New Wine?

Why have I decided to call this blog “New Wine”?

I’m glad you asked!

new wine

In the last six weeks or so I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what it means to follow Jesus more intentionally. In pursuit of this I’ve been ingesting lots of stuff about how to follow Jesus purposefully. One group of people who have quite a bit to say on this topic are church planters.

A church planter is someone who sees a need for the gospel in an area and starts a church there. While there are several different ways that folks go about this, one of the more recent trends is to start out with a missional posture while living incarnationally.

What does that mean? Well, basically some church planters view themselves as missionaries instead of professional, paid staff members. Thus, this sort of church planter spends quite a bit of time with people who haven’t met Jesus — living with them, eating with them, caring for them, serving with them, and advocating for them.

The goal, of course, of the church planter is to fulfill Matthew 28.19-20, which is better known as the Great Commission. There Jesus challenges his disciples to “go and make disciples of all the nations…” Thus, the sort of church planter I’m talking about is interested in leading someone into being a disciple, which is just a fancy way of saying they want to help someone learn how to follow Jesus well.

Not only that, but church planters of this ilk are not as interested in attracting people to come to church. They say this model, which is called the attractional model, isn’t working all that well. Another way of thinking about the attractional model is with the phrase “if you build it, they will come” (apologies to Field of Dreams!). So a church that is attractional will spend lots of time, money, and energy on their weekend services and programs, in hopes of making an excellent product that will attract people to come to church.

The reality seems to be that this way of doing church is not attracting as many people as it once did. You can find the statistics by Googling on your own, so I won’t bore you with them. But fewer and fewer people are coming to church and more and more churches aren’t seeing any new disciples being made who don’t have family in the church already. And, according to research done over the last decade or so, it seems that the churches that are growing (meaning that the number of people that they count during their weekend services has gone up) are doing so based on transfer growth, that is, they’re growing because they are attracting people from other churches. In other words, the attractional model isn’t working like we had hoped.

So the brand of church planters that I was talking about before insist that the best way to reach the un-churched, de-churched, etc. is to plant new churches. But not new attractional churches! Instead many of these church planters say that the way to go is to foster missional and incarnational communities in which those who don’t follow Jesus can see the good news of the kingdom of God being lived out in their midst. To put it differently, instead of asking people to come to church, these church planters are trying to be the church among those who don’t follow Jesus.

What do these church planters think about traditional, attractional churches? You may have guessed that most of them point to the evidence that I’ve noted above. Some of them are aggressively negative, while others see some benefit in the old ways. But almost to a person, these church planters are convinced that it’s incredibly difficult to retrain an attractional church to become missional and incarnational. Thus, a lot of them suggest that people should start form scratch (that is, plant a new church), rather than try to change a traditional church. Even the ones who try to give some tools to help transition attractional churches admit that the process is super-duper slow and often very painful.

And in these same contexts folks often quote the words from Jesus’ mouth in Matthew 9.17: “Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

Their implication is that the new wine of thinking missionally and living incarnationally is simply incompatible with the old wineskin of the attractional church model. While most of them wouldn’t actually say this, it certainly seems that many of them believe that changing an attractional church is simply impossible.

Well, it is in the context of a traditional, attractional church where I find myself. I’m a part-time staff member (for six more weeks!) and a adult community leader. Our church is old (115 or so years old), pretty big, and clearly geared toward getting people to come to our campus to do church. Lots of our folks, however, understand that this isn’t as effective as we would like and we’ve been thinking and strategizing about how to change.

So, what do I hope to do? Well, I want to attempt to pour some new wine into this old wineskin! I’m curious to see if Jesus’ words in Matthew 9.17 apply to this setting or not. What I’m hoping will happen is that the community I’m a part of, which is called Crossroads, can be shifted from being attractional to missional/incarnational. And I want to document parts of that journey here!

So, if you’re interested, check back and see what we’re up to!

6 thoughts on “New Wine?

  1. Glad you’re doing this, look forward to seeing what you discover along the way! It does seem that the attractional model works really well though when the message is watered down and packaged in eye and ear candy. It has troubled me that this is one of the reasons that many of the traditional churches’ attendance has dwindled. Much of the traditional church membership has clearly been quite vulnerable to consumerism. This may be a “purifying” opportunity that the missional approach would be suitable for. Will be interesting to see how the missional approach can engage, and counter, the prevailing culture both of the churched and unchurched.

    • Some of the theorists and practitioners of the missional/incarnational model would say that this way of life is a purification. Most of them talk about returning to the ways of Jesus, the ancient way, the methods of the new testament church, etc. We’ll see. Whatever the case, it doesn’t appear that continuing in the same trajectory is going to work! Why? Lots of reasons…but the attractional model not only doesn’t engage or counter individualism, consumerism, and materialism…it (quietly) promotes them!

      • If you can find the best of both worlds I think that would be great because I think many of the “institutions” of the traditional church are a natural progression from a successful missional church. If God continues to add to the numbers of a community, that community will need a place for corporate worship, and in 21st century America, if you want to participate in something together in the same physical time and space, the resources are available for a building suitable to the task. The finances of this community need to be managed with integrity in order to provide and upkeep this building for worship. The young 20 somethings who started the church in their apartments are now married and have kids, a nursery is needed. And this building can also be used for all kinds of loving ministries for families. God continues to add to your numbers, the building expands, becomes a landmark in the city . . . badabing, you’re an attractional church!

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