The world has changed, how the church engages with it also needs to change

images-1If it is true that the missiological strategy at the heart of the New Testament is the establishment of cells of followers, who by the way they live their lives demonstrate the coming Kingdom of God, then we need to examine what that means for us now.

For this cell based strategy to work, three things must happen:

  • Firstly those who are part of the cell must actually be living their lives in a way that is different to the normal.
  • Secondly, the way they live their lives must be able to be seen by those who are not part of the cells which means that they need to be connected to a the broader community of non believers.
  • Finally the cell must be connected to other cells, recognising it’s part in the broader body of Christ.


If the strategy to engage a nation or a whole community in mission is through a network of cells of followers, living their faith in such a way that it impacts those around them, I would argue that those cells need to be active in the world and not primarily focussed around the form of the local congregation. It could be reasonably argued that this is not the case today.

In the agricultural era, people lived in their villages and neighbourhoods, engaging on a regular basis with a limited number of people. The reformation and the industrial revolution, followed by the information revolution have both fundamentally changed the nature of our social relationships. This has resulted in churches becoming places where you meet people you engage with only at church, or possibly church and small groups, not places where you meet the people you are engaged with on a day to day basis.

We are no longer living in the close network of relationships that were common in the pre-industrial era or even through the 20th Century. One paper suggests that we need to see neighbourhoods no longer as a definable geographic place but as “a series of overlapping social networks.” [1]

The parochial model of “local” church is no longer effective in an environment where members of any given household might live in one neighbourhood, work in another, play sport in another and go to church in yet another, all the while accessing information and maintaining relationships from around the world

The fabric of our societies has changed dramatically, our churches are no longer at the hub of a network of relationships in the broader community as they once were, and yet we continue to spend a lot of energy trying to work out how to make the local congregation more relevant and accessible. The truth is that no amount of tweaking the structure or format of how we “do” church will change the way that the church has been marginalised in the community.

In a review of Francis Fukuyama’s book The Great Disruption, Owen Jones synthesises Fukuyama’s analysis of just how much society has changed simply as a result of inexpensive information technology, which he says leads to:

An increase in individualism and to the “minaturisation of community”. It “erodes the boundaries of long-established cultural communities” with cheap but relentless television, radio, fax and e-mail, and it decreases meaningful, long-term, and truly engaged associations between people. As Fukuyama puts it, “the same innovation that increases productivity or launches a new industry undermines an existing community or makes an entire way of life obsolete. [2]

Society has fundamentally changed and the local congregation has moved from the centre to the sidelines. While Reginald Bibby has pointed out that there continues to be a strong “market” for religion, church attendance in Canada has dropped from 40% to 30% from 1960 to 2000[3] and the religious marketplace is becoming increasingly polarised. [4] Religion is almost exclusively now a personal preference, rather than a normative force in society. The attempts at mission we have made over the last 50 years seem to have had little impact, with number of people claiming “no religion” jumping from 1% to 25% in about 70 years[5].

If it is true that God calls the body of Christ to share his commitment to whole nations and communities, and if it is also true that the approach we are currently taking is not resulting in a significant impact in the world, then perhaps we are need to be open to a new way forward.


[1] Ray Forrest and Ade Kearns “Social Cohesion, Social Capital and the Neighbourhood”, Urban Studies 38, November 2001, 2130

[2] Owen D. Jones “On the nature of Norms: Biology, Morality, and the Disruption of Order”, Michigan Law Review 98 (2001), 8

[3] Source: Reginald W. Bibby, A New Day: the Resilience and Restructuring of Religion in Canada (Lethbridge:Project Canada Books, 2012),8

[4] ibid, 3

[5] ibid, 30

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