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THE LOST PRIORITY OF LOCAL MISSION

Dr Ian Duncum, 4 November 2023



More effective local mission has been at least part of most of the 160 consultancies I have carried out in churches. It has been good to hone and build on strengths in outreach in a few of those churches. But many churches seem to have lost their way when it comes to engaging in local mission. It is baffling how many churches, which claim to be centres of faith and spiritual growth, and have local mission enshrined in their purpose statements and core values, falter in this area. Local outreach; the practice of sharing one's faith and beliefs with others, used to be a cornerstone of faith communities. Yet, many churches today seem to be falling short in this vital aspect, and it's worth examining the reasons why. (I plan to write a second blog post soon that looks at some ways forward in this area). First and foremost, the decline in local mission within churches might be attributed to a misplaced focus on internal matters. It's disheartening to see congregations prioritize administrative concerns, building projects, and maintaining their existing members, rather than actively reaching out to the world with God’s Good News. This inward focus fosters a sense of exclusivity, making outsiders feel unwelcome and creating a disconnect between the church and the broader community. I often say to churches that claim they want to revitalise: “then show me seven to ten people who can give seven to ten hours a week in community facing ministry.” Second, the fear of offending or alienating others has led some churches to shy away from local mission. In an age of political correctness and heightened sensitivities, many churches have become overly cautious about expressing their beliefs openly. Yet just yesterday I had two conversations within the space of an hour with people who were exploring spirituality or spiritual next steps. Postmodernity or not, God is at work in the lives of people and 65% of Australians describe themselves as spiritual. Third, a lack of proper training and resources for local mission could be contributing to the decline. Church leaders often spend a significant amount of time on bible studies, but practical training in effective local mission techniques is often neglected. As a result, even those who are passionate about sharing their faith might lack the necessary skills to engage in meaningful conversations with non-believers. One of my early mentors took me regularly to pubs and the Domain so I could engage in spiritual conversations with people. (BTW I still think relationships are the best context for faith sharing and I am not necessarily advocating cold conversations, but it was great training!) Having a Gospel outline, a two-minute testimony, and answers to common questions are critical parts of that training. Fourth, a lack of friends who are not yet Christians is a factor. Indeed, many people struggle to maintain friendships in the busyness of life. But for those who have been in churches for a number of years, the chance of them maintaining friendships with neighbours, work colleagues and others who have not yet found faith in Christ gets slimmer with every year they are in a church. Fifth, a lack of take-up by churches of modern technology, communication tools and social media is such a missed opportunity. I have had to build websites for churches, encourage the use of facebook ads instead of leaflet drops, and underline the importance of regular contact through email. The startling fact is that many people do not know that there is a church in their local area, or what it may offer them. In a slightly different vein, some churches use technology but have fallen into the trap of merely broadcasting to their existing followers, rather than reaching new people. Sixth, a faulty understanding of our responsibility in this divine-human partnership of calling all to recognise Christ as Lord. What I am talking about is an expectation by some that God will bring people into the church or faith without any missional effort on our part. Seventh, a lack of understanding of a missional pathway, with increasing levels of engagement, along with love for and faith in God. Ken Morgan’s book Pathways for Mission outlines such a missional pathway. The encouragement is for churches to reflect on gaps in their pathway, and intentionally call people to deeper engagement with Christ, step by step. In conclusion, the decline in local mission within churches can be attributed to a combination of factors. It's disheartening to witness the missed opportunities for churches to spread the Good News of Jesus, offer hope, and foster meaningful connections with the wider world. It is more than possible for churches to regain their relevance and impact. However, they must rediscover the importance of reaching out beyond their walls and engaging in genuine, empathetic, and open-hearted local mission. May God help us to do so!

© 2023 Ian Duncum. All rights reserved. No reproduction without written permission.


Rev Dr Ian Duncum is a trained and accredited (with John Mark Ministries) church consultant with over 20 years experience of working with non-profit enterprises and churches across a number of denominations. This has also included denominational leadership in church health and development and church research in the tertiary education sector. An accredited minister with a track record of growing churches, Ian also trains church consultants, facilitates training for ministers and leaders, and mentors/supervises pastors and other leaders. He can be contacted at www.ianduncum.com.au or duncum@internode.on.net

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