I have been in many conversations with people about this idea, and this post is a sort of working out of those conversations in my ow mind. Credit for a lot of this stuff goes to my conversation cohorts: Nick Melton, Jim Kinder, Brad Boland, Jeff Spiler Amanda McNeal, Tobi McMillan, Jon Spallino, Becca Griffin, Bill McLarty, and Chris Folmsbee.
Here is the idea I grew up with regarding how someone comes to faith. We all start from a place of utter lostness to the Gospel. Then, through our life we are exposed to the concepts of God. We consider them, and eventually come to a place where we can sign on to being a Christian. In other words, we come to a place where we can believe the claims about faith made by the Christian organization we are involved with. Once we get there, we begin to grow in the faith learning more and more. We hope that as we grow in faith, our actions begin to change and look more and more like the actions of Jesus.
This conception of salvation and faith asserts that God woos through and to the teachings about Him. This system would say that these teachings are the best way to understand who God is, and when delivered through the community of faith lead the masses into the heart of God. After accepting by faith these concepts, the life of faith is about working those teachings out in our life.
I believe that this is changing. I believe that a time is coming, and may already be here, where the most powerful entry point into the life of faith in Jesus is not through doctrine, teachings, or even a powerful evangelist. I believe that the power of words in bringing people to place were they are able to give their lives to Jesus is waning. I would suggest that the process is turning on its head.
Here's the change: instead of faith leading to action, it is action leading to faith. People begin living out the teachings and life of Jesus (whether they would characterize it as this or not). Through their actions, they begin to be wooed by God through their experience. Then at some point, they discover that what they now believe as a result of their actions matches up with the person and teachings of Jesus and make the conscious decision to identify themselves with that faith. At that point, the cognitive side begins and is discerned and interpreted through the lens of their experience rather than the other way around.
Just as everything else, there is truly "no new thing under the sun." This has been happening, but has not been seen as the primary method. I believe that this needs to be the case soon, but not to the exclusion of the earlier pattern.
This changes how the church approaches ministry and evangelism. The primary "invite your friends" events are no longer hang-out or worship but mission. Instead of having bunches of small groups who are primarily focused on study with a once a month mission project, we have small groups of people ministering in the community each week who have a once a month study project. This is only adapting the old model. I'm sure that this has new innovations ready to be born as it is granted validity as a path to faith.
Just as interesting as this change in ministry are the implications that flow from this mindset. To a person who experiences faith in this way, anyone who does not actively live their faith ideals is seen as someone who has not met the most basic, entry into faith. To a person who experiences faith in this way, success is not judged on worship attendance but on active ministry. In a sense, one could imagine a church who resources this type of model with an actual priority on the serving piece having more people involved in service than in a worship service.
Do we need to jump ship and start a new church? Not yet, and maybe never. Do we need to convince our existing people that this is the correct method? Not really, it is growing on its own. Neither is better, they just have different emphases. We need to recognize this transition, and be aware of our bias towards the current model and try to experiment with what ministry through this emerging model looks like.