Jon Ritner

A New Metaphor for Church

Slowly but surely, the truth is setting in for church leaders across America. Our existing ways of operating as a local church are just not going to work for much longer. Our old strategies of disciple making that relied heavily on professionally led Sunday programs are not effective in an increasingly Post Christian culture that no longer views the local church as the place where they want to pursue their spirituality. The paradigms of ministry we once held dear are now prisons for our imagination that keep us from adapting to the changing cultural landscape. 

One of the best ways to free people from old ways of thinking is to change the metaphors we use. A metaphor is a way of structuring how we think. It’s a conceptual framework that shapes and gives meaning to our experiences, perceptions and thoughts. When we change the metaphor we use to imagine something, we often change the meaning we associate with it.

One of the best ways to free people from old ways of thinking is to change the metaphors we use. Click To Tweet

Here in Los Angeles, we are borrowing a contemporary feature of urban life, the Food Truck, as a new metaphor to depict the future of our local church, Ecclesia Hollywood

For generations the American church has operated much like a traditional restaurant.  We took over a property, hung a sign, hired a professional to feed the people, trained up a team of servers to act hospitable, and provided a menu of religious good and services that we thought would meet the appetites of a local community. We threw a launch party and if the quality of the food and service was good enough, we slowly took market share from other local establishments.

But what happens when a restaurant-style church no longer attracts customers? Or when the community decides they don’t have time for a sit down meal? Or the style of cuisine you are serving falls out of favor with people? How does a restaurant-style church stay in business when nobody is interested in coming to church anymore?

What if the local church instead operated like fleet of food trucks? Imagine small teams of Jesus’ followers making disciples together out in the city amongst people who do not pursue spirituality in a traditional church space. Food truck operators discern what expressions of the good news of Jesus resonate with people and seek to embody that in their midst. These smaller missional collaborations take fewer resources to launch, are led by teams who do not require professional salaries, and are contextual to their surroundings.

Imagine small teams of Jesus’ followers making disciples together out in the city amongst people who do not pursue spirituality in a traditional church space. Click To Tweet

Ecclesia Hollywood is slowly making this shift from a restaurant church that once fed 700 people a Sunday to a fleet of food truck operators sent out to every nook and cranny of LA. When we gather, we share stories of how God is working through us in the everyday spaces of life. Once a month we shorten our worship service and all participate in a Missional Imagination Workshop. In smaller circles, we sit with others from our regions of the city and discern how to offer a taste of the Kingdom of God in a particular place or amongst a pocket of people. We have created a giant Missional Map that sits in our lobby on Sunday on which we depict where our “food trucks” are operating the other six days of the week. We reach out to non-profits and community organizations that are helping our city flourish and offer our support and resources in partnership with their efforts.

Slowly, God is reshaping the hearts and minds of our community so we no longer imagine church as a place we go to get fed by others,  but rather as a community where we collaborate to seek the Shalom of our city.

Check out the video our Ecclesia artists produced to show our new metaphor and feel free to share this version with others on social media if it might help open their imagination to fresh expressions of church!

Jon Ritner

Jon Ritner

Jon Ritner is the Lead Pastor of Ecclesia Hollywood. Jon joined Ecclesia in August, 2015 after serving for three years as a "micro church" planter in Brussels, Belgium and ten years as “mega church” pastor in Williamsburg, Virginia. He was drawn to this community of creatives who longed for new ways to demonstrate God’s Kingdom in the city of Hollywood as well as new ways to contextualize good news in the industry of Hollywood. Jon serves on the Board of Directors for Communitas International, a global church planting network, and is the Director of Forge Hollywood, a missional training organization that equips people to live as missionaries in the places they are already doing life. Jon and Kristyn will celebrate 17 years of marriage in 2019 alongside their children, Addy (13) and Jax (10). Jon is a graduate of The College of William and Mary in Virginia (B.S. 1997) and Trinity International University (M.Div. 2002).

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