Narrow Churches in a Fragmented World

This is a continuation of the previous post and a conversation with HX reader Larry B here. Normally I would be done.  But there's more to talk about here.

While we knock on Saddleback for creating a gated church community...many of our churches are gated communities in practice if not in name.  We often want only particular types of people to come.  That's a basic human tendency and is shared by every church, not just Saddleback.

But it's worse than that.  Even if we say we are open to many, our models of evangelism betray that we only want to focus on particular groups.

This gated church community snafu is an unintentional outcome of the intentional evangelism model of Saddleback Church.

  • It is well known that Saddleback bases their outreach on "Saddleback Sam" who is a caricature of the type of mid 30s angsty males who are under-served by the church.  
  • By focusing their evangelism on these men, then they will bring their entire families with them.  
It works.  It is effective.  And niche congregations are growing like wildfire.  But it can lead to blind spots that causes entire churches to cease valuing the Church universal like in this instance.

Evangelism today is showing/telling the Good News in a world more and more characterized by niche churches that serve minimal slices of society.
  • Churches like Saddleback and other Wal-Mart Churches grow at least partially because niche marketing and fellowship are effective, the message can be relevant because it is speaking to a monoculture [the Echo Chamber].  
  • But what we end up with is dozens of monocultures who cease to interact and fracture society even more so that entire sections of society slip through the cracks.  

What does the Good News look like to a fragmented world?  And can it really be the Good News of reconciliation and leaving the 99 to find the 1 that Christ calls us to be?  We may set up damn effective ministries and programs that grow and bring more souls to Christ for those 99...but where's the 1 that Christ calls us to serve?

A troubling thought for Holy Monday.  Thoughts?

[Lead Image by Cody Jensen


Larry B,  April 8, 2009 at 7:32 AM  

I would tend to fall more middle of the road here. I don't understand the parable of leaving the 99 to find the 1 to mean that one closes up shop on the other 99 and starts over with just the 1. I tend to take the view that there is some merit to even having a flock to start with.

The older brother plays a role in the prodigal son, and even though he gets indignant, he still received confirmation from the father that he too was included in the fathers family all along.

It's funny to me that we view churhes like saddleback as a "megachurch" and criticize them as such, but we excuse our particular methodist church from that because our campuses are smaller. Yet on the whole the we as the methodist church have more people, more money, publish more books, build more buildings, lobby more politicians etc. etc. than saddleback will ever be able to do. And as you point out, we build our own fences.

So to stop rambling and get to your real question as to where's the 1? I think the methodist church does sometimes get to the 1, but that 1 is different everywhere. You run in to the same problem as your earlier post - which is who gets to define the "niche"? It changes depending on time and location. Who knows, if I assume pure motives with regards to saddleback, it seems to me that people in gated communities could be just as much lost as anyone. You can't go in and serve that population by insisting that they tear down the gates before you'll go in, but they might be that "niche 1" that needs to be served.

I personally think that an underserved niche in our communities today is smokers. I personally don't smoke, but I don't see a church in our community where there is an ashtray outside welcoming people who smoke to quell their cravings while they are on campus. There's quite a few people who still smoke in our community and they don't go to church. So should a church create a niche ministry for smokers? Seems like it, but ultimately how do you decide such things. I'm not sure.

Just some thoughts.

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