Approximately 1.4 million people live in Palm Beach County. Virtually every major study in recent years reports that our county/city is one of America’s most unchurched metropolitan areas. On any given Sunday, if you add up all the church attendance (all denominations) in our county, you would be hard-pressed to find 200,000 worshippers, even on Easter Sunday. This means there are 1.2 million people living in Palm Beach County who are completely unchurched.
Once again, we need to ask ourselves: “Is church the end game?” The answer is yes and no. Our commitment is to spread the gospel—the good news that Jesus died for our sins, was buried and raised to life so those who believe can participate in His eternal life. Once we believe and receive this good news, however, it is clear that God intends for us to gather together. In fact, He commands it (Hebrews 10:24-25).
On November 27, 2011, Jimmy Scroggins told our church that in order to reach the 1.2 million unchurched people living around us, everyone needs to be involved in the church’s mission of making disciples – everyone! As part of this message, Pastor Jimmy cast his vision to plant 100 South Florida churches. Some people giggled, some flat-out laughed, others were inspired, but everyone knew this was a defining moment in the life of our church.
Now I’ll let you in on a little secret – we know it is going to take more than 100 churches to reach Palm Beach County and all of South Florida – A LOT MORE. Imagine planting a single church that grows to 500 in attendance. How many of these churches are needed to reach 1.2 million people? The math is really simple: 1,200,000 ÷ 500 = 2,400. Now imagine reaching all of South Florida’s 7 million people?!
Perhaps it would be easier to plan a massive area-wide crusade or have a high attendance emphasis where each one brings one. Maybe we could retool our worship style or focus on strategies to grow our church OR maybe we could attempt to do all of the above. The problem is that we HAVE been doing all of the above and we’re not advancing the ball down the field. The solution, we believe, is to unleash missionaries across South Florida—people living on mission to make Christ-followers where we work, live and play.
As I stated in part one of this series, the Missio Dei sees God the Father sending His Son, and God the Father and God the Son sending the Holy Spirit, and the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit sending the church. We are learning together as a body of believers that if we identify with God the Father as His children, then we will identify with His mission. This is God’s strategy for reaching people and it’s not optional. It’s His only play; He doesn’t have a back-up plan.
When Jesus began His earthly ministry, one of the first things He did was invite followers to join His mission. These men were gathered together for instruction and equipping and they were sent out together on mission (Mark 6:7). In Acts 2, we get a more vivid look into the practices of the early church as its members lived out this gospel mission together. They ate together, studied the apostles’ teachings, prayed together and fellowshipped. They were together in one another’s homes and they came together to meet one another’s needs. As a result, people were daily coming to believe in Jesus. In Acts, we see God binding believers together in community and sending them out. He used persecution to scatter them and as they went out, they brought others in.
These weren’t trained professionals. They were ordinary, unschooled people (Acts 4:13) who understood their responsibility to live on mission. They were “scattering together,” believing that they were the church. They weren’t a Christian book club. They weren’t a building or an institution. These ordinary people lived spectacular lives and were amazingly effective. When Paul went to share the gospel on his missionary travels, he found that these ordinary people had already started churches before he arrived.
If we are going to reach Palm Beach County and all of South Florida, we need God to change our hearts and change our circumstances so that we can better understand and practice missional community. This means being the church instead of just going to church. This means living differently as believers sent by Jesus to carry out His mission of making disciples. It’s not just the professional’s job—the pastors and paid church personnel—it’s every believer’s job. And we’re not just converting people to church attendance; we are converting them first to Jesus and then to His mission.
What are some ways you live on mission in the places you work, play and live?