Tag: tim tennent

Why “Unchurched” is Unhelpful

According to statistics, there are a lot of “unchurched” people in the U.S. No county in the US has registered a greater percentage of church persons over the past decade. Church attendance has declined over the past few years by 10%, and the US is the only continent where Christianity is not growing. People aren’t going to church like they used to. So, we refer to them as “unchurched.”

What Does “Unchurched” Really Mean?

Over ten years ago, Robert Fuller made three major distinctions among the so-called unchurched:

  • Secular Humanists
  • Religious but Not Church-oriented
  • Spiritual but not Religious

These distinctions, alone, are helpful in clarifying who our neighbors might be. Yet, I rarely hear church planters and missional organizations explain the unchurched in this way. Instead, “unchurched” remains an amorphous and imprecise term. Why, then, do we continue to use it?

Maybe part of the reason is we call them “unchurched” is based on a hidden, faulty ecclesiology–church equals getting people to attend a Sunday service. In many of the statistics I have examined, this is often the primary criteria for characterizing someone as unchurched. Is the mission of God to get people “into a church service”? The New Testament gives us a much thicker view of God’s mission. It runs deeper and goes further.

Why We Need Deeper Thinking on a Term

We need to go deeper before we go further in reaching the unchurched. We need to ask: “What do they (secular humanists, religious but not church-oriented, or spiritual but not religious people) think of Christianity?” Gabe Lyons & David Kinnaman’s book UnChristian was a popular step forward in taking this humble, missionary posture. To take the conversation a couple steps further, we need to understand what people think Christianity is. Truth be told, they often think of something altogether different than what we think of. As a result, a lot of gospel communication communicates something other than the gospel. For instance:

  • We say “have faith”; they hear “anti-science.”
  • We say “Christ”; they hear “moral example.”
  • We say “cross”; they hear “arcane human sacrifice.”
  • We say “Christianity”; they hear “Republican and anti-gay.”
  • What are people in your part of the country hearing you say?

If we are to love people estranged from Christ and distant from the church, we need to get into their skin, listen to their stories, and begin understanding who they are. To do this, I recommend we view parts of our culture as resistant peoples. 

Resistant Peoples

What are resistant peoples? Missiologist Michael Pocock writes: “The resistant are those who have or are receiving an adequate opportunity to hear the gospel but over some time have not responded positively (Pocock, “Raising Questions about the Resistant”). This means that the resistant are not unreached, though they are often uninterested in church. At least two of Fuller’s unchurched sub-groups could be considered resistant.

To be clear, I am not suggesting you start calling your co-workers “resistant peoples!” Though some would consider it a compliment!

Not unlike the term unchurched, defining the resistant is has its problems; however, Dr. Timothy Tennent helpfully points out that peoples can be resistant in at least four ways: culturally, theologically, ethnically or politically (Tennent, “Equipping Missionaries for the Resistant”). Depending on which area of the U.S you live in, or what sub-cultures you are ministering to, any one or a combination of these four areas may apply. A good missionary will take each one as a lens to discern what obstacles are in front of the gospel.


As I see it, a major challenge to reaching the resistant is to approach our Christianity with redemptive suspicion. We need to question Christianity wherever it places political, moral, and cultural obstacles in front of the gospel. For example, some Christians would insist on that a person change their political views before becoming a Christian. Or that they need to change their sexual orientation before putting faith in Jesus. We need to wisely discern which objections are legitimate among resistant peoples. Then, deconstruct defective cultural views and reconstruct biblical, gospel-centered views in areas such as politics and sexuality.

By rethinking who we are relating to (unchurched or resistant), and how we relate to them (areas of resistance and the gospel), we can remove stumbling blocks to Christ and move the mission forward. To begin, I recommend we take Tennent’s four areas–political, cultural, ethnic, and theological–and begin filling them out with specific reasons, from our contexts, as to why people are not interested in church or the gospel.

Being a Glocal Preacher

Tim Tennent has a nice article on Being a Glocal Preacher. The article addresses the inevitability of preaching to both a local and global context in an age of globalization. Even the most rural pastors are shepherding people who are jacked into the internet, wireless devices, and social networking. News, culture, and values are shaped by both local and global contexts. Here are Tennent’s three principles for glocal preachers:


Read the Rest.

7 Mega-Trends Facing the Church

As a church planter, it can be difficult to find time to read good academic missiology. With the surplus of half-baked missional ideas floating around the blogosphere, we can get tripped up on digesting statements that have very little support or merit. I hope to avoid making these kind of statements and posts. There is, however, a place for winsome dialog about planting best practices, church methods, and preferences. My Tools for Missional Church is an attempt to contribute in this way.

