My son, an advocate and practitioner of missional-ecumenism, had a conversation with a staff member of a large church recently. As he appealed to this person to see the priority of reaching into the public schools to make disciples of Jesus he met resistance. This church, like so many other large churches, invests a lot of money and effort in tutoring and mentoring in the school system but without bringing the good news to those that they tutor and teach. Somehow they seem to separate their good works shown through tutoring from the actual sharing of the good news in their words and actions. This should not be an either/or choice but a both/and response. The fact is that Christians and churches can do both in public schools, as I’ve said here before. Matt’s Crossroads Kids Clubs mission demonstrates this clearly.
As Matt spoke to this person they said to him, “With our very large facility and campus our goal has to be to put butts in all our seats.” That says it very well. The building was built because of the mission but now the mission is determined by the size and upkeep of the massive building.
I am not opposed to church buildings. This is a debate that in the end leads us down a road to nowhere. But I am opposed to allowing our buildings to determine how we follow Christ’s missional mandate. Once we build these large arenas and churchy theaters it is very hard to escape becoming a lecture hall or a place for first class “come and watch” church, something no one in the early centuries of Christian faith would have understood. We need to be honest about this. Large churches keep telling themselves that because they have so many people they must be right. This needs to be challenged in a loving and gospel-centered way.
Small churches have their own problems, don’t misunderstand me. But this is less a problem for the small church, at least so long as it does not have a huge debt. This may be why Matt finds a lot more interest in reaching into public schools with the gospel from churches of less than 300-400 people. Time will tell. Clearly the largest and most wide-open missional field in the United States is among children between the ages of 4 and 14, that is children under the age of 14 inside our public school systems. And clearly the church is doing almost nothing to reach such children unless a parent takes them to a local church, which is becoming less common with every passing year. VBS hardly makes a difference any more and Sunday School has little or nothing to do with un-churched kids. So who will take the good news to these children? I believe the answer is churches that think beyond filling their seats.