We’ve just published Church in Life, the follow-up to Michael Moynagh’s highly influential book Church for Every Context. The book aims to break new ground by proposing a framework for thinking about innovation in the church, by arguing that new ecclesial communities should be at the centre of the church’s life and thought, and by offering new theology and methodologies for church planting.
Dave Male, National Advisor for Pioneer Development declared that
“it should be required reading for those making policy for the future of the church“.
Rev Doug Gay described it as
“rich and ambitious“
Stephen Bevans, Professor of Mission and Culture at the Catholic Theological Union, USA comments
“when you read this book you will think differently about the church, and perhaps even do church differently as well”
And Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church Oxford, described the book as
“lucid, searching and wise”.
Here’s an extract from the introduction, in which Moynagh outlines his aims for the book:
“Church in Life has three audiences. The first is those who reflect on the church’s life and mission. The book contends that new ecclesial communities have a compelling theological rationale. This means that there is no need to start them for purely pragmatic reasons – to stoke the dying embers of church. Even if the church was growing, it would still be theologically necessary to encourage these communities
This suggestion should be read in the context of Stephen Bevans’s comment that ecclesiology and missiology have typically focused on different things: ecclesiology on what the church is, missiology on what the church does. The disciplines have tended to bypass each other. Recent movements in the two disciplines have begun to close the gap. In both disciplines today, the immediate starting point is neither the church’s nature nor – as used to be the case with missiology – its activity, but the reality of the triune God. Ecclesiology has become more missiological as it realizes that it is God’s mission – the sending of the Son and the Spirit – that calls the church into being. Missiology has become more ecclesiological by recognizing that the church is how God’s mission explicitly takes shape (Bevans, 2005, pp. 45–9).
Church in Life makes the case that not only do missiology and ecclesiology belong together, but the Spirit is summoning theologians to attend to a certain type of mission. This is mission undertaken by ecclesial communities in the settings of everyday life. Though this is not the only form of mission that counts, it is mission that arises from the generous nature of God and from the church’s vocation. The church is a divine gift to the world, and it is in the nature of this gift to be passed on. New ecclesial communities are how God’s gift of communal life with Jesus gets transmitted to people who have not yet received it. Forming these communities is to walk in the steps of Jesus. New ecclesial communities gently befriend people and put Jesus on public display in every corner of society. They are ‘insider communities’, emerging within contexts rather than expecting new believers to attend church outside the setting. Chapters 11 to 14 address some of the questions arising from this.
Advocates of new types of church frequently appeal to the incarnation.11 Just as Jesus immersed himself in a particular culture – Judaism – to reach humanity, his body is called to be present in the particular cultures of today’s world. This is a strong approach, but it risks telling only half the story. To paint the whole picture, God’s future must be brought into the frame. Jesus came into the world as the paradigm and instigator of God’s promised kingdom. Taking our cue from Jürgen Moltmann’s theology of hope (1964; ET 1967), new ecclesial communities should be viewed from this kingdom perspective. They are expressions of God’s coming reign.
The Spirit enables founders of these communities, through prayerful imagination, to perceive new kingdom possibilities in the present. As founders imagine God’s future transforming the here and now, they are inspired to enact this potential with others. In the process, the Spirit uses innovation to transport God’s future into the present. Touches of the kingdom change the rules of the game and create something new. Through innovation, eternity takes root in the midst of history. New ecclesial communities are expressions of hope – hope in the renewal of creation through divine innovation.
Church in Life argues that ecclesial multiplication is fundamental to the church’s life. It gives rise to expressions of God’s promised future. Yet it is almost completely neglected in academic discussions of the church. Might the Spirit be calling the church to reverse this neglect – to draw multiplication towards the heart of its witness and thought?
The second audience is students, researchers, founders and enablers of new ecclesial communities. Church in Life substantially develops the theological and practical material in Church for Every Context (Moynagh, 2012), which was written for the same audience. In particular, this new book introduces an innovation framework. The framework can help practitioners understand and work with the dynamics that give rise to these new communities.
A third audience is evangelical church planters influenced by Church Growth theory. Increasingly, it is now realized that to bridge the widening gap between the church and society church planting must change. This revisionism has been led by practitioners on both sides of the Atlantic, and to some extent in Australia, who have stumbled on new methodologies. From the late 1990s, a deep desire to connect the church with people outside, missional reflection on postmodern society and, in some cases, ‘post-evangelical’ angst have encouraged more contextual and diverse forms of planting. ‘Fresh expressions of church’ have multiplied these new approaches.
What is missing is a theoretical framework to help understand these new developments. Though rarely spelt out, church-growth influenced planting assumes a rational choice perspective. Aggregate social behaviour results from the behaviour of individuals, each making their own decisions. These decisions are based on individuals’ preferences. Rational individuals weigh up relevant information, probabilities, and the costs and benefits of the options to make choices that come closest to their preferences. In church planting, this is reflected in the emphasis on selecting and training individual planters (e.g. Logan and Ogne, 1991). Though planters will have teams, teams are seen as collections of decision-making individuals.
This perspective has a number of weaknesses.13 First, people do not behave merely as individuals. They act through relationships. Rather than sitting in armchairs thinking themselves into their choices as individuals, people engage in conversations, from which ideas and decisions emerge. Secondly, rational choice says too little about the contextual factors influencing decisions. People decide not only in dialogue with others, but in response to feedback from their contexts. Each decision then affects the context, which generates further feedback, which in turn influences the next decision.
Thirdly, rational choice fails to deal adequately with uncertainty. It assumes that people know enough to choose between alternatives. But in newer forms of church planting, founders are often not choosing between options whose costs and benefits are known. They are faced with alternatives whose outcomes are uncertain. For example: will café church work in this demographic? Typically, the founding team does not know. In such circumstances, decision-making takes the form of experimentation rather than rational calculation. Fourthly, rational choice tends to distinguish rationality from emotions. Decision-making is seen as a rational calculation divorced from feelings, whereas everyday experience testifies to the importance of gut reactions.
To avoid these weaknesses, the chapters that follow offer a perspective based on complexity thinking, which is a more relational, more emergent approach. Complexity thinking seeks to describe behaviour that arises from the local, uncoordinated interactions of many participants. This behaviour cannot be predicted from knowing what each component of a system does in isolation. It arises from interactions between people and has the feel of ‘making it up as we go along’. Complexity thinking, along with ‘effectuation theory’ from the entrepreneurship literature, forms the sociological foundations of the innovation framework introduced in Part 1.
The practical evidence in Part 1 and the theology in Part 2 suggest that the Spirit may be calling church planters to embrace greater innovation, as many are beginning to do. Church in Life offers resources for reimagining church planting for the twenty-first century. ”
Michael Moynagh is based at Wycliffe College Oxford and a member of the UK Fresh Expressions team.