Seven Mega-Trends

However, I find that my passion, insight and practice are most helped by reading deeply. Fortunately, I’ve had time to read some good missiology lately. Naturally, I have drifted to my missiological mentor, Dr. Timothy Tennent now President of Asbury Seminary, and to his mentor, Dr. Andrew Walls, “the most important person you don’t know”. I have the good fortune of reading an advance copy of Tennent’s Invitation to World Missions: A Missiology for the 21st Century (Kegel, 2010). In this work Tennent outlines Seven Mega Trends affecting missions in the 21st century. These 7 trends reflect major shifts in Global Christianity that must be addressed theologically and practically. Tennent does just that, drawing from his rich understanding of church history, theology, and missiology. The 7 Trends are:

  1. The Collapse of Christendom
  2. The Rise of Postmodernism
  3. The Collapse of the West Reaches the West Paradigm
  4. The Challenging Face of Global Christianity
  5. The Emergence of a Fourth Branch of Christianity
  6. Globalization
  7. A Deeper Ecumenism

How we engage and address these seven trends will inevitably shape the theology and character of Christianity and the advance or decline of the gospel in our context. Some books have been written on these Mega-Trends; however, the issues are proving increasingly complex, requiring more thoughtful reflection and attention. For instance, how does he re-centering of Global Christianity to the South and the East affect the way we think about missions and theologizing? For some great insight on this, check out Tennent’s Theology in the Context of Global Christianity. In the weeks to come, I will be blogging through some of these issues and look forward to some healthy interaction to learn and grow with you all.

Get Better at Contextualization & Mission

Church planting, contextualization, and church planting residencies aren’t anything new. These have been practices of the missional church for centuries, and in comparison to what is passed off as contextualization today, our early planting fathers possessed greater missiological insight than most of us.

Gregory the Great (540-604) was the most influential bishop of the 6th century. Some have argued he was the first Pope, in which case, he would not have been the best bishop, especially given some of this politicization of the faith. All this is debated. Nevertheless, Gregory would have made a great church planter. He was an apostle of sorts, sending missionaries to Briton to ‘make the Angles into Angels”. His choice emissary was Augustine of Canterbury, who with 40 monks, set up mission base at St. Tours. Like many of his Celtic predecessors, Augustine realized the strategic value of having a mission training and sending center among his target people. And I’m willing to bet it was much better than most “church planting residencies” we have today. Here’s a few reasons why.

Augustine implemented great missiology received from Gregory. That missiology, as Tim Tennent has pointed out, can be summarized with three words: Adaptation, Gradualism, and Exchange.

  • Adaptation To adopt a cultural form for Christian purposes. In Augustine’s case, he adopted heathen temples and turned them into church buildings. Gregory wrote to him: “Detach them from the service of the devil and adapt them for the worship of the true God.” Many Christian leaders and Christians would frown on using a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall for a church building because their conception of church is so narrowly conceived. Since my first day in Austin, I have been praying that God would give us a male strip joint called La Bare to meet in and do mission from, located the corner of Riverside and Congress. We are currently meeting in a downtown Theatre where we frequently pick up beer bottles off the floor before people arrive. The bathrooms are covered in graffiti and smell terrible, but the aroma of Christ fills the Hideout every week and is slowly changing that part of the city. This isn’t about being cool; its about adopting Austin’s cultural forms, creating common cultural space for non-Christians, and using these forms for Christ-honoring purposes.
  • Gradualism Implement Christian ideals slowly recognizing that individuals are undergoing and entire worldview shift. Don’t expect radical holiness from your new converts. If they have embraced Christ but still smoke pot or occasionally drink too much, don’t beat them up for their behaviors. Instead, shepherd their hearts, lead them into the gospel, and allow their inner joy to transform their outer joys. Gregory wrote: “If we allow them these outward joys, then we are more likely to find their way to the true inner joy… It is doubtless to cut off all abuses at once from rough hearts, just as a man who sets out to climb a high mountain does not advance by leaps and bounds, but goes upward step by step and pace by pace.”
  • Exchange The creation of an entirely new cultural form in exchange for an existing idolatrous one. It is one thing to use pagan temples for church buildings, it is quite another to participate in pagan sacrifices. For instance, if your people consistently go to happy hours to get wasted and have a social life, create a more God-honoring context for socializing. Gregory wrote: “People must learn to slay their cattle not in honour of the devil, but in honour of God and for their own food…” We need to work creating more social spaces for our people to exchange sinful social spaces with holy social spaces.