“We are a church that aspires to exist for the sake of those who are not already part of our fellowship”. This is the first line of the first set of five plumb lines that we recently adopted to help guide us towards the future to which we are being called.
What do we mean at First Pres Tacoma when we say that we aspire to exist for the sake of those who are not already part of our fellowship?
The first thing that aspire means is that we are not there yet. Right now, we are a church that cares a lot about ourselves, our families, our fellow members, our programs and most of our attention right now concerns stuff that is happening inside the walls of this building.
We aren’t going to get any closer to being the church that God is calling us to be if we believe that writing out a pretty statement about outsiders is going to change anything. We need to have the courage to name with brutal honesty the challenge that we face in trying to become a missional church.
We need to be perfectly clear that our starting place as a church is institutional survival. We have discovered over the past few years, that institutional survival is not God’s primary interest. God is primarily interested in reconciling the world to himself and God is pretty clear that his strategy for doing this involves sending his followers to those who need to be reconciled rather than expecting them to come looking for him.
Over this past year, we discovered that the mindset of institutional survival was contrary to what God wanted us to be as a church and we also figured out that the mindset of institutional survival had been slowly killing us. So we started aspiring to be different.
The second thing that the word aspire implies is that we are going to do a few things differently. It’s hard for me to imagine what aspiring could possibly mean if it involves doing everything just as we had done things before.
So we decided on two changes that might help us enact this new aspiration (we also were working on a bunch of other changes, but these two were primary). The first change we are working on is the 90 Day Gospel Challenge. This involves everyone committing to:
read one chapter of a gospel every day for 90 days
to ask, ‘What is Jesus saying to me right now?’ and ‘What am I going to do about it?’
We figured that the reason institutional survival is so natural to us as a church is because our hearts are naturally oriented towards our own needs and our own agendas. We recognized that if this is truly the cause of our institutional survival mindset, it was beyond our ability to simply change our hearts to start caring about those outside of our fellowship.
So we began our aspirational journey by inviting the Holy Spirit to begin changing our hearts to see people more the way that Jesus sees them than how we see them. The 90 Day Gospel Challenge puts us in a posture in which God can change our hearts.
The second change that we initiated is called the Go Score. The Go Score is an attempt to measure our efforts to respond faithfully to the great commission by focusing on the first word of the command – go.
Through the Go Score we are asking our members to make a deliberate effort to connect with someone outside of our community and then tell us about it. We’re not asking them to evangelize or to have any hidden agenda. But rather, we are asking our people to take small social risks and just see where God takes them.
Each week our members report how many of these kinds of encounters they’ve had. We’re tallying up the encounters and reporting it on the back of our bulletin as our Go Score. Most of the reporting is anonymous to reflect the fact that this is a collective challenge as a community not a competition to see show who is the most faithful.
As we engage in this little experiment, the only number that we are going to report in our weekly bulletin is the Go Score. Or more to the point, we are not going to report on giving or attendance. We will continue to keep records on giving and attendance for staff and other church leaders, but we are not reporting these to the congregation.
This is another way to signal to ourselves that we are aspiring to be a different kind of church than we were before. Giving and attendance can be key metrics that can help us be more effective on mission. However, for many of us these numbers tend to function more as vital signs of institutional survival. We’ve been reporting giving and attendance records for over one hundred years, we figured that it would be o.k. to take a break from that practice for a year and try something different.
The Go Score is admittedly a pretty blunt instrument, but we realized that it would be pretty hard to know if we were making any progress without something to measure. As we collect these numbers week by week, we are also collecting stories as a way of reminding ourselves that our goal is really about connecting with people.
“We are a church that aspires to exist for the sake of those who are not already part of our fellowship”. This is what it means to be missional here at First Pres Tacoma. It involves brutal honesty and it involves two new things to try. We are nowhere near being the missional poster child for ECO but we love being part of a denomination that encourages us to try to be more in line with the kind of church God is calling us to be.