Learning from North Point part 2
North Point Community Church was one of the churches that generated publicity last month by not “having church” on Christmas day. They have at least three reasons for this position, two explicit, the other implicit.
First, they want to “create margin” in the lives of their people. Here’s what they say in The 7 Practices of Effective Ministry:
“Another example of calendaring margin is the unheard-of decision by our elders to cancel services on the Sunday following Christmas [so 2005 when Christmas fell n a Sunday is not the issue]. On that Sunday we simply shut down. We do this for two reasons: first, as a thank-you to the thousands of volunteers it takes to run a Sunday morning here; and second, to protect the quality of our product. So many of our volunteers travel on that weekend that we find it difficult to maintain the level of excellence to which we are accustomed. But by scheduling this closure and announcing it to everyone, we are able to take a potentially negative situation and turn it into a positive one.” (p. 177)
Ok, they provide their first two reasons there – a relief to their workers (their normal Sunday morning ministry requires over 1500 people), and a desire to maintain “the quality of our [their] product.” What is that product? It’s their Sunday morning Foyer environment. They want the people to come to be drawn to Christ, and they’re convinced quality will bring more people (or drive away fewer) than a slip-shod product. Here’s where the third and implicit reason for closing Christmas day comes in. Sunday morning is not about what the traditional church thinks of as church. It’s about evangelism – reaching people for Christ. How many of our traditional, liturgically correct churches schedule our evangelistic events, our seeker services on days our culture identifies as “family time holidays?”
But how many of our traditional, liturgically correct churches schedule any evangelistic or seeker events? How many of us exert huge effort to create and offer environments where non-church people can come and hear the message of Jesus focused on their hearing and learning style – instead of the hearing and learning styles of the insiders? As Mike Slaughter of Ginghamsburg UMC in Ohio has said, [I paraphrase] “I want to overcome all the barriers in communicating the gospel so that the people know they are offended – by the gospel itself and not by my style.” That seems to be what NPCC is about.
Therefore we need to nuance our claim that NPCC did not “have church” on Christmas day. If by “have church” we mean a event whose primary purpose is to unite all the members of the church worshiping God, then no, they didn’t “have church.” But they don’t “have church” any other Sunday either. NPCC is not organized to “have church” like our traditional churches. They’re a mission outpost, a missionary station in the middle of secular culture. They seem to be thinking along the lines of English missionary C.T. Studd, â€œSome want to live within the sound of a church or chapel bell, but I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.â€
So we traditional churches are “doing church” while NPCC (and some other groups) are “doing evangelism.” Which is more biblical? I have to think that having a desire to reach people for Christ as part of your lifeblood is mighty biblical. The Book of Acts tells us of the early churches who were “adding to their number daily.” What? Not only at the invitation time on Sunday? It sure looks like NPCC has something we need. In their focus on evangelism the NPCC folks seem a lot more like the early Methodists than our current batch. Of course the early Methodists didn’t constitute a church, but more of what we today would call a “Parachurch” organization. John Wesley remained a member of the Church of England all his days. So maybe, although the name of the organization is North Point Community Church it’s not really a church after all.
Or then again, we might need to rethink our definition of church.