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Missional Renaissance (6): Developing People

“I realized that I had no way of gauging people’s personal growth; I only had ways to measure their church involvement.”  Sound familiar?  We all know that church involvement does not equal growth as a Christian.  This is the emphasis of Reggie McNeal’s second missional shift: from program development to personal development.

The shift from program development to personal development is critical to become a missional church.  Here’s Reggie’s explanation:

“I must warn you that this second missional shift is very difficult to address.  First, it’s hard for those of us steeped in the program church even to get our minds around what this shift means.  Second, this shift so dramatically changes the scorecard that it threatens those of us who lead the program church.  We know how to produce and execute programs.  Developing people?  That’s a different animal.  We have operated off the faulty assumption that if people participate in our church programs, they will grow and develop personally.  In reality, that may or may not be true.  Finally, this shift is a challenge because it moves us to a place where our work is never done.  We can check off our fall program calendar week by week as events occur, but people just don’t ever seem to get ‘done.'” (p. 90)

The church has not always been about programs.  Reggie (a PhD in historical theology) believes that “the rise of the program-driven church correlates directly with the rise of the service economy in the post-World War II America.”  It was after WWII that America became a true manufacturing powerhouse.  And we manufactured everything!  People outsourced foot preparation, lawn maintenance, laundry, oil changes, child care, and everything you can imagine.  It is no surprise, then, when Americans began to outsource their own spiritual formation to the church.

It is during this period (1920-1970, a close overlap with Reggie’s dates) that Craig Van Gelder says that denominations became focused on operating as corporations, particulary for the churches in the newly formed suburbia: “The suburban church became a denominational, organizational congregation that had a set of standardized programs and ministries coordinated through a structure of adminstrative communities under the leadership of a professional minister.”  The church growth movement of the 1970s and 1980s only heightened the need for successful programs.

Reggie believes that this program-driven church has failed to develop people and has encouraged a spiritual dualism into the lives of North American Christians.  But, someone will respond, isn’t the church supposed to be the center of a person’s spiritual experience?

“No, it’s not.  Everyday living is where spiritual development is worked out.  The program-driven church has created an artificial environment divorced from the rhythms and realities of normal life.  Its claims that participation in its consuming activities will result in spiritual growth is preposterous.  It cannot deliver on this promise, because the premise is false.  Loving God and loving our neighbors cannot be fulfilled at church.  Being salt and light cannot be experienced in a faith huddle.  Engaging the kingdom of darkness requires storming it, not habitually retreating into a refuge” (p. 93).

Reggie’s words may appear harsh but I agree with them.  I would modify them slightly to read “loving God and loving our neighbors cannot be fulfilled exclusively at church.”  Furthermore, I would emphasize that the church is a people and not a place, so while the place is not essential, the people are.  I think Reggie would agree with this modifications.

Now, you may think that Reggie wants to disband “church” as we know it.  That’s not true.  Reggie says, “the eclipse of the program-driven church does not mean the demise of church programs, nor does it mean that programs are bad in and of themselves…This shift just calls for a clarification of the role of programs in the development of people and the adoption of a new scorecard built around people’s successes, not program successes” (p. 94).

How do you foster a people development culture?  Here are a few blurbs from Reggie that I will not discuss in detail:

  • Move from standardization to customization.  One size curriculum does not fit all, we need more customization depending upon where people are in their journey with Christ.
  • Move from participation to maturation.  Don’t track participation, but how each participant matures.
  • Move from delivering to debriefing
  • Move from curriculum-centered to life-centered.  This is not a call for ABFs, but a call to mentor and walk with people in their daily lives.
  • Move from growing into service to growing through service.  I think this is huge.  The Saddleback baseball diagram which has service as the final step is incorrect.  People grow through service.  Let them serve right away and watch them grow!
  • Move from age segregation to age integration.

Next we’ll discuss how a church can measure this second shift!

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