Missiology is the equal blend of theology and sociology. However, most church leaders went to seminary to become theologians not sociologists. It is not unreasonable that most would prefer to focus on theology to the exclusion of sociology. This oversight has caused us to drift toward the ditch of being so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good. Now don’t get me wrong, the church is of great good to Christians, but because of sociological inattention we are almost invisible to the unchurched. One only needs to look at the eighty-five percent of churches that are stalled and declining, and the 96 church closures each week to see that we are ineffective in reaching new and unchurched populations at our gatherings. The church in America does not have a theological problem, but we do have a sociological problem. As long as we continue to understand our declines through theological lenses, we will continue to misdiagnose our situation, and will continue to consider solutions like “more prayer”, “more moving of the Spirit”, and “better worship.” While these things are all wonderful, and I believe in and practice them all, they are not the reason for our declines.
The Need for New Wineskins
Jesus told an interesting parable that I find is misunderstood all across the land – the parable of the wineskins. In the story, Jesus made it clear that new wine cannot be put in old wine bottles because when the wine expands, it will break the skins and spill the wine. While most understand the principle, we need to meditate on what the wineskins represents.
The pressure that forced Jesus to tell this story was that he was doing things with his disciples that ignored the inflated rules of Judaism. When the Pharisees confronted him on it, he explained that a new wine was coming, a wine that would need to be housed in a different structure than the 613 rules and ways of Judaism. Jesus’ point? When new wine pours out of heaven, a different sociological structure would be needed to house that new wine. Thus, Jesus was developing a new wineskin (way of functioning) to handle the new wine (the inbreaking Kingdom). Wow.
In this day, the Lord is pouring out many new wines upon the church. However, if we insist that all of that wine be forced into our religious organizational patterns and our worship gathering approaches, it is likely that the current sociological structures will burst and the new wine will spill. I wonder how much new wine has been spilled in church board rooms where defenders of the status quo have insisted that a new proposed church-plant be merged into their present ways of doing church? Until leaders are willing to create new sociological structure for new missional ideas, they will continue to miss the point of Jesus’ new wine and new wineskins parable.
Fresh Expressions is based on the missiological theory of ReMissioning. Simply stated, ReMissioning means doing church for people who don’t do church, in a way that fits their sociology, and not any traditional sociologies. The Gospel is the same, but everything else might be very different. The way your church is doing church now is the result of years and layers of sociological adaptations. In other words, you liked your way into the way you do church now. It is far less theological than you think, and far more sociological than you’ve probably considered.
The missiological discipline of ReMissioning forces us to build new wineskins for any new wine that is being poured out for a new people. These new wineskins are different sociological constructs that fit an unreached people. In fact, if churched people like a new church plant vision, it might be the greatest indicator that it is destined for failure because it is based on churched sociologies rather than new wineskins. Just because we feel Jesus in sacred spaces on Sunday mornings while the organ is playing, doesn’t mean unchurched people will feel Jesus that way. In fact, if they did feel Jesus that way, they would have probably already have joined our Sunday morning gatherings. But they haven’t.
Housing New People In New Wineskins
This should say something to us; it should say they need a form of church that allows them to feel the divine invitation of Christ in a way that is true to their sociology. If there is no organ, is it still church? If there is no 30-minute sermon, is it still church? And if there is no sanctuary or formal communion, is it still church? The answer might surprise you. If the gospel is being shared, if people are being pointed to Christ, and if they are being shaped in the likeness of Christ, then yes, Yes, and YES…it is a church, regardless of its format. Welcome to the world of ReMissioning. May the Spirit give us new sociologies of church to house new wine for new people.
Dr. Verlon and Melodee Fosner have led a multi-site Assemblies of God dinner church in Seattle, Washington since 1999 (www.CommunityDinners.com). They joined the FX team in 2016 and founded the Dinner Church Collective. In this decade when more churches in the U.S. are declining than thriving, and when eighty churches a week are closing, Verlon and Melodee sensed that a different way of doing church was needed for their 85-year old Seattle congregation. It soon became obvious that they were not the only ones in need of a different path. There is a lot to be gained when church leaders begin to see open doors in the American landscape that they had previously overlooked. Therein lies the journey for those who will forge a new future for the American Church.