What A Job We Have in Front of Us

I spent the weekend “immersed” in the Austin, Texas, culture.

On Saturday night, we were taken to Guadalupe near the UT campus, passing numerous street kids and vagrants, observing the eclectic and hyper-secular message most Austin storefronts and businesses exude. We witnessed firsthand the party culture embraced by thousands each night on Sixth Street. And all weekend, we were revealed a young, emerging culture that embraces art, creativity, and uniqueness, but not the church.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t open to spirituality, though. But as is usually the case, the church has been behind the cultural shifts of our day, and church leaders are finding it next to impossible to turn a lumbering giant on its axis to reach these teens and young adults. Flashy programs, dynamic ministers, and “modern” buildings are not attracting this enormous pocket of Americans that makes up a large portion of our urban centers. In fact, they pretty much hate Christians.

But Austin is weird, you say. Maybe, but Austin is also a preview of coming attractions, along with many other American cities in which the arts community carries a big stick: San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, Portland, and the list goes on. Most American cities have a “mid-town” area in which these “emerging cultures” can be found. Their inhabitants are cultured, intelligent, and happily un-churched. They like it that way.

Some in the church are choosing to ignore the problem. But God deeply loves these people, and He doesn’t want to see even one of them perish. We must must find ways to engage this culture in order to reach it for Christ.

Enter The Emerging Church Network in Austin, Texas. Two guys coming out of a purely institutional background &emdash; John Berryhill and Bob Carlton &emdash; came together to explore different ways of reaching this emerging culture that basically runs their city. They are experts in “reading the mosaic” of a city, analyzing its diverse people groups and suggesting methods of reaching them. They support and encourage “emergent model” churches attempting to reach the culture through alternative worship experiences and such, but their real “success” has come in the establishment of several hundred “authentic faith communities” (notice the word “church” is nowhere to be found) in three cities &emdash; Austin, Houston, and Dallas &emdash; which comprise over 1,000 participants. In just over two years, they have seen God intimately touch the lives of 1,000 people through the multiplication of small groups containing 15-20 skeptics, seekers, or saved people.

When was the last time you heard of any congregation that was in dialogue with or had seen a life transformation in 100, let alone 1,000, people in 2 years?

700 University of Texas students not previously attending churches are involved in AFCs or pre-AFCs (any intentional, non-spiritual gathering between a Christian and non-Christians with the expectation that it will turn into an AFC) thanks to the vision of some Austin leaders.

These AFCs are not changing people’s lives. God is. The AFCs and pre-AFCs simply provide a venue in which Christians and not-yet-Christians can dialogue about spiritual things in a non-threatening way. Novel idea, eh?

Chances are your city has an entire generation that is unreached, and chances are few churches in your town know how to reverse that trend. Please check out what these guys are doing. E-mail them. Go see for yourself if you can. My life has been shaped profoundly this weekend by witnessing firsthand the simplicity of meeting people where they are &emdash; in a grocery store, coffee shop, or bar &emdash;, loving them, and dialoguing with them about faith. That’s our part (and our commission) &emdash; let God do the rest. That is faith in action.

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I will post more this week on people who are missionaries in their daily lives. They should serve as models for us, for we are all missionaries. Blessings to all.

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