There are lots of kinds of churches. Besides the dozens if not hundreds of denominations we could name, each with its own way of doing things, there are lots of different models out there. There are liturgical “high worship” churches, like the Roman Catholics, the Orthodox, Anglican and Episcopalian churches. There are the Modernism movement (mostly called liberal by their theological foes). There are charismatic churches, Pentecostal churches, cessationist churches, evangelical churches and fundamentalist churches. There are seeker friendly churches and there are Gen-X churches. I could go on and probably so could you. So, why did I end up focused on organic churches? It’s a good question.
I was a missionary is Spain. As an experienced missiological researcher, I was asked to answer a simple set of questions for the Evangelical churches in Spain: why, since we have such a lovely Gospel, are Spaniards rejecting us? After all, we preach grace and forgiveness, love and acceptance and peace with a powerful yet loving God. If you believe in God, which most Spaniards still do, why wouldn’t you want “some of that?” Why isn’t what we are preaching considered “good news?”
So, I started using all my missiological/anthropological/sociological research tools. And, to cut a very long story short, here’s what my helpers and I came up with. Evangelicalism is an expression of Christianity that reflects the Enlightenment worldview. Spaniards skipped the Enlightenment. They went straight from the Ancient worldview to postmodernism. That happened from the 1970’s to the 1990’s. Evangelicalism (and Liberalism, Pentecostalism, etc. etc.) expressed itself culturally in Enlightenment ways. That didn’t work for people with an Ancient worldview or a postmodern worldview. We weren’t speaking to them in their cultural language so the way we expressed ourselves sounded like static on the radio to them.
That’s fine for Spain but here’s the thing…the entire Western world is already postmodern. That includes the United States and Europe. You can hate postmodernism, complain about it, fight it, refuse to participate, do what you want, but in doing so you will choose not to communicate with postmoderns.
My next research step was to find out what was working among postmoderns. And I found out there were four kinds of churches that worked in certain ways. Some postmoderns long for mystery, art and pageantry in religious expression. For these folk (a small but significant number) liturgical “high worship” churches will meet their needs. For baby boomers (the generation stuck between high Modernism/Enlightenment and postmodernity, seeker churches can work; at least those boomers who are not still stuck back in Modernism. For other postmodern seekers there are Gen-X churches, with the art, the candles, the rock music and the hip preacher dressed in latest trendy clothes speaking from a stool instead of a pulpit. But with all of these models there is one problem. The biggest obstacle for postmoderns with religion is institutionalism; and all of these models are highly institutional. Some cool Gen-X churches can be just as domineering and controlling as the Catholic Church. In fact, there has been a recent scandal about this very thing.
So, where does that leave us? It leaves us with new generations of people (all those born since the baby boomers) who, as postmoderns, tend to be spiritual seekers but who also strongly tend to distrust institutions. So, with these people we’ve been offering institutional religious structures and it hasn’t been working too well. This is the sociological reason the Church is dying in the West. But, through my research I found out about organic/simple/house churches which keep all the biblical spirituality and faithfulness to the Bible but skip the institutional part, which isn’t biblical anyway.
So, that’s the technical answer to why I plant organic churches, but that’s really only part of the answer, and actually not the most important part. Once I started practicing organic Christianity I found a much deeper relationship with Christ and a joyous freedom I’d never experienced in more than 30 years of Christian leadership. But, that’s another story.
Pick a question and respond:
- Do you think railing against postmodernism is going to change many postmodern’s minds? Do you think offering them something they find offensive is a good solution?
- If we choose to be postmodern sensitive in the way we minister and live, does it mean we buy all of the values of postmodernism? Is it possible to be postmodern sensitive yet live a biblical lifestyle?
- Have you ever had an experience like mine, God using something you no longer value much (in my case research) to take you to a new place in your spiritual life?
- Do you think the technical part of my story (research/sociology) or the spiritual side of my story (deeper relationship with Christ and joyous freedom) would be more persuasive for you?
 I’m talking about worldview (the way people see the world) not technology. Spaniards had modern technology but not a Modern (also called Enlightenment) worldview.