The Local Church—How It Can Fulfill Its Mission?
The first two parts have addressed the nature and mission of the Church in a general way. But the Church exists today as hundreds of thousands of local churches in a very complex world. The world has over 6,000,000,000 people who are organized in many thousands of different cultures and speak over 6,000 languages. Roughly 1/3 of the earth’s population call themselves Christians. Of the rest, about half, or about 2,000,000,000 people are believed yet to hear a clear presentation of the gospel in a way they can understand. The job of a local church is to fulfill Great Commission in its local context and see that the Great Commission is at the same time being fulfilled everywhere else in the world. In the face of this complexity and the size of the job ahead, how should the local church seek to fulfill its mission?
1. Reaching Your Local Cultural Group. Each local church is unique. The church is people. No two people are exactly alike, and no two churches, even when they are located in the same community, are exactly alike. Most urban communities are made up of people from different cultural groups—they have different family and tribal backgrounds, they are of different economic and educational levels, and they have different goals and desires. These different cultural contexts mean that there is a need for many different kinds of churches, each commissioned by Jesus to reach a particular cultural group. A Russian-speaking church will find it relatively easy to reach other Russians. It should not avoid trying to win people of other groups, but they will more likely be reached by churches made up of people from those ethnic groups.
Each church needs to begin by looking carefully and prayerfully at the location where God has placed it. Who lives around the church? Who is presently a part of the church? In what ways is the church like its community and in what ways is it different? It is very crucial that the leadership of an existing local church spends time before the Lord together in prayer until they are certain that they know exactly who it is that Jesus is asking them to reach for Him. That group becomes the local cultural target of that church. In most cases that will be the people who live within easy reach of the church and who are culturally similar to those already in the church. In the Zambian context, that would mean people who are of the same ethnic and economic background as the present church members. But that may not be what God is saying to the church leadership. And if God wants a local church to reach out to another group, that is who they should target to reach.
Once the target cultural group is identified, the church needs to determine how to reach that group. If a church is already growing and reaching the target group, it is probably already doing most of what it should be doing. But in many cases a local church is not really growing. People are won to Christ or join the church, but just as many leave and thus there is no net growth. Or perhaps almost all of the people joining a church are coming from other churches and very few are being won to Christ. If this is the case, the local church needs to seriously look at what it is presently doing and why. Everything needs to be examined. Some questions to consider:
1. What churches nearby with the same target group are growing? What are they doing differently than us?
2. Do the programs of our church help fulfill the church's mission? Are we investing a lot of time, energy, and money in activities that are unproductive?
3. Does our church have a clear focus or direction? Is this communicated to all the people in our church?
4. Do those who are workers in the church understand how their ministry contributes to the church's mission?
2. Nearby Cultural Groups (Nearby Either Geographically or Culturally). Besides the local cultural target group, every church has a responsibility before God to reach other people groups that are nearby. One way of describing these groups is to think of them as falling into one of two classes:
a. Those that are close culturally but live a distance from the church. These consist of people who are of the same target cultural group and would be relatively easy to reach for Christ, but they live too far away for them to attend your local church on a regular basis.
b. Those that are close geographically but distant culturally. These are people who perhaps live in easy walking distance of your church, but it is unlikely that they would feel comfortable in your church. The barrier maybe language, age, economic level, or a number of similar things. In many cases you could change the way you are doing things currently and make such a group feel comfortable, but in the process you would make some of those currently attending the church feel uncomfortable. For instance, if most of those currently attending your church are Bemba, probably most of the choruses that are sung in church are Bemba and the sermon is translated into Bemba for those who have trouble with English. This might make some Nyanja or Tonga visitors feel out of place. But to change the language being used in services to Nyanja might make some of the Bemba-speaking church members feel they are being slighted.
Probably the best way to address this matter is to plan on starting daughter churches to meet the needs of these other cultural groups. A healthy church should be able to start at least one other church every two to three years. In the case of the same target cultural group this can take the form of planting a new church like the mother church in a nearby village or on the other side of the town. In the case of groups which are close but are culturally distant, it can take the form of planting a new church very close by but geared to reach a group that is not presently being reached by your church. There may already be people in your church of this other cultural group, and they may feel at home there. But if it is apparent that most people of that cultural group would never seriously consider becoming members of your church because they do not feel like they belong, then perhaps a church planted specifically to reach this other cultural group may be what God desires your church to do.
3. Distant Cultural Groups. As noted at the beginning of this section, approximately 2,000,000,000 people today have not had a clear explanation of what God is offering mankind. Every local church, as a part of the body of Christ Jesus, has a responsibility to do what they can to make sure everyone alive today has a chance to hear about how much God loves them and what Jesus did for them at Calvary. Most of these 2,000,000,000 people live far away in countries where Christians cannot easily share their faith. But many of them do live in countries where they can be reached relatively easily by existing churches if they will listen to Jesus and earnestly seek to fulfill the Great Commission. The leaders of every church should seek to sensitize their members to the needs that exist in the world today. Some suggested courses of action:
a. Sensitize every believer to the need for evangelizing other peoples—those who have never heard the gospel.
b. Encourage believers to remember these unreached groups in prayer.
c. Seek to discover if some people who belong to these groups may not live very far away, within reach of your church.
d. Join together with other churches to support outreaches to these unreached peoples in other parts of the world.
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