But its not just about the balance of how do church, I believe there are fundamental questions about how the church does mission in this country based around three failing principles.
1. The Mission of the flyer – our culture is saturated with advertsing to such an extent that all I want to do when I get a sheaf of them through the letterbox is to put them straight into the recycling. Flyers are impersonal and often of poor quality giving a negative reflection of the church.
2. The mission of the Big Event – the lazy way of getting a large number of people, making it look like large scale numbers of lives are being changed. In reality the relationships built are tenuous, shallow and not long standing enough to involve lasting discipling.
3. The Mission of the Professional Production – Good quality production looks good and gives the impression that an organisation knows what it is doing, however if pitched short, it can give quite the opposite impression.
In all of these examples, the deficiency is relationships. We have spent the last century in our missional pursuit trying to find short cuts in bringing people to Christ against a backdrop attendance numbers in church getting smaller and smaller. In his book “Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry”, Andrew Root says that the Spirit inhabits relationships. Slow as it may seem in our email, iPhone culture, the inconvenient truth is that many people come to relationship with Christ through relationship with Christians. This profoundly affects how we do missional church and therefore how we do missional youth ministry. In the last ten or so years we have seen the increase in Fresh Expressions particularly (though certainly not exclusively) since the the Church of England report “Mission Shaped Church”. I am strongly in favour of this, however I also believe that developing Church and missional communities are things that every church should be involved in de facto rather than just those under the Fresh Expressions banner.
So what does this look like in youth ministry practice? Profoundly it means that small is better. I know that as a parish based worker, 0ne of the measures that I am evaluated against is the numerical growth of the number of young people attending groups and on Sunday mornings. This shows the church visually what I am up to and gives the perception of success, but is that all there is to it? I suggest (with some trepidation) that if we, the Church are happy to engage in meaningful relational mission, whilst it will stay small, it potentially could grow at a phenomenal rate.
So what does a relational model of mission look like? I will be exploring this in a second post on this subject in the coming days. As always though, I’d love to hear your thoughts.