Three Views of Church
In North America there typically seems to be three ways people view church in relation to culture. Having only three categories may be oversimplifying it, but the more simple we break it down, the easier it is to see the differences.
View 1: Church as a Bomb Shelter
This view sees the primary purpose of a church as keeping God’s people unstained by the world. A Bomb Shelter church is one that is inwardly focused. It sees the culture as full of filth and desires to keep it outside the walls of the church. Most Bomb Shelter churches have been around for a long time, but they usually haven’t seen a ton of growth. It feels to some people like a Christian club. The Bomb Shelter church often is old fashioned and loves tradition. It is slow to change and sees other churches that go “contemporary” as sell outs. They teach sound doctrine and emphasize living a holy life.
View 2: Church as a Mirror
This view is pretty much the opposite as the Bomb Shelter. Rather than going against the culture, the Mirror church flows with it. They believe that in order to reach new people, new methods are necessary. They attempt to assimilate, or mirror, the culture around them in order to seem more relevant to non-church goers. A Mirror church sometimes holds loosely to doctrine and tradition. They use technology and terms that are up-to-date. A heavy emphasis on social relief is present and the pastor preaches like a storyteller.
View 3: Church as a Missional Outpost
This view sees the church as existing within culture in order to transform culture. A Missional Outpost church mixes historical Christian doctrine with current methodology. They view every church member as a missionary, and the purpose of the church is to gather and train it’s people in order to send them back into the culture to reach and transform it for Christ. In this view, culture is not the enemy, nor is it to be copied, but it is the mission field to be reached.
Which View is Correct?
Again, knowing these descriptions are overly generic and stereotypical, I would still put forth that a Missional Outpost model is the best approach. It is, to me, the view that best reflects the church portrayed in the Bible. One verse to highlight is Ephesians 4:12, which states that leaders are given to churches to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry”. This means that every Christian is seen as a missionary to be trained for ministry work. The purpose of church is to gather and equip them in order to send them back out to their families, workplaces, and communities and bring the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The ministry of Paul seems to be the same. His strategy was to go into a city, learn the culture, preach the gospel, start a new church by establishing leadership, and then move on to the next city to do the same thing there. Then, each church was charged with reaching the lost in their own community. This is essentially how Christianity has spread across the world for roughly 2000 years. I say, let’s keep the trend going!