The Next-Wave Ezine: Issue #94

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Are the Popular Methods of Doing Church Working?
Whether we go to traditional church or not, we all agree that the Gospel is intended to bring life transformation. The question I wish to address is whether the current popular methods of doing church are working. Here is my thesis:

The church growth method of serving up spectacular church services with great professional music and slick lean sermons has only served to produce spectator Christians whose only understanding of mission is to bring people to the spectacle.

Though no one puts it so bluntly, this method of professionalism is what most every church in America is trying to do. We try to draw people to church by having a well crafted church service. It is the craft of the service that is to create an inspirational moment for the observer and bring them back next week. There are endless reasons why this approach to church is just plain wrong. I simply ask pastors to consider, if we are nervous about whether we will preach a good sermon on Sunday morning, then we got it all wrong. If we focus on improving the “flow” of the service, then we are dead wrong. This approach produces all the wrong results no matter how big our churches are. Such practices produce many shallow results. The one fruit I wish to focus on is that this method produces spectator Christian.

Neil Cole, in his book Organic Church, questions whether in our zeal to increase our attendance we have not somehow lost the plot of the Kingdom of God.

To illustrate the need for drastic change and the ineffective results of doing church in the ways that are popular today, Cole tells a story about a missionary family that comes home to the US on furlough. They have been doing church in a more simple way and their younger children have only seen simple church. One child as he sits in the US church and observes the lights and the sound check and the rehearsals turns to his mothers and says, “Mom, are we going to see a show?”. Cole ends the story by saying, “we are often unable to see how strange our customs really are”. This current method of putting on a show for the congregation is a new and I contend ineffective, counter-productive method. Think what would happen if a pastor just kinda let the whole show stink one week and went over his allotted hour and ten minutes? Oh…God forbid!!! May it never be…What a ghastly thought!!!

My Recent Experience
I went to a Sunday AM church this last Sunday and I was left with some pressing questions. The pastor preached an absolutely wonderful and insightful message on taking risks for the mission of the Kingdom. He preached from the parable of the talents and really nailed the main point. But when he got to application, I couldn’t help but ask myself whether anyone would actually apply the teaching. We hear stories of missionaries, but the stories of lay people building ministries are really quite rare. Is it possible that the traditional church structure isn’t condusive to people having a worldview which includes them initiating and building ministries at the home and street level for evangelism and discipleship.

I am a seminary trained pastor with a strong history of evangelistic successes and teaching gifts and yet there is really nothing for me to do in the traditional church as a member other than to pray and tithe. Is it possible to mobilize the church using the “listen to the teacher” method of doing church? Is the essence of ministry bringing people to Sunday services to hear pulpit teaching and yet this is the majority of church attendees understanding of how evangelism and discipleship works. But does it work? Is it working?

I looked in the bulletin and could not find any meaningful way for me to expand the kingdom through the power of the Holy Spirit. I could become a security guard at an event. I could join a small group to learn more about the bible. I could go to prayer meetings to pray that people would come to the church to hear the gospel. But what could I do to be actually be mobilized for mission. Nothing. This is a real problem. The story of the church needs to teach us differently. The home needs to be seen as the church and what we now thing of as church should really be used as the training center for disciple-makers. To do actually mobilize the masses of Christians, we have to change the story of what it means to do church. The home must become the church.

I am in favor of pulpit preaching and I am all for the sermon. I am a pulpit preacher. Pulpit preaching is my gift. But I have a problem with the church structure as it is lived out today. As leaders, we need to consider that it is possible that because of the current spectator spiritainment paradigm that the church is caught in something needs to change. I contend that the current method cannot work to actually extend the kingdom. All around the country pastors are preaching wonderful sermons but people are not finding discipleship and they are not being mobilized for mission. Overall, we are losing the discipleship of our nation and all I can say is not on my watch. If the current methods aren’t working and if the current methods of spectacular services are only serving to produce spectator Christians, then some changes need to be made. .

1. We must help every one know and every family understand that we are all missionaries!!!

a. As a family, we constantly remind our children that we are a missionary family. We as a family ask ourselves, “What would a missionary family do?”. One family in our small group asked that question and realized they needed to take their kids out of the Christian private school and enroll them in the public school. They need to meet the neighbors and the best way to accomplish this is through the public school. This is risk taking and this is change. If we are all to be mobilized the home must be the place where the mission takes place. To take risks and mobilize the masses of church, every one must see their family as a missionary family and every home as the place where evangelism and discipleship takes place. The centralized church building is where we share stories to encourage one another about the kingdom advancing in our neighbor hoods.

