The New Traditional Church

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Let me preface this by saying I’m not sure what I think about what I’m about ready to share. I’m still processing. I’m still waiting to hear more from God on this. I haven’t landed.

As best as I can tell as I study churches across the country, here’s how the typical contemporary church asks people to invest their time today:

  • Participate in Sunday worship services.
  • Read their Bible.
  • Become a member of the church.
  • Attend classes to learn more about the Bible and their spiritual walk.
  • Participate in a small group with other believers.
  • Serve in a ministry.
  • Participate in events and programs that connect believers with others in a similar life stage. (i.e. men, women, married couples, moms, singles, college students, etc.)
  • Participate in missions efforts either locally or globally.
  • Invest in people’s lives and invite them to church.

I think that’s a fairly comprehensive list, but you could probably modify that for your specific church and add or delete from the list.

Now, as a result of all this, we see that about 20 to 25% of people end up doing most of the serving at a church. Contemporary churches struggle to get more than 30% of their people engaged in small groups. A very small percentage of people are in the Bible daily. People end up spending a lot of time at the church rather than connecting with people outside the church. We reinforce a consumption mentality that says if you’re going to grow in your faith that the church needs to spoon feed you. People become reliant on the church rather than Jesus for their spiritual maturity.

This is going to sound a little sacriligious, but I’m wondering what would happen if we eliminated some ministries of the contemporary church. What would happen, as an example, if we only asked people to invest their time in this way:

  • Participate in corporate worship and Bible teaching.
  • Read your Bible.
  • Serve others.
  • Make disciples.

Kind of scary isn’t it? There’s a lot of stuff that we do as churches that’s not on that list. Most of what’s not on that list are the gatherings and activities that bring believers together to learn more. No small groups. No classes. No singles ministry or women’s ministry events. No structured missions programs.

I’m wondering what would happen if rather than focusing so much on transferring knowledge, we focused on helping people love God, love others and make new disciples. What would happen if we asked people to spend less time at the church and more time in the lives of people who need Jesus? What would happen if we offered fewer gatherings to transfer knowledge and more tools to help people study the Bible on their own? What would happen if there was less emphasis on church activities and more emphasis on reaching the world for Jesus?

Maybe groups and classes and ministry programs aren’t the discipleship strategy. Maybe encouraging personal disciplines and serving and making disciples is the discipleship strategy.

Like I said, I’m not sure where I’m going to land on this. I just think some aspects of the contemporary church that we’ve accepted as requirements for “good ministry” are creating barriers to spiritual growth and to the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

In many ways, I think we’re becoming the new traditional church.

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About Author

Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He's written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and Pastors.com.

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  1. [...] February 28, 2009 Outside the Church Walls Posted by katiewilliams under Ministry Events | Tags: child evangelism fellowship, face painting, good news clubs, ministry, school clubs, share the gospel, way of the master, witnessing |   Tony Morgan posted these thoughts the other day on his blog TonyMorganLive.com [...]

  2. [...] The “New” Traditional Church Jump to Comments I just read this post by Tony Morgan on how the “contemporary” church has become the new traditional church but our much heralded methods/models aren’t really producing the results that we hoped.  His thoughts for what is necessary for “church” line up exactly where I think God is leading us.  Check it out here. [...]