July 24, 2009

Response to Bird's List

I took issue with Warren Bird's post on Leadership Network's site on church innovation. He emailed me asking for some explanation. Warren's key ideas are in bold. The rest are my responses:

The first issue I take with this: you title it as Kingdom. None of these seem to connect with the biblical ideas of kingdom to much depth at all. Rather, they are about sociology.

Regarding each item:

• Externally focused churches as key idea for evangelical churches
This might be the only one that holds water. But speaking to folks that are on the inside of the "movement" called Externally focused church, it seems to me that most of these churches are not externally focused, simply needing a new spin on an old idea: church growth. You said this isn't the 90's yet this idea is simply another spin on "seeker" church. Which as we can see from recent innovative research hasn't worked as well as we thought. Read Reveal for one.

• Shifting opinions on social issues in the 18-35 year old demographic that are shaping the emphases of the church
This is an age old reality. Nothing new. Young people always have more progressive view points on social issues than their parents. And unfortunately, it isn't shaping the church enough. The Church, and the evangelical church (which I consider myself one of) is still firmly rooted in a power structure that does not allow it to see it's own misgivings (hence, a list such as this).

• Multi-site churches
This is innovatite? Or a theological dictatorship? I live in the same county as Larry Osborne and I believe this to be one of the most detrimental ideas we've come up with in recent history. Nothing exposes more how consumer-centric we have become.

• The rise of networks as the key focus for church planting and resourcing in other ways
This isn't innovation. This is the response of evangelical churches who cannot get their denominational agencies to work with them on church planting and mission. And it also exposes our common habit as evangelicals to splinter and fragment when we're unhappy rather than confront and stick with it for the long haul.

• Open source content freely given away for church resources via computer
Consumer-centrism. Not innovation.

• The rise of church websites/pastor blogs/podcasts and videocasts as church communication tools
How long has the internet been around, Warren? This is new? I just can't believe that this is tagged as one of the more innovative things we're doing.

• Social networking tools (facebook/twitter/myspace/custom tools) being utilized by churches and parachurch groups

• Bringing management and leadership focus into church in a fresh way
This isn't innovative. It's vague. What does this even mean?

• Greater awareness by U.S. megachurches and others to international missions and humanitarian efforts around the world
This isn't innovation. This should be a confession.

• From “marketplace to ministry” as strong source of staff members of churches. Emphasis on “homegrown”
Bringing people in from the marketplace has not commonly had the greatest impact on discipleship but the greater commodification of how we do church.

• Deeper penetration and shifts in small group models (life groups, cells, etc.) into a broad variety of churches
This is an age-old reality. Nothing new. It's just that Neil Cole's books are now getting attention. Mega-churches have been talking about small groups for a long time.
Your thoughts?


Mike Bishop said...

Good on you, Jason. If these are the great ideas we have to work with, I guess we should continue to expect more of the same. Frankly, it makes me tired (and sad) when I think about the resources that will be expended along these lines over the next 10 years. But it will happen because the 'experts' say this is what cutting-edge evangelicals are doing. One man's innovation will become another man's prison...

Anonymous said...


I agree with you for the most part, except that the list was generated retrospectively over the last decade. They weren't necessarily saying, "These are the new things we should do now," but rather "These are things we've developed in the past 10 years." I doubt any of the list-makers would really try to sell blogging pastors as cutting edge right now.

With that said, I'm certainly not impressed with this version of innovation. For example: the past ten years have brought us things like Facebook and YouTube - things that have changed the way people relate to each other. Nothing on Bird's list remotely touches on that.

Brian said...

Well done speaking up. It is a great source of frustration that the institutional church continues to schizophrenically operating: stuck in the consumptive manner of culture and yet in denial of it's complete denial of the sub-cultural norms it operates under, out of touch with the broader culture. This list is mind boggling in it's narrowness of scope, ignorance of the broader culture, and perhaps, dare I say, lacking in understanding Missio Dei.

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