Ecclessionomics, the invisible economic incentives and disincentives underlying how we do church, are among the most powerful forces shaping the church in North America today.
While these forces are churning churches and denominations across North America, prompting mass migrations from one church to another in search of the preferable church home, their impact on the lost is much more insidious.
Even as mega-churches forge networks of ecclesiastical excellence, church planters in North America are engaged in a church-planting fervor. Over the past decade, growing church-planter conferences have convened in Orlando, Austin, Orange County, and Chicago imparting best practices for starting, growing, and sustaining new church starts.
Faith-filled church planters by the thousands gather at events like Exponential and Verge to learn from one another how best to advance Christ’s kingdom in the cities, suburbs, and small towns of North America. These are not to be disparaged. Praise God that the Body of Christ is learning from the Body of Christ how to best accomplish Christ’s commission to disciple all nations. But that pesky ecclesionomics threatens to thwart our best intentions. The problem is the allure of low-lying fruit.
If a dozen workers are sent into an orchard to harvest apples and informed that they will be paid on the basis of how many apples they harvest, economic incentives will compel them to go after the low-lying fruit first. They will quickly gather low-lying fruit; economics demand it. The last fruit to be harvested will be those that require extensive efforts: a ladder, a risk of climbing high, a slower process of harvesting.
Simply put, it is not ecclesionomically feasible to climb the highest trees in pursuit of difficult-to-harvest fruit when low-lying fruit is much easier to reach. This economic reality is having a tragic impact on the millions of North Americans who are not low-lying fruit. These difficult-to-reach fruit are the immigrants from non-Christian backgrounds: the Hindus, Muslims, Buddhist, Orthodox Jews, and Atheists that now populate our unchurched cities and towns across North America.
Nonetheless, the Great Commission was not issued as a mandate to congregate an economically viable community of believers, but rather to disciple the nations, all of the nations, and the nations includes those with no proclivity toward our typical North American churches.
How do we break out of this ecclesionomic conundrum? By returning to first principles. Every church, not just the missionaries they send out, is required by Christ to obey his Great Commission. This doesn’t mean we abandon our quest for excellence, but we must include in that pursuit an excellence in harvesting the difficult-to-reach fruit as well.
We must recognize that Christ is the Lord of the harvest. Christ compels us to do something that is counter-intuitive, to go beyond the pull of ecclesionomics, to harvest the difficult-to-reach fruit for whom Christ also died. This requires a faith investment in the future: the construction of ladders, cross-cultural bridges that will take us deeper into the harvest than our current ecclesionomic paradigms may reward. They require missional churches and missional church planters who will strive against the ecclesionomic incentives and disincentives that currently constrain and restrain us.
We must resist the laws of ecclesionomics by waking up to its reality, and submit in faith to the mandate of Jesus to make disciples of all nations. We look to the motivation that compelled the first disciples to do what was risky, difficult, even dangerous. Rather than content ourselves to build a church out of displaced or dissatisfied Christians, we must also go to what Jesus called “the highways and hedges” to gather in those who do not wish to be gathered. We must go after the difficult-to-reach fruit.
Christ died for these unwitting Christians of the future. For they are the future of the church.
Dr. David Garrison is the Executive Director of Global Gates, a ministry that reaches the ends of the earth through global gateway cities. Learn more about Global Gates at GlobalGates.info. Mission Nexus member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.