2. The small group in the home must become the primary definition of doing church, and the weekly celebration needs to become a support of the small church, home based discipleship and evangelism ministries. .

a. How many people in your church attend small groups every week. This is the actual size of the congregation. People who attend only on Sunday are not doing church. When we are baptized and enter a new family in Christ, this new socialization process will happen from house to house. It cannot and does not happen through one hour on Sunday. If the Southern Baptists defined church membership as the number of people in weekly small groups, what percentage of the church roles would be actual members. This turns the whole paradigm on its head. Is it possible that the actual size of the church is maybe 5% of the figures that we hear from the denominations?

b. If we seek to make discipleship relationships, we must make these relationships in the home. The home is where we spend time with our close friends. Any thing short of this level of relationship is not going to expand the kingdom.

c. Relationship with disciples in their homes will result in a high percentage of conversions to Christ. They may never step foot in the Sunday celebration but I would contend that these relationships are more likely to produce conversion and kingdom discipleship than trying to invite people to the Sunday Morning Show.

If the definition of how we do church changes to say we are all missionaries and we are doing mission in the home, I would bet that the actual mobilization of the congregation to apply the teachings of Jesus would follow much more “organically”.

Brad Hightower...
"I was raised in Los Angeles. Did real good in school. I graduated from Stanford University in Anthropology. I taught science for a while. Then I went into lab work in industry which led to whatever it is I do now (it's like consulting but different). I have six kids and one wife."



Hey Brad,

Great article! I hate the idea of a church as a "show" that just focuses on drawing a crowd rather than helping people to belong in healthy relationships with God and others. I totally agree with you that the REAL church happens in small group relationships in homes.

However, I do believe that in some contexts, a relevant and meaningful worship service designed for poeple that are disconnected from Christ can by a great tool to help people take the next step of experiencing community and spiritual growth in a home. I see it work beautifully all the time, but will only work when the motive is to move people into community rather than having a bigger better "show."


Doing church in the home, wow, a little scary. Because I think it demands transparency. Getting real with one another and with the Lord Jesus. This will cause all of us to grow up into Him who is our Head. Every member, every joint in this Body giving and recieving the Life of God in Christ. We need this Open Heaven if you will, in our midst. Thank You Brad for your sharing. William, Glendora, Ca

As a lay person, is it really about lay persons creating ministry and/or just doing discipleship in the workplace?

Is my secular work holy? Or does it have to be minitry to be holy?

Is the farmer who grows food doing holy work? Is the business person who creates job so that a man can purchase food doing holy work?

I like much of what say. But what place does Genesis 1:28 where the Father charges "them" to "...multiple, fill, subdue and rule." This is the ORIGINAL COMMISSION (cultural mandate) and it is complemented by the GREAT COMMISSION to "disciple the NATIONS..." Clearly the unit to disciple is individuals but when I read the OT, I see a lot of nation building going on. Could it be that discipling can also mean:

1. Disciple individuals: change mind and behavior. 2. Disicple institutions: alter values, policies and practices. 3. Disicple a nation/community: create new institutions that reflect appropriate values, policies, practices and sturctures because the old institution no longer work.

I think historically when Christianity transformed the Roman World and later Western Europe, that some people functioned at all three levels not just discipling individuals.

But we do not showcase the professionals who are transforming the culture nor do we get any support from the church as professionals in how to do this at a practical level.

See Please read and comment on a short six page draft document. I would appreciate comments from your readers as well.


Your insights came just when I needed them. Some of our staff and Council members have had several meetings over the last couple of months focusing on just what you say that we don't need to do. In my heart and gut, I knew that we were merely talking "cosmetics," so to speak, rather than living out our faith in the community where people are and live. Tinkering with worship isn't going to do it. Of course, we have a couple of "mega churches" close by that resemble the one that the missionaries in your article attended. So many want to replicate what happens there--and it is good in the ways that you described. But are lives being transformed there, here, or anywhere? That's what Jesus wants to do for us.

We are United Methodists, and who better than John Wesley knew the value of the small groups that you mention, as well as the value of teaching all to be missionaries and serve Jesus.

Thanks again, and God bless you!

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Next-Wave Ezine - Issue #94
Issue Credits
Cover Story

Suggestions for Critics of the Emerging Church
Featured Article: At the Top
Oh, Spencer
Featured Article: Spotlight
Brand Name Jesusâ„¢
Church Culture
Are the Popular Methods of Doing Church Working?
What’s a Faithmap?
Imagination and God’s Future
Kingdom Living
Paying to Follow Christ
Real Life
Church Life
Equal Time on Video Venues
Off Broadway
I went fishing the other day and do I have a fishing story...
Eckhart 11
Adventures in Emerging
The question of the hour...