The medical definition in Webster’s dictionary of an introvert is one whose attention and interests are directed toward one’s own thoughts and feelings.
We (the Church) have managed to remove ourselves from the people that we are called to reach. We have built our own little safe havens by creating our own schools, clubs, and other organizations so we won’t have to interact with the “world.” Unfortunately, by building many of these “Christian” organizations, sadly, we have done a great job of effectively removing the salt and light out of the very places we are supposed to be taking it. That’s not the, “Well done!” we are looking for.
We have told the world, “We don’t want you here unless you can meet us on our terms and times.”
We have become institutionalized by putting in place highly formalized systems and rituals. “What’s wrong with that?”, you ask. (Some thoughts about someone warning of “vain repetitions” come to mind, but I digress. )
By becoming institutionalized, the church, with its goal of participation, helps people develop the disciplines of attendance and giving and serving… wait for it… OUR OWN CONGREGATION. Individual practices such as prayer, fasting, and scripture reading are encouraged but not necessary to sustain the program-based self-serving congregation. For lack of a better analogy, We are washing and polishing the firetruck while the house across the street burns to the ground.
How do we fix it?
First, we are going to have to get out of our comfort zone, get out of our safe places, and get in front of real people with real problems and real needs.
Reggie McNeal, Missional Leadership Specialist and author, writes in his book Missional Communities, “A post-congregational culture requires a strategy of engaging people right where they already live, work, play, go to school, and pursue their hobbies and passions. It’s incarnational. It lets them live more intentionally, learning to love God and their neighbors more, making a contribution to their community, all with people they know and are known by. This is the recipe for a new church life form—missional communities.”
Now, if you are a congregational leader, or even a congregational member, and you suggest a change or shift in the way your group should actually be the Church, let me give you a warning. If you begin to shift your ministry agenda into the street to help people, you will probably get some resistance. The thing is, the pushback won’t come from the people you are reaching. It will come from the pious in your congregation. You will need courage to resist the demands of the religious crowd!
Because of this resistance, we are seeing many leaving churches that they have been a part of for years, sometimes decades. The local church has become so undesirable that many, even among the convinced, are rejecting it altogether. Reggie goes on to say in The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church: “A growing number of people are leaving the institutional church for a new reason. They are not leaving because they have lost faith. They are leaving the church to preserve their faith.”‘ These are strong words. People are realizing that “Churchianity” is not what we are called to do.
Alan Hirsch, Australian missiologist and author, has stated what has become known as the 60–40 problem. By this, Hirsch believes that 60 percent of the American population is out of reach of the local church. This 60 percent are the unchurched and dechurched people who have been abandoned by or alienated from the prevailing forms of church. Almost two thirds of the American population out of reach of the local church seems like a daunting task. How do we even begin to reach them?
Scale the problem to one!
If you help one kid learn to read, you may break the chain of poverty for that kid. If you help one person learn a valuable job or life skill, you help increase their life possibilities. And by increasing the life possibilities for just one person, you may actually influence generations to come for all those who follow them. By reaching one, where they are at, your efforts may reduce the prison population by one, take one person off food stamps, or help one person become employable. You can bring hope to one person who otherwise stares at a landscape of lifelong despair.
Just reaching one can have an exponential impact on thousands, but it will require a change of thinking and a change of action. It will be a challenge for the Introverted Church to come out of its shell, but the rewards will be amazing.