Day Camper or Pilgrim?

Ircel Harrison

Pinnacle Coaching Coordinator

In a recent conversation with a church leader, we discussed the various activities of his church and how they might lead individuals to become more committed disciples of Christ.  My friend is very concerned about taking people deeper into the faith, helping them to connect with God on a daily basis and transforming their lives.  Unfortunately, we found that many of the things that his church offered were attracting day campers rather than pilgrims.  This is true of many churches today.

During the latter part of the last century, many churches fell in love with church growth methodologies.  The church growth movement adopted the organizational and marketing ideas used by businesses in post-World War II America.  These included designing events based on the demographics of your community, providing comfortable meeting facilities, making certain that everything the church offered was polished, and evaluating customer experience to make church ministries more attractive. There were some positive aspects of this approach, but it fostered a “if we build it, they will come” mentality.  This was an attractional approach.  If this approach could be coupled with a discipleship process that connected people with the church and help them grow in their faith, a strong and vibrant church might develop.

Unfortunately, in most cases the second part of the attractional concept did not happen.  As Darrell Guder observes, “Churches became purveyors of goods and services to consumers.”  If people were not happy with the goods and services offered, they packed up and went shopping for another church.  They did not enter into the process of becoming growing disciples of Jesus Christ.

An alternative is the missional approach.  The missional idea is that the people of God have been called to accomplish the mission of God. The work of the people of God is not limited to the sanctuary (or auditorium) on Saturday night or Sunday morning, but takes place wherever the members of the Body of Christ find themselves on Monday morning and throughout the week.  The world is the mission field and we are the missionaries.

The difference is similar to that of the day camper and the pilgrim.  Day campers drop in for the experience of the day and then go back home.  They are involved in only select parts of the journey.  Pilgrims are involved in the journey 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  They are not simply involved in an experience but in a life of learning, discovery, and service.

The attractional idea is deeply imbedded in our churches.  We want to embrace simple, technical changes that will make our congregations more attractive.  Rather than renovating, we would be better off to tear the institutions down to their foundations and rebuild.

Since this is not going to happen in most churches, we should begin to think how we might adopt a new paradigm where we go to the people rather than asking the people to come to us.   We can begin to make the adaptive changes that will move us toward being the people of God on mission.

Changing the paradigm is not an easy task.  It requires prayer, conversation, and an openness to the Holy Spirit.  The result is the people of God doing what God has called them to do. What a novel idea!

Ircel Harrison is Pinnacle's Coaching Coordinator.

Rhonda Blevins