Here’s the first of a two-part guest post by Jon Putt reviewing Mark Mittelberg’s Becoming a Contagious Church:
Mittelberg outlines his vision in chapter one for contagious churches and it’s built on a few key convictions. In addition to the value he places on the great commission it is his experience that: “People come to Christ one life at a time – and usually though the influence of one or two authentic Christians who have built genuine relationships with them.” (p17) He goes on to argue that whatever flavour of church we have, whatever strengths and local emphases, every church should have evangelistic effort at the core of their mission. This is because it is the natural tendency of any church, and one of Satan’s favourite temptations, to focus inwardly, rather than outwardly. “Satan’s more subtle tack is to keep us engrossed in things that aren’t bad, but are of lesser importance. Trivial matters. The tyranny of the urgent. The squeaky wheels. Maintenance. The good over the best. The temporal over the eternal. Anything – except reaching lost men, and women, and children for Christ.” (p22)
In his pursuit of a contagious church, Mittelberg has six stages (who doesn’t?). They are: live an evangelistic life, install evangelistic values, empower an evangelism leader, train the church in evangelism skills (the 100%), mobilise the church’s evangelism specialists (the 10%), and unleash an array of outreach ministries and events.
Throughout, Mittelberg is careful to balance the organic and the structural, the internal affections of the individual, and the organisation of the whole church. It’s not either or, we need both and. Thus he begins in stage one (live an evangelistic life) with addressing the heart of Christians referencing Matt 12:34 – out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. Without a heart for Jesus and for the lost, opportunities will sail by without so much as a shot being fired. Furthermore, if the leaders of the church don’t have this value, there is little hope for the rest of the congregation (cf 1 Cor 11:1). Helpfully, Mittelberg argues that in order to warm the heart many of us will have to admit first that this value has slipped for us and come to God in repentance. Out of all the other recommendations he has, his recommendation that Christians make sure they get in the game stands out. “[To] keep our evangelistic embed burning brightly… we need to simply get out of the lab and spend time with real non-Christians.” (p41). In my experience, both on an individual level, and as I think about the churches of which I have been a member, this is particularly poignant advice. I find it all too easy to become engrossed with church activities and people to the neglect of those outside the church.
But it’s not enough for the leaders to live an evangelistic lifestyle. That’s why stage 2 is to instil evangelistic values in those around you. In one survey of nearly 1000 churches, only 11% of church members asked thought the purpose of the church is to win the world for Christ. 89% believed the church exists to care for the needs of me and my family. Obviously, caring for members if one of the things every church must do, but unless the leader instills evangelistic values in those around him, it will not be the dominant thing the church attempts, until there are few members left. Mittelberg explores a number of ways of doing this, including praying for it, leading it, teaching it, funding it, and celebrating it. A couple of these particularly stood out. One was telling the truth about it: without a sense of urgency people will rarely change their behaviour or take on board new values. So if there has only been one adult conversion in the past 12 months, be honest about it. If only 1% of people in the area attend any church regularly, be honest about it. Then pray and strive for more. This resonates with something I heard at an FIEC conference last year when Andrew Heard challenged us with the thought that we were too easily satisfied with underperformance. The other thing that stood out is the importance of scheduling – of having evangelistic events in the calendar with all the necessary logistics, or visits to conferences/courses on evangelism. Anything to institutionalise the values not just in the leadership, but in others too. Mittelberg is honest – whilst many will embrace the vision, some will not. But new people that are attracted to the church will carry the evangelistic values from the start.
Stage three in Mittelberg’s plan, requires a church to empower an evangelism leader. His argument is that if everyone is expected to spearhead evangelism in their own discrete area (be it youth and children’s work, community work or whatever), no-one does. Over-stated? Perhaps. His reasoning is that from the pastor onwards, across every area of church life, everyone finds their time squeezed by the immediacy of their other commitments, leaving little time to really put the heat on evangelism. If evangelism really is a strategic ministry it requires strategic leadership. This is best achieved by empowering a specific evangelism leader, whose sole concern is to keep the evangelistic fires burning brightly. Mittelberg has a prospective profile for such a leader but what is interesting in his description of the potential evangelism leader is that the person is not necessarily ‘an evangelist’ in the traditional sense of the word. Rather, this person needs a heart for the lost, an affinity with people ‘on both sides of the spiritual fence’ who is able to lead others. More an encourager of everyone to be evangelistic, than an ‘evangelist’.
Come back Friday for JP’s outline of stages 4-6.