The State of the Nation
From the perspective of the gospel, our population can be thought of as three groups.
The hard core of serious Christians is probably about 5 percent of the population.
Serious Christians have the following characteristics.
They are serious about serving God
They attend church regularly.
Their numbers are shrinking rapidly
This group is aging rapidly.
The future of the church depends on this group.
The second group have a Christian memory, but do not participate in the church. They might be a twenty percent of the population.
The Christian memory group have the following characteristics.
They may have gone to church or sunday school when they were young.
Their mothers were active in the church.
Their fathers went occasionally
The know that they were anglicans.
They can sing How Great Thou Art at a funeral
They do not think about it much, but sort of believe there is a in God
When things go wrong they pray,
They do not know how to pray, so it is usually a desperate cry for help.
When things go well they believe someone was watching out for them.
They love spam messages about miracles and prayer.
They forward on emails about angels.
This group is getting older and is probably shrinking.
Perhaps they should be called the Church Memory group, because many have a quite distorted understanding of Jesus and the gospel.
The third group belongs in the modern world. In parts of America this group is getting up toward 60 percent of the population. In New Zealand, they could be 80 percent.
The Modern World Group has the following characteristics.
This group never goes to church, except for funerals and weddings, and they feel about as comfortable as a Christian would feel in a mosque or masonic lodge.
They do not call themselves atheists, because they do not define themselves in terms of an attitude to God.
The possibility of a Christian God just never occurs to them. The idea is simply not on the radar.
They never think about God, even in a crisis.
They never pray, except to say "Oh God!"
When things go wrong, they go to the doctor or the gym.
They hate religion, because they believe that it causes most of the problems in the world. Like John Lennon, they would love a world with no religion.
These people know a few Christians at work or at the gym, but they do not particularly like them. Christians seem a bit odd. They tolerate Christians, but they would not see them as role models or want them as friends.
This group is quite spiritual, but they live in a complex spiritual world with a whole bunch of spiritual ideas and realities all mixed up together.
Modern church strategies are effective within the Christian Memory group. They are successful within a small sphere of influence.
They church has developed good techniques for drawing people from within its cultural orbit. All efforts are focused on getting people with a Christian memory to become Serious Christians.
Church grow strategies are based on study of this group.
The first Billy Graham crusades in 1958 had a huge impact.
The Charismatic renewal really touched this group.
Seeker-friendly services are still effective with them.
These strategies are centred on church meetings. If we can get a person with a Christian Memory to come to a meeting, the professionals can swing them into serious faith.
This is an attractional model. Our task it to get people from the Christian Memory into church meetings of some kind.
Attractional strategies have been effective with people within this a narrow cultural orbit.
House Churches might just be the last legs of the attactional strategy. Attracting people to a church is getting really difficult. Attracting people who are losing their Christian Memory into a home is easier than attracting them to a church building. They might be more comfortable sitting in a lounge of a friend's home sipping coffee in front of a warm fire.
The House Church model still focuses on getting people to attend meeting. Hopefully they are better meetings, where the Holy Spirit is freer to move.
When a person from the Modern World is reached by the gospel, they have to be socialised into life within our cultural orbit. The new believer is expected to change to be like us. A new language has to be learnt. They have to learn to be comfortable in our church meetings. They have to learn a new way of thinking.
House Churches can make this social, cultural and philosophical transformation easier.
Shrinking Cultural Influence
The numbers within our cultural orbit are getting older and less like to change. Their numbers are shrinking rapidly. Young people are leaking across the boundaries in a huge flood.
The culture shifters in our society belong in the Modern World, so they have momentum on their side.
If they get their model wrong, house churches might be limited to rescuing people that are falling out of the church.
Many of the people who join house churches are in danger of falling out of the church, because they are hurt. They were Serious Christians once, but bad experiences have deadened their passion. They are slipping out into Christian Memory. House Churches are a powerful tool for rescuing these people, but it is hard work. Many have been burned by over-zealous authority, so they are hard to get close to. Most carry unfinished baggage, so few will become world changers.
Many Christians are seeking a revival. Traditional revivals occurred among people with a Christian Memory. They were stirred by passionate preaching and revival meetings. Even if revival occurred in New Zealand, it would hardly be noticed, because it would only touch the lives of people within the shrinking twenty percent who have a Christian Memory. The rest of society would not be touched. Revival is a false hope for New Zealand.
Serious Strategic Problem
Modern church strategies do not touch the modern world of the Eighty Percent.
House Church have not done much better. This is a serious challenge.
Here is the Big Question.
How do we get over this barrier?
More of the same will not get the job done.
We need a Future Church model that can jump over the barrier and reach the Modern World.
Our strategy should have three important elements.
1. Place of Safety
The darkness is squeezing out the light in our society.
Christians are currently a small minority in our society. Currently, we are tolerated, but when evil grows in confidence, this might change. If the world becomes hostile, standing alone will be dangerous. Christians are currently spread thinly throughout society. That was fine when were a strong influence in society, but is risky for a small minority. Isolated people are easily crushed.
We need a house church model that can provide safety in a time of darkness.
2. Rescue Vehicle
As darkness spreads, pain and sorrow will expand in the world.
Many people in the world will need to be rescued. This will be a huge opportunity for the church, but only if we are ready.
We need a house church model that is capable of rescuing people who are crushed in the world.
3. Kingdom of God
The Holy Spirit will not be defeated. He will eventually push back the darkness and build the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom of God is not national.
The Kingdom of God is not the church
The Kingdom of God is not political.
The Holy Spirit will give the Kingdom of God to restored local communities.
We need a house church model that can receive the Kingdom of God. We need a house church model that the Holy Spirit can use to bring the Kingdom of God into neighbourhoods and local communities.