Reforming church, culture and our city

Reforming church, culture and our city

Posts Tagged ‘evangelism

Rethinking the face of the unchurched

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Stetzer in his book on Breaking The Missional Code has some useful thoughts on how we can be thinking missionally in reaching the unchurched. It’s important to realize that our culture and the landscape of our cities have changed. Thinking missionally begins when we ask, ‘What is the profile of the people we are trying to reach?

Firstly, we need to understand who are the unchurched in our city? What do they look like in our city, schools, universities and marketplace?

  • If you’re a worker in the marketplace, what is the face of the unchurched? The same holds true if you’re a student or parent.
  • What are the religious backgrounds of the unchurched around you?
  • What are the questions the unreached around you are asking?
  • How do the unreached around you understand spirituality, God, church?
  • What do unreached around you do in their spare time?

Did you know that in our city, there are 70,000 Hindu’s, 161,000 Muslims, 153,000 Buddhist, 1.2 million Roman Catholics, 600,000 who have no religion, and 428,000 who remain unstated?

Secondly, we need to understand the changing ethnic face of our city. The ethnic diversity of our city now means that there isn’t a homonogeous cultural group across our city. There is no longer one culture in our city, and every culture needs to be exegeted for the gospel. Thinking missionally means:

  1. Understanding people groups we are reaching or might want to reach i.e. the ethic composition of your locality and their movements in our city. The ABS 2006 Census information is a useful resource
  2. Understanding population segments of the people we might want to reach i.e. common experiences that binds people together in our city. E.g. second generation ABC’s, factory workers, restaurant workers, North Shore professionals, victims of crime, single mum’s with young children etc. These are the tribes in our city that we might want to reach or are already reaching through our existing churches.
  3. Understanding cultural environments of the people we might want to reach, because people are not just bound by their language and common experience, but by their geographical environment which often brings them together. E.g. apartments in Balmain housing Sydney university Mandarin students, Korean professional families living in Newington, Sri Lankan’s in Wentworthville etc.
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Written by eugenehor

August 2, 2008 at 4:19 pm

Coffee musings: God & Godlessness …

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Was sitting in a coffee shop at Rhodes on my day off reading Bernard Salt’s The Big Picture: Life, Work and Relationships In The 21st Century. This is definitely a must read for those wanting to reach our city, engage culture and plant churches. Bernard Salt, if you aren’t aware is an Australian economist who advises corporate Australia on consumer, cultural and demographic trends.

One of the things he points out is that Australia is not the god-fearing nation it once was. In the 1901 census, less than 1% of Aussie’s said that they had ‘no religion’. 100 years later that has risen to 18%. I looked up the recent 2006 census at the ABS, which points out that 3,706,550 people said that they had ‘no religion’ out of a total population of 19,855,288. That’s 18.6% of the Australian population who believe in absolutely nothing. The number could be actually be higher given that an additional 2,223,957 people state that they have no religious affiliation, and most people unthinkingly tick the census box that aligns with their childhood religious affiliations. At the very least 30% or one-third of the Australian population have no religion. Personally I believe it’s higher as the vast majority of people who call themselves ‘Christians’ don’t actually belong or go to church on any given Sunday.

Take the Anglican church as an example from the 2001 NCLS survey on church attendance. Only 177,700 (11.7%) of those calling themselves Anglicans in Australia actually attend church on a weekly basis, even though 1,341,103 people called themselves Anglican. In fact, the NCLS survey points out that weekly attendance in 2001 would be about 1,660,000 for Anglican, Catholic and Protestant churches. This equates to 8.8% of a population of 18,769,249. As I have often said, we live in a post-Christian culture.

Bernard raises the question of “what do you think happens when a society moves over 100 years from a position where almost everyone is a ‘believer’ to a position where the majority believe in nothing?” His answer is simple and honest. If the majority of people are no longer convinced of life after death, or if they no longer believe in divine accountability or judgment, they will begin to focus on the present, and live for the here and now. He says that, “the interests – and pleasures – of the individual would rise and replace the interests and well being of the broader community, which he points out has been the story of the second half of the 20th century in Australia. In other words, in our culture there has been a move towards an individualism that doesn’t just focus on the now, but is primarily concerned with our own personal pleasures and comfort, or as Bernard puts it, the flourishing of a culture of ‘high consumerism and self-gratification’.

