Gathering and Sending

“Do you believe it possible to have a co-existing presence between missional and attractional elements in a single church organization? Can both be a part of a singular vision or should they be exclusive one from another? How have you seen or heard of this working or failing?”

Here’s a brief consideration: I believe both the sending (incarnational) and gathering (attractional) elements are not only critical in our western culture, but also have a strong biblical precedence. We must never consider living incarnationaly as a more important expression than exaltation (and vice-versa). if we do, we are in danger of doing exactly what we set out NOT to do, make it about us and what we can or want to do instead of about God and His influence.

In order to do this however takes a few incredibly intentional steps. Here is what we’re finding at Austin New Church to be effective in balancing the two:

(1) Exaltation: Keep the gathering component vertically focused. If we’re not careful, we make the messages about us, the song lyrics even talk about us, etc… in turn, we end up creating a consumer environment and wonder why people either complain a bunch or end up not feeling “nourished” and wanting more. Followed by leaving. If we encounter the Spirit of God, we will be filled. Some will still leave… but maybe for different reasons.

(2) Nature: Our nature and our culture will automatically lend itself towards the weekend experience. So we don’t have to worry about not focusing on it enough… we probably always will. Our worry is focusing on it too much. We have to make decisions WEEKLY in staff meeting to choose missional efforts over attractional efforts. NOT because we don’t value the gathering (I actually love it!) but because we naturally lean that way anyway. We have to constantly evaluate how and how much of our resources (money, time, leadership, etc…) we are dedicating to the two. We have to constantly talk with our Missional Community Group Leaders about planning our incarnational and missional focuses on being “among” the people not just inviting people to join us. We have to give them permission, but also communicate priority church-wide. And they feel it.

(3) Priority and Permission: This is just something we’ve decided to do. Instead of staffing and/or keying in on volunteers for program ministries our key responsibilities are with our missional community groups. Each Pastor or key volunteer’s primary responsibility is to shepherd a group of missional groups that are shaped by tribe or sub-culture. Their secondary responsibility is children, operations, youth/college, etc… We have to give permission for this, so our evaluations are shaped with this priority as well. In our staff meetings we spend a majority of our time focusing on people and communities, how are they doing, how can we serve them, how do we equip them for mission, how do we give them the resources they need, how do we increase our influence through the relationships that already exist? This way there is always a massive focus on missional community.

(4) Leverage the Stage: On the weekend, the only elements not focused on weekend Exaltation are focused on weekday Incarnation. Our focus is to take our congregation, and EXPOSE them to the “Crisis” or “need” in our community and world and as sojourners, our “need” to address it. We then help them “EXPERIENCE” it through exhortive promotion and scheduling of our “Serve Austin Sunday” efforts (event) and then offering a way for them to “ENGAGE” through missional community (sustained). Someone who is doing a great job with this funnel strategy is Rick McKinley at Imago Dei in Portland.

(5) Recognize: Our final focus is to recognizing that our individual church culture will certainly evolve as it grows. The needs and strategies on day one will be different from day two. As we grow, there is a massive need for the HOW to change as the WHAT stays the same. We need to be constantly evaluating our What and How. We need to be willing to change (without compromise) as culture changes, both in our own congregation and in our community. Sending is messy. You know what? So is gathering. Neither will be constant. Most of us are willing and trying to shape culture, we must also be willing to respond to shifts in culture instead of ignoring them and being drug along anyway.

Just my two cents. I guess you get what you pay for.

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About Brandon Hatmaker

Church Planter, Missional Strategist, Non-Profit Collaborator, and Author of "Barefoot Church: Serving the Least in a Consumer Culture". View all posts by Brandon Hatmaker

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