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Experiencing the Living God

Originally published January 12, 2017

In the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, we often differentiate between two models of church life: attractional and sending. Both models, when properly understood, complement one another and bleed into each other. Both types of communities are crucial to the mission of the Episcopal Church and must be undertaken with excellence and a spirit of adventure.

Sending churches are just what they sound like; they send members out into the community to create disciples and followers of Jesus. Every disciple that Jesus called to follow him became an apostle and was sent out to share the teachings of Christ. The health of a sending congregation does not solely depend on monetary gifts or church ASA, but on the willingness to discern one’s gifts and to live as an apostle in the world. The sending church always looks beyond itself and out into the mission field and seeks to start new Christian communities outside the walls of the church. Our goal in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas is to have every Christian community become a sending community.

I have come to realize that the future of the church is dependent upon the idea that we need to create more doors through which people experience the Living God. A sending church will empower individuals to exit the church walls and create new missional communities. Unburdened by the demands of their sending organization, they are able to remain focused on a sustained effort of making disciples. Supported by clergy, lay leaders are able to spend time outside the walls of the church and focus on forming relationships that increase community vitality.

Small batch communities typically choose to serve in areas or neighborhoods where they know they can make a positive impact in the community. Maybe it’s a nursing home or a hospital, where they provide pastoral care and create a space for people to worship. Maybe they have chosen a particular group like a school or homeless shelter to serve. As small batch communities grow and reach capacity, they branch off and multiply. Multiplication is in the DNA of small batch communities; they are organic, sustainable and can easily multiply themselves.

Sending and attractional models of ministry are meant to complement each other. A study of congregations in 2007, showed that all sending congregations surveyed experienced growth in worship attendance. The attractional church engages in evangelism by sending people out. Through meaningful service and winsome invitation people are drawn into community both at the mother church and in her satellite, missional communities.

In attractional churches, there are already many ministries in place such as Sunday school, Altar guild and youth ministry. To increase and maintain the vitality of the church, the attractional church must welcome new attendees into these internal ministries, engage in the practice of inviting and welcoming others, and send them out for evangelism and service.

Churches that attract people fall short of God’s intention if they remain merely attractional, existing for their sake only. God did not create a club at Pentecost, He launched a movement.

The work of the church will increasingly take place in the small batch communities birthed out of this movement. In the Diocese of Texas, we believe that the future structure of Christian community will be rooted in a mixed economy of church plants. With every Christian community, by sending apostles out to do work of service and evangelism, we will grow and nurture communities of every size and type, large and small. Not unlike the early church, our Anglican tradition of gathering, praying, breaking bread and serving others will be expanded and sustained in a multiplicity of communal expressions from forms of church we know and love, to expressions that are yet to be discovered in the contexts outside our doors.

We are invited by the grace of God to work together, using our gifts to serve God’s mission because ultimately all churches are invited to be missional.

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