Takeaway: If we want to reach people further away from the church, we need to change our methods. At the very least we need to be around people far away from Christ.
A friend of mine suggested this book. His missions agency President has been influenced by the book and he wanted my feedback about the book.
In many ways these ideas have been bouncing around for at least the past decade. Neil Cole‘s Organic Church (my review) treads some similar ground. Essentially, the authors are suggesting that the church is broken, or at least ill equipped as it is currently designed for reaching people that do not already have a relationship with the church. The authors are not against current churches, in fact they think that current churches, especially the mega-churches really are doing a good job of reaching out to people that already have a relationship with the church. (My church, a mega church, has people do a video before their baptism. The videos and the baptisms keep the mission of reaching people front and center. But most of the video begin with a variation of “I grew up in a loving Christian home, but…”).
The strength of Tangible Kingdom is the second half of the book. In the second half, the authors relate their own story of reaching out to people by living life with them. The key is that the authors fee they should not push people into short term decisions, but give them time to “sojourn” with them as they explore Christianity (and really more importantly, the people that claim Christianity.) One story had a non-Christian woman leading a children’s ministry. But the author sat with her weekly, went over the lesson, made sure she understood it and allowed her to teach it to the kids. She got the message she was teaching the kids and became a Christian.
The way that we have time to live our lives with non-Christians is to be intentional about our third place. Many Christians make their third place (the places they are most likely to spend time when not at home or work) the church. When we make church our third place, our relationships primarily become with other church people. The authors suggest that we should focus on spending time with people and allow our life to speak to other people’s needs. They suggest this was Jesus’s method, “You’ll notice the majority of the stories happen in unplanned, interrupted moments. Most of Jesus’ teaching was done “along the way” or “as they were going.” What this means for us is that we must develop rhythms of sharing life so that these powerful moments can happen. If we only see ministry happening in our programmed world, according to our DayTimer, or in our church buildings, we’ll continue to miss out.”
Overall I thought this was a good contribution to the growing literature about reaching those that have no prior relationship with the church. I thought some of the sociological descriptions at the beginning of the book were fairly weak. Many others have done a better job trying to illustrate the differences between modern and post modern thinking. But because this has been done so well by so many others, I don’t think it is a huge weakness because most people reading the book will have read others descriptions previously.
Back to the missions strategy, I do think that some variation of this strategy will have to be the future of the church both in the US and abroad. (Although primarily done by nationals, not by missionaries. I think missionaries will become more about training and mobilizing.) Our traditional strategy of getting people into a church building to hear a presentation of the gospel in a large group setting is not going to work. That being said, I think it will be a long transition and there is still lots of room for innovative traditional churches and innovative organic/missional/whatever term you want to use churches.