said, “Go and show.” (Now there’s a classic missional model).

He valued the one and encouraged the other.

Jesus poured into the 12, but found time to teach the crowds that gathered. He focused us on the cross, but he shared a vision for his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

I love that Jesus was radically evangelistic but deeply focused on discipleship. He preached the cross and also worked tirelessly to feed the hungry and care for the marginalized. He was sensitive to seekers, and they heard him gladly; but he was rigorously biblical at the same time, fulfilling the Law and the Prophets.

And then we read in the Book of Acts and the Epistles that the apostolic churches were this same way. So it’s not only a characteristic of Jesus, it’s a model for the church.

And we can be this too. We can do it!

As I have prayed and worked with our teams to see the church working in all directions, I realized we had to adjust our ministry models to be more biblical and less divided.

FOUR SIMPLE STEPS THAT HAVE WORKED FOR OUR FAITH COMMUNITY:

1. We cast a vision.

We all know, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Prov. 29:18). In any church family, everything begins and ends with accomplishing the vision that God puts on the heart of the servant-leaders. As leaders, we want to be intentional in seeking God and communicating that vision, we want to lead the way into and through that vision and we want to help people receive and follow God’s vision.

I’m convinced that if we never communicate God’s desired future for our church family, they are still left with a vision, but it’s a poor one.

So at Crossroads, we invited people to explore a comprehensive vision for our future. First, we invited our staff, then our key volunteers and ultimately our church as a whole. And since you know that “vision leaks,” we have never stopped casting vision. Every. Single. Day. You have to answer the “why” before you can move into the “what.” So I encourage you to seek a vision for ministry in every direction with your church family.

2. We decided to reject all false dichotomies.

Every change starts with a decision. For churches, it starts when individual people become disciples of Jesus—first they have to decide to follow him and walk with him—and the same pattern holds up for ministry. Rejecting false dichotomies begins with a decision to walk and live and think differently. That sounds simplistic at first, but it’s true. We have to make new decisions, take new steps to reject every false dichotomy simply because it’s false and Jesus is the truth. When we follow Jesus, we love the truth because he is the truth. And since we live out what we love, we also set our minds to intentionally live out his truth in every area of our lives.

3. We called out the false dichotomies that we habitually embraced.

We all have habits—good ones and bad ones. When we made the decision to reject false dichotomies, we had to update the way we looked at ministry, and our ministries that we were part of, because we definitely had our own set of false dichotomies we’d been embracing for years. Like I said, change starts with a decision, followed by our own actions. It’s one thing to make the decision and another thing to confess where we fall short and what changes need to be made.

We like to call out our growing edges and make them part of our regular discussions with our staff and volunteers and church family. We’re continually looking for areas where we’re still living out a false divide. Sure, it’s way easier to not have to focus our attention in multiple directions. But God is always multi-tasking, so when he highlights multiple things at once that we need to work on, it’s our job to step into those places and make the necessary changes. And when we do that work, God unifies and aligns all of us by his Spirit so the work of ministry becomes more powerful and joyful as we embrace the whole of God’s kingdom work.

4. We progressively installed a more holistic model.

Once we made the decision to own our own ministry struggles, we had to actively install a more holistic ministry model. That looks different for every family of faith. Your ministry’s OS (operating system) needs to be designed in a way to help you fulfill the calling that Jesus has on your region and your lives.

Focus on the most glaring weakness first. For us, that looked like pushing our church family off of our campus. Crossroads is a big church with a 40+ year history, a 20+ acre campus and over 140,000 square feet of buildings. The campus is nice and safe. Many folks in our church have lived half their lives at Crossroads. We loved this. But there was one major problem: There were way more people who were outside of Christ in our community than in this amazing and large church.

So we made what was for us a bold decision: No small groups could meet on campus anymore. Boy, did that upset the apple cart. We asked small groups that had been meeting on campus for 20 years to move off campus and out into our community. As you can imagine, some people were really offended. But for the ones who took up the vision, they saw the fruit of it.

For example, one of these groups, years later after we made that controversial change, is literally discipling hundreds of young men in a transitional program for young men leaving jail and struggling with substance abuse. This same group who had been meeting together for 20 years is now an essential piece of the lives of some very vulnerable young people in our community. They come as a group to our weekend and midweek services. And each time one of these young guys responds to the gospel at Crossroads, this precious group of older men joins them, with tears of joy in their eyes—because these are their spiritual fathers, and they’re reaping the harvest of God’s vision for our church family and the local community.

So where does God want you to switch things up and reestablish a ministry (or ministries) from a holistic point of view? If you succeed in discipleship but haven’t done much evangelism, it’s a perfect time to make and execute a plan for evangelism. Not just in one area (i.e., sending a volunteer street team out to witness in local neighborhoods), but in every ministry. If you are a great attractional church with amazing programming but little to no community engagement outside of your building, create the plan and execute it. If your ministry is known for teaching the Bible, but someone who doesn’t know Jesus or hasn’t spent much time in church can’t understand the message because it’s all encoded language, make a plan to connect more effectively with the lost, while maintaining your biblical focus.

Make a plan, execute the plan and measure the results.

At our church, we love to celebrate what God’s doing, and report back on the different ways we are seeing growth in all directions of ministry. And if we aren’t seeing the growth we hope to see, we challenge ourselves to find new ways to see those areas grow.

I can promise you this, because Jesus promised it to us: When we follow his will for our lives, especially in the difficult things, we will get somewhere. I get it, believe me, it can be hard. But Jesus is real. He is the truth. And he’s worth it.

Daniel Fusco is an author, veteran church planter and the lead pastor of Crossroads Community Church in Vancouver, Washington. This article originally appeared on Thinke.org.

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