The Need for Creative Experimentation in All Congregations

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Brian Sanders, leader of the Underground church movement, provides a simple yet profound analysis of post World War II church history (paraphrased here): 

After World War II, the reality of scarcity birthed the producer / builder economy, and churches found their place in this model. Denominations became strong, and church programming took off, declaring “Build it and they will come.” This eventually led to over-building, and the consumer economy took over, based not on human need but human want. We witnessed the rise of the mega church, the hiring of youth directors, worship pastors, and other specialists. The financial crisis of 2008 was precipitated by the emptiness of consumerism, and in its place came the creator economy, led by Airbnb, Uber, and freelance contract employment replacing long term hiring. Today, Sanders concludes, the church in general is still living in the builder / consumer paradigm, but our society has moved on.

How does the church flourish in the context of a creator economy? It engages in creative experimentation, listening to the Holy Spirit’s leading while launching trial and error initiatives. In other words, it re-calibrates its DNA to be in tune with the church we meet in the book of Acts. This creates a difficult tension: the builder church thrives on excellence, getting it right the first time.

The creator church thrives on risk: taking an experimental step, listening to the Spirit to discern what fits with the Spirit’s leading and what does not, and then taking the next step. In the creator economy, every church is a church plant, and the phrase “established church” becomes an oxymoron. The builder church aspired to the priesthood of all believers, the consumer church provided a specialized ministry to meet every need, the creator church declares the prophethood of all believers. 

COVID has accelerated this shift to the creator church. We who serve congregations on behalf of the CRC are now being called to serve as experiment-coaches, building capacity for labs within which the Holy Spirit can thrive. What creator church stories have you heard? How can we as experiment-coaches, encourage experimentation within the churches we work with?

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Contributor

Syd, thanks for this thoughtful blog post. I believe, along with you, that we are stepping into a new space of being  creator churches. One of the critical pieces of this is, as you say, being Spirit led. The road before us is to help leaders in the church to learn this new way. Many of our churches (councils, consistories, committees) work in the world where business models predominate and that shapes how we see and understand decision making. Our councils, consistories, and committees need to take a new path into being communities of spiritual leaders. This type of calling is about elders who are people of the book, deacons who lead us in Micah 6:8 (see diaconal remix from 2015), and committees the come together to listen to the voice of their communities, the voice of Bible and the call of the Spirit. 

To truly create the new day that you lay before us, we need to create a new way of leading in our congregations.

Community Builder

So glad these conversations are happening!

You had asked for creator stories.

One excellent example from within the CRC was discovered by Jodi Koeman, World Renew Church with Community Coordinator, when she was connecting with churches to find best practices around diaconal responses to COVID.

From Mosaic Church in Bellingham, WA. “Our communities are both very active on a communal level and an individual level. Part of our initial heart was not to centralize everything within the ‘church’, but rather to engage with organizations that already exist and are doing great work. Part of the motivation for this is our understanding that many people in our cities do not trust the ‘church’ and therefore, want nothing to do with their message. Rebuilding that trust means that we go and serve, trusting that as our light shines, they will see our work and glorify our Father in heaven. As a result of this mindset, our people are already serving all over the place,” said senior pastor Matt Atkins.

Just a note about the “experimentation” language - we need to be careful in how we view and approach those who are from different backgrounds. In Death and Resurrection of an Urban Church, Rev. Mike Mather says, ““The church, and me in particular, has done a lot of work where we have treated the people around us as if, at worst, they are a different species and, at best, as if they are people to be pitied and helped by us.”

 

World Renew-US and Diaconal Ministries Canada are available to help churches with diaconal and community transformation.