I recently found this online game called Pandemic II. It got me thinking about the gospel and the mission of the church…
In Pandemic II, one of the things working against your disease is visibility. The more your disease is noticed, the quicker that other regions will shut down their airports, their shipyards, and their borders, therefore decreasing the spread of your disease. The key (for me) is to develop your disease in such a way that it is highly infectious yet below the radar. The symptoms you choose to spread the disease affect visibility. Coughing is effective, and certainly noticeable, but it is less noticeable than necrosis (dead, rotting tissue that smells of death). Both spread the disease, but one is certainly less noticeable. A highly infectious, nearly invisible disease has a greater chance of infecting a higher number of regions.
What does visibility have to do with the gospel and the church’s mission?
This issue has strong supporters and detractors of every facet. There are those who say that high visibility is a must, and there are those who say low visibility is a must. My thoughts? It depends…
The current church planting buzz in America is (to me) highly visible. The method of many planters and church planting organizations is to raise a ton of money (at least $250,000 if not more), parachute drop a team into a community, do some highly visible marketing and events (carnivals, neighborhood BBQ’s, etc.), and have a huge launch Sunday (complete with newspaper and TV coverage, if possible). As in the last post, ten years ago this worked rather well. Now, everyone seems to be doing it, even established churches… and in many areas the results are diminishing. In my area of the country, it seems like every church does some kind of fall/harvest festival around Halloween. To me, it seems like a lot of white noise. Granted, each church has different motivations for such events, but for the most part, it’s a channel for higher visibility and to get more people into their church. Is any of this wrong? No. But maybe we need to look outside this high visibility/attractional approach.
There have been a few studies that suggest that those outside the church aren’t impressed by our huge productions. Our high visibility seems to have produced little more than noise in many areas of the country. We’ve planted church services instead of churches (again, not in every case, but in many cases), which has produced a lot of transfer growth, but not conversion growth. What those outside the church do notice is the disconnect between our lives and our message. They notice that our “religion” is a part of our lives, but it doesn’t define our lives. The church service and facilities are highly visible, but Jesus isn’t visible in our lives (again, not for everyone… but it is true for many).
Maybe the thing that needs to be visible isn’t our “church”, but Christ in us.
It seems to me that we’re approaching church planting in the West in a similar fashion that the British approached warfare back in the 1700’s–highly visible, static strategy based on tradition rather than effectiveness. One of the reasons the British had so much trouble during the French and Indian War (which, for those of you who don’t remember your American History, preceded the American Revolution by a few years) was that they would march their highly visible lobster-backed army (with the famous red coats) in strict military fashion, while the opposition adopted more of a guerrilla warfare approach (just watch the movie “Last of the Mohicans” to get an idea). A highly immobile, visible target for a much more flexible, low visibility opponent.
Vince Antonucci likes the guerrilla approach when it comes to the visibility of the gospel. He has used this with his current church in VA Beach, and will undoubtedly use it again when he plants a new church on the Vegas strip (guerrilla love is also the topic of his forthcoming book). A guerrilla lover is someone who uses low visibility, high frequency acts of sacrificial love to expose someone to the gospel. It’s taking advantage of the opportunities that most others will never see, but can make a big difference in the lives of others.
Are there times for high visibility? Sure. When a church is recognized for its service to the community (which is likely done in low visibility ways), that’s high visibility. When a church organizes a huge, church-wide service event in their community, it can turn into a high visibility event. Should we, however, pursue high visibility in the community? The jury is still out on that one…
The effectiveness of high visibility things like marketing and advertising seem to be on the decline in many areas. It is certainly the case for us. Our church wasted thousands of dollars on marketing campaigns, which brought few outsiders and many disgruntled, curious churched people. We also have to look at motive–why do we serve in the community? Is it to get more people to come to our church, or simply because it’s the Jesus thing to do? If it is simply to get more people in our church, we may need to step back and evaluate. What should be abundantly obvious is this: people living the Jesus life 24/7, looking for opportunities to serve others, often in low visibility ways, are much more effective than a marketing campaign.
So, to wrap up this post on visibility, let’s consider these things:
- Be a guerrilla lover. Every follower of Jesus Christ should be on the lookout for low visibility opportunities to sacrificially love those within and outside the church, with no other motivation than to show the love of Jesus to that person in that moment, in His name.
- Live a noticeable life. It doesn’t matter if you have a Jesus fish and 35 Christian bumper stickers on your car… if you’re flippin’ the bird to traffic, people won’t notice your “flair.” They’ll notice your inconsistency. Therefore, we must live authentically, surrendered to Jesus, honestly admitting our mistakes, and being transformed by the renewing of our minds, refusing to let the world squeeze us into its mold. What must be highly visible to people is the Christ-empowered transformation in our lives.
- Rethink your church’s approach. Most churches see their worship service as the front door into the church, with a view of getting people into small groups. But what if we flipped that on it’s head? What if we had more people in a small group setting than a Sunday setting, driven by low visibility relationships instead of high visibility marketing campaigns? And what if we streamlined our structure so that instead of having separate small groups and ministry teams, our small groups were our ministry teams–providing both fellowship and an avenue to pursue guerrilla love service opportunities in communitas? Just a thought…
That’s it for visibility. Tomorrow, we’ll wrap the series by looking at lethality… and I’ll give you a link to the game.