I love the way he puts it,

“By 1987, Hollywood would deliver unto us a philosopher who encapsulated a bold new way of thinking. The messianic Gordon Gekko was a champion of, rather than an apologist for, a virginally pure and commercial form of hedonism. Gekko’s message was simple, ‘Greed is good.’ In less than a decade, Gekko would send forth four of his finest female New York disciples, to advance the noble cause of wantonness, in Sex and the City. And verily they did gather up the poor, the lonely, the downtrodden, those in desperate need of designer shoes, and offer then hope and a way forward” p.47

Hedonism he points out is the new religion in our cities which places self and lifestyle above everything else. It is living by the mantra that says, ‘if it feels good do it’. And Hedonist seek relief from their inner torment in those dens of self-gratification – our shopping malls, our luxury good stores, our “bulky goods stores, where you can hear wailing and gnashing of teeth, ‘I want that apartment and I want it fully furnished right now.’ And after they are spent, they rest.

Living in post-Christian Sydney, it’s important for us to realize as missionaries in our city, that this is our mission field.

Generation Next …

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Last last week I stumbled upon a useful report titled, “How Young People View Their Lives, Futures and Politics: A PORTRAIT OF “GENERATION NEXT”. Put out by the PEW Research Center for People and the Press last year in the US, I think it’s a must read not just for those of us in Youth ministry, but those of us who pastor churches if we are to be missional in reaching people. While the survey was done in the US, it would be fair to say that youth culture in Sydney is not far behind. Living in post-Christian Sydney (where 4 in every 100 people are Bible believing Christians), unless we understand the tribes we are trying to reach for Jesus, we will not speak their language or or engage them in culturally relevant ways.

Here are some of the report’s finding’s of this particular tribe … ‘Generation Next’. You can download the detailed report by clicking on the link above.

Generation Next is made up of 18-25 year-olds (born between 1981 and 1988).

  • They use technology and the internet to connect with people in new and distinctive ways. Text messaging, instant messaging and email keep them in constant contact with friends. About half say they sent or received a text message over the phone in the past day, approximately double the proportion of those ages 26-40.
  • They are the “Look at Me” generation. Social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and MyYearbook allow individuals to post a personal profile complete with photos and descriptions of interests and hobbies. A majority of Gen Nexters have used one of these social networking sites, and more than four-in-ten have created a personal profile.
  • Their embrace of new technology has made them uniquely aware of its advantages and disadvantages. They are more likely than older adults to say these cyber-tools make it easier for them to make new friends and help them to stay close to old friends and family. But more than eight-in-ten also acknowledge that these tools “make people lazier.
  • They maintain close contact with parents and family. Roughly eight-in-ten say they talked to their parents in the past day. Nearly three-in-four see their parents at least once a week, and half say they see their parents daily. One reason: money. About three-quarters of Gen Nexters say their parents have helped them financially in the past year.
  • One-in-five members of Generation Next say they have no religious affiliation or are atheist or agnostic, nearly double the proportion of young people who said that in the late 1980s. And just 4% of Gen Nexters say people in their generation view becoming more spiritual as their most important goal in life
  • Asked about the life goals of those in their age group, most Gen Nexters say their generation’s top goals are fortune and fame. Roughly eight-in-ten say people in their generation think getting rich is either the most important, or second most important, goal in their lives. About half say that becoming famous also is valued highly by fellow Gen Nexters.

Written by eugenehor

July 28, 2008 at 3:59 am

I was encouraged at RICEvolution!

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I was encouraged seeing the face of the next generation of ABC (Australian Born Chinese) Christians at RICEvolution on Saturday. The challenge was for them to start a seeing the great need for Jesus in their high schools, and to see themselves as missionaries for Jesus reaching those they school with.

In my preparations to speak to this group of young and enthusiastic group of high schoolers from Chinese churches across our city I discovered looking through the ABS on ‘schools’, that there are 491,000 young people in our High Schools in NSW (just over 3,100 schools). Given that only 96% of the population are unreached, it would be fair to say the same for those in our high schools. That would mean 471,000 young people in our high schools are lost to Jesus. To put this in perspective, on average only 4 out of every 100 young people in our high schools school are Bible believing, Jesus love Christians. We need to encourage the planting of missional kingdom communities for Jesus in our high schools led by Bible believing, Jesus loving high school students! I believe these young people are the generation who can and will radically transform our high schools and city for Jesus!

Pray for those who came to RICEvolution, that from this group will come great things for Jesus in our city and schools. More than anything else pray that from this group will come young people who will give their very lives to serving Jesus and his mission.

What Will It Mean For Us To Grow The Gospel In Our City?

