Apparently there’s an important dialogue going on across blogs (in the blogosphere, as some say) about the respective merits of missional churches and attractional (or seeker-sensitive) churches. Here’s a phenomenal quote with a stunning reversal:
To apply statistical analysis to the effectiveness of missional [churches] at this point is about as silly as judging the effectiveness of Jesus ministry at the time of his resurrection. (How many were gathered in the Upper Room?)
“Ah but Bill! Look how quickly the church grew after Pentecost.”
“Ah but Friend! Look how soon the Spirit scattered that church to the corners of the earth. And remember that it wasn’t until Constantine that anything remotely representing a megachurch came into existence. Oh. Sorry. Yes. The Coliseum does resemble some megachurches. Thanks, Joel [Osteen]. And Christians did provide much of the entertainment, now didn’t they.”
Just because churches are entertaining the masses doesn’t mean they are doing anything remotely similar to discipleship. See the full article, which deserves reading, here. It’s worth reading the initial linked post as well.
Ethicist Oliver O’Donovan offers this interesting perspective on the dynamism of church structures:
The catholic identity of the church derives from the progress of the Spirit’s own mission. It is therefore always larger than its ordered structures, taking its shape from the new ground that the Spirit is possessing. It remains for the church’s structures to catch up with this mission, to discern what the Spirit has done, and to construct such ordered links of community as will safeguard brotherly love. Informal Christian phenomena are found all around the margins of the structured church, and to deplore the untidiness of the these is simply to betray an ignorance of what that rock is upon which the church is founded. (The Desire of the Nations, 169-170)
I might want to ask the further question, however, about what role the Spirit might play in reclaiming dead centers of the church—and how this might unsettle church structures.
Karl Barth, in turning to the subject of the Church, makes sure we understand that we must see it as it is, in all the ugliness and deformity which comes with its historical existence. Yet, there is a “hope and a yearning”:
The credo ecclesiam [I believe in the Church : Apostle’s Creed] can and necessarily will involve much distinguishing and questioning, much concern and shame. It can and necessarily will be a very critical credo. In relation to the side of the Church which is generally visible it can and necessarily will express what does not amount to much more than a hope and a yearning. But it does take the Church quite seriously in its common visibility—which is its earthly and historical existence. It confesses faith in the invisible aspect which is the secret of the visible. Believing in the ecclesia invisibilis [invisible Church] we will enter the sphere of labour and conflict with the ecclesia visibilis [visible Church]. Without doing this, without a discriminate but serious participation in the historical life of the community, its activity, its upbuilding, its mission, in a kind of purely theoretical and abstract churchliness, no one has ever seriously repeated the credo ecclesiam. (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/1, 654)