Breaking the Missional Code is widely perceived as one of the classic books on missional church yet until now it’s not a book I’ve read. I think I was put off by the somewhat mechanistic and programmatic approach of Stetzer’s book, Planting Missional Churches [ ]– which I have read. Breaking the Missional Code is better. (Some day I should do a blog post listing books-people-I-assume-I’ve-read-but-which-I-haven’t!)
Stetzer and Putman explore why some churches are growing and others are not with the aim of answering the question: ‘how can we teach our leaders to move beyond trying to recycle and reproduce church culture models and move toward a more biblical and missional approach in each of their unique cultural settings?’ (3)
The church in the US (and the book does address itself to a US context) is in a new situation. People used to see the church as the first place to take their questions, but now people go anywhere but the church. Churches used to only need to exist to attract seekers. Now, more proactive strategies are required. A growing number of people born in North America have no Christian memory. ‘Asking people to literally change their worldview after simply hearing the gospel, with no previous exposure to a Christian worldview, is usually unrealistic.’ (84). In addition the church faces new, non-geographic definitions of community including much greater ethnic and cultural diversity.
The answer is not to look for a new model for the church but for each church to contextualize in its own situation. This is what it means to ‘break the missional code’ (a phrase with unfortunate Gnostic connotations). The same approach doesn’t work everywhere! ‘Instead of franchising the successful models of megachurches, [church planters who break the missional code] are finding methods and models that connect with their community’ (154) They are learning about their contexts before choosing their methods. They are learning from others without copying them.
‘Insightful pastors will seek to lead churches as missionaries.’ ‘In this new millennium, we need a renewed emphasis on the church’s missional beginning.’ (49) ‘Churches become so tied to practicing their own preferences that they become the main goal, not the glorification of God within the culture where they are found’. (51)
This beings with an understanding of the community you want to reach. What steps can we take to gain this understanding? Get counsellors from the context. Identify natural barriers of your community. Review the census information. Study demographic information. Talk to the experts. Move beyond demographics and anecdotal conversations. Do prayer walks. Identify spiritual strongholds. Review the history: become the expert. Understanding networks. Understanding where God is working in churches and in cultures. Find all the churches in your area and map them out. Research indigenous churches. Determine their musical preferences. Determine their dress. Determine their leadership systems. Determine how they learn. Identify the people groups in the area that are within your mission context. (See chapter 15.)
Stetzer and Putman identify the following ‘transitions to missional ministry’:
- from programmes to processes
- from demographics to discernment
- from models to missions
- from attractional to incarnational
- from uniformity to diversity
- from professional to passionate
- from seating to sending
- from decisions to disciples
- from additional to exponential
- from monuments to movements
‘Breaking the code is not about programs; it is about values’ (72). ‘Those who break the code are committed to making and multiplying disciples. Many pastors have learned the hard way that you can attract a crowd and still not have a church’ (75). They identify three important steps:
- live like Jesus lived
- love like Jesus loved
- leave behind what Jesus left behind
‘What did Jesus leave behind? He left people who lived like him and loved like him.’
‘While churches that effectively evangelize the unchurched/unreached do not abandon proclamation evangelism, they set it in the context of community, experience, and service.’ (84) Missional churches emphasize community because the gospel travels best along relational lines. ‘Churches that break the code put a high premium on experience’ (85), especially inviting the unchurched to experience the life of the Christian community. And they assimilate the unreached into service while on the process of conversion.
All of this adds up to significant change in the way we do church. Yet churches that are stagnant and need to grow ‘think they can do it without change!’ (137) I know this from my own experience. I remember addressing a conference on new ways of doing church. A bit of biblical material and a bit of cultural analysis and everyone was happy. But when I started talking about household churches without professional clergy everyone got agitated. I wouldn’t have minded, but they have come to a conference on new forms of church! The reality was they didn’t want to change; they just wanted to tinker with their worship meetings.
Stetzer and Putman have quite a bit to say on the worship meetings of the church. This is obviously a consideration, but I think it can distract people as they transition to missional church. It allows people to think that being missional is about what happens ‘in’ church and when the church gathers rather than seeing it as an intentional, shared, missional lifestyle.
I think at times a residual institutionalism stills breaks through. For example, we are told to raise two to three years salary for each full-time team member. Some of the methodology for the planting process feels overly prescriptive like the need for a group of 30-40 ‘investors’.
But I love the way the book ends with a call to approach ‘North America on our knees.’ They explain: ‘One of the mistakes we made in the past was beginning on our feet instead of our knees. Leaders who break the unbroken code make a commitment to being on their knees – and lead their churches to do the same.’ (236)