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Just this week our cell group leaders and I spent some time looking at a strategy for ministry in the New Testament raising the question, “what will it mean for us to grow the gospel of Jesus in our city?” Presently there are 4,100,000 in our city, out of which 3,850,000 are unreached. We live in a city where 96% of people are unreached. To put that in perspective, only 3 in every 100 people in our city are Bible believing Christians. On any given Sunday, less than 15,000 Chinese are at church. Currently there are just over 292,000 Chinese in our city, out of which 277,000 are unreached. We live in a city where 95% of Chinese are unreached. To put that in perspective, only 5 in every 100 Chinese people in our city are Bible believing Christians. The reality that we need to realize as a church is that we live in a secular city that desperately needs more mission minded Christians and churches planted.

In fact, when you turn to the New Testatment you discover that part of the strategy for reaching people in the cities was church multiplication. As you read Acts 14:21-28, you discover that church planting was part of the dna of the early church. It was part of the normal practice and life of the church. Wherever Paul went, he evangelised, he discipled and he started churches. Often, he was sent by other churches to do just that (Acts 13:1-3) The tendency for churches today is to focus on preaching, teaching, evangelism, discipleship, prayer, and to see church planting as the optional extra that we pursue when we run out of space. Tim Keller in his article on church multiplication points out that you see in Paul a strategy of Christian formation and Church formation wherever he went.

You discover as you look at Paul’s ministry in this passage that wherever he went he engaged in evangelism, where he ‘preached’ the gospel to that city (v.21). He doesn’t use the word ‘kerusso’ – preach, but the world ‘evangelizdomenoi’ i.e he ‘gospeled’ the city. Paul ‘gospelled’ the gospel to that city, which was more than just preaching sermons. He goes out and takes the gospel to people. The movement is always to take the gospel out to people where they are at. When you look at Acts you often see Paul gospelling in many different settings: in synagogues (Acts 17:1-2), in small groups (Acts 20:7ff; 16:32), in the market-places (Acts 17:17), in rented halls (Acts 19:9), or even just talking to people one on one (Acts 20:20-21). He saw himself as a missionary and wherever he went that was his mission field. You also discover that wherever he went he also instructed, where he ‘strengthened and encouraged’ new believers in the faith (v.21b-22). He taught them and grounded them in the Christian faith i.e. he spent time discipling them. It’s interesting to note that what Paul does here is consistent with Jesus’ great commission in Matthew 28:18-20.

Having done this you see that whenever believers are gospeled and instructed in these cities, you also find that they are gathered together (Acts 14:27; 15:30) to be the church. You effectively see the formation of new churches wherever evangelism and instruction takes place. You also see leaders picked and set apart to lead those churches (v.23). Paul we are told appoints elders to lead who take on the role of teaching and shepherding that particular group of gathered people. He didn’t start a denomination, but instead empowered them for ministry and mission, and committed them to Jesus. They had their own leadership, and were responsible for their own ministry. When Paul started with them they were “disciples” (v.22), but when he left them, they were “churches” (v.23).

This was the consistent pattern of ministry that you discover in the New Testament. We go out to gospel the unreached in our city wherever God sends us and wherever they are: in the café, in the shopping malls, in our workplaces, in our universities, at the hairdresser, at home. You and I are missionaries in this city. And when people come to know Jesus, we are to spend time discipling them, grounding them in the Christian faith teaching them to follow and trust the words and work of Jesus. And where we see people saved across our city, we are to gather them to be the church, whether in new small groups where they live, whether in new Sunday worship services we plant, or whether in existing churches around them.

A Time To Chart New Maps In Our City

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Not only are there two ways to live in life – as a church, there are also always two ways to do ministry in our city. We’re either investing our lives in building the ministry of the gospel in our city or we’re happy being comfortable and safe where we’re building up our own little patch in the city of Sydney. It’s always worth asking … what are you building – who are you following?

grassIf your focus in the Christian life or even as a church is on your little patch in life (and honestly that’s all it is … a little patch of grass), and some have larger patches than others in nicer suburbs, the reality is that its still only a patch of grass in God’s scheme. This is the reality as Peter puts it, “All men are like grass, and all their glory (their work) is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” And then we read that, “this is the word that was preached to you – this is the word that saved you“. (1 Peter 1:24-25)

crossThere’s nothing you build in this city that’ll last – grass grows and fades and withers, but it’s only the Word of God, the Word of the Gospel that saves, that’ll stands forever in our city. I want to make sure that we keep investing and building in what will last beyond our lifetime in this city. Personally, and as a church, what matters is growing the Word of the Gospel in our city. In fact, we’re believers today in the city of Sydney, because the apostles first preached the gospel in Jerusalem 2000 years ago.

In fact, the book of Acts is really a testimony to the living, enduring and growing Word of the Gospel. You read in Acts 1:8 where Jesus says to his apostles, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And today the Word of God is still going out to the ends of the earth in the lives of men and women who have received the gospel. Nations rise and fall, empires come and go, buildings are built and demolished, but the Word of the Gospel will always stand. In fact the growth of the gospel has never depended on the size of a church congregation or its facilities. The pattern you see in Acts is one where as the gospel is preached and received, there you see churches planted in those communities. Some churches meeting in homes, others in public lecture halls, still others in the outdoors.

crossesWhat are we building and growing in our city? My vision has always been to grow a church not bound by walls, by tradition, by fear, by comfort, but a church with a vision to raise the next generation and to plant Bible believing, Jesus loving, Spirit empowered, gospel proclaiming, mission minded churches across the city of Sydney. In 2005 I cast that vision of sailing the deep waters which led to us starting GracePoint at Auburn. That was part of the start of a vision to plant churches across the city of Sydney: to be a church without walls, looking to plant 7 new churches in 13 years. It’s a vision I’m still committed to.

NCDBetween 1994 and 1996, the Institute for Church Development in Germany conducted a research project surveying 1000 churches in 32 countries (published by Charles Schwarz in Natural Church Development.) Churches were categorized into sets of 1-100, 100-200, 200-300 etc. They found that churches in the 1-100 category increased an average of 32 new people over the past 5 years; churches in the 100-200 category also increased an average of 32 new people; churches in the 200-300 category averaged 39 new people; and churches in the 300-400 category increased an average of 25 people (C. Schwarz, Natural Church Development. p.47.) And that means ‘a small church wins just as many people for Christ as a large one, and what’s more, two churches with 200 worshippers on Sundays would win twice as many new people as one church with 400 in attendance.‘ (Schwarz, p.47)

What about churches with more than 1000 people? They found that the smallest churches (with an average attendance of 51) won an average of 32 new people in the past five years, while mega-churches (with an average attendance of 2,856) won 112 new persons over the same 5 years.

In raw numbers it means that a mega-church wins more people than a single small church. But, if you keep in mind that a mega-church is 56 times the size of a small church, then the following calculations shows you the potential of the two groups more realistically. ‘If instead of a single church with 2,856 people worshipping we had 56 churches, each with 51 worshippers, these churches would, statistically, win 1,792 new people within five years – 16 times the number the mega-church would win.‘ (Schwarz, p.48)

matchThe effectiveness of small churches in terms of growth is statistically, 1,600 percent greater than that of mega-churches. The myth is that big is better. What we need are more Bible believing, Jesus loving, Spirit empowered, gospel proclaiming, mission minded churches planted across our city. Research also found that statistically more people are mobilized to use their gifts to serve in a smaller church than in a larger churches. If you look at our growth at GracePoint we fall into the small church category. When we started with our first congregation between 2000 and 2003 we grew from an average of 45 to 95 people attending our service (a growth of 50 new people in our service through evangelistic and transfer growth).

I believe we grow the ministry of the gospel best in our city by planting new churches or congregations. As each church plant grows and develops, we begin to plant new churches in different suburbs, which in turn eventually plants new churches themselves. And apart from achieving a much more effective rate of growth evangelistically reaching people groups across the city of Sydney, a smaller group allows for much greater involvement of people in terms of using their gifts in serving, less red-tape and structures to worry about, a much greater ability to maintain focus, and a much more personal church.

We can actually reach people across Sydney more effectively by planting new churches. You plant the first one, and then in 4-5 years time when you have a stable and strong congregation, you plant another new church in a different suburb, one out of our evening congregation, and one out of our morning congregation. If we did this, potentially by 2013 we could have 400 people spread across 4 churches or congregations, with all 4 churches ready to plant another 4 new churches.

cplantPersonally I believe it’s time to sail the deep waters again, to chart out new maps as a church in our city. We musn’t be bound by walls, by tradition, by fear, by comfort. We’re called to love Jesus and his mission, and people in our city. We’re called to be a church with a vision to raise the next generation and to plant Bible believing, Jesus loving, Spirit empowered, gospel proclaiming, mission minded churches across the city of Sydney.