Background part 1

by Steve Lewis

This is the first in a series dedicated to recapping and explaining everything that has happened in the first two years of Partnership for Missional Church (PMC) here at Woosehill. The series is based on talks I’ve given in the Sunday morning PMC slots.

Quite some task! And it’s not helped by the fact there are gaps in my knowledge. Inevitably some of what I have said  or written on this subject is based on my own understanding of PMC. Others will have equally valid thoughts.

Before I start, let’s be clear; PMC is not unique. There are many other processes, programmes, courses and books which have a similar message on the need/benefit of churches being more outward looking and reaching out to the local community. They also tend to use similar means to achieve this desired outcome. And we have looked at some of them for ideas and guidance. Each of them has their own pros and cons.

Is PMC the best one for us? I don’t know. It certainly comes with issues – just ask anyone about the jargon! But we are where we are!  So let’s assume that God decided that PMC is right for Woosehill. And God does seem to be guiding and providing for us as we pray and plan. 

I thought it best to start by explaining some of the background history of PMC. Where did it come from, how did it start, etc?

Patrick Keifert

PMC began in America over 30 years ago, through a chap called Patrick Keifert, who noticed that many local community churches, were “stagnating or declining”. There were, however, a few that were flourishing. Patrick wondered why.

So he began to  research and investigate many local community churches in America. He wanted to understand their history; what they were doing (or not doing); what had been tried; and what had been successful.

Patrick found several common themes:

  • that the role, power and influence of the Church in society has changed; the Church is no longer a political power or legal authority (compare the position and power of the Church in medieval times compared to today).
  • that there has been (and is still ongoing) a significant change in Western culture in the last forty or so years. At a local level, the Church is no longer the hub of the community around which life revolves. There are many other things to do, and many links to the Church have now gone (most schools are not Church schools).
  • that many churches are still being run as if nothing has changed in the world – or they were trying to serve non-existent needs and sometimes a non-existent community. Keifert gives an example of a Polish Church in America built by Polish immigrants. But the children and grandchildren of these immigrants had moved away and other non-Polish people had moved into the area. The church, however, still saw itself as serving the non-existent Polish people – resulting in few people attending the church.
  • that attempts had sometimes been made to “improve” a church, to make it more attractive to outsiders, for example by bringing in new radical service styles or external people (such as employing a youth worker). Whilst providing a short-term increase in church attendance, in the long-term these changes had been mostly ineffective, with attendance dropping back to the original low levels This had further demoralised and often divided the church members.
  • that flourishing community churches had often looked at the needs of the local community and had themselves provided the means/support to satisfy some of the needs. Keiffert gives an example of a declining church with an older congregation (and no children). Church members had noticed that there were many single parent families in the community. So the church decided to offer a baby sitting service so the parents could go out. Now the church is growing, with children attending

Patrick concluded:

  • that many local churches had become irrelevant to the local community surrounding them.
  • that local churches needed to reach out to their communities to understand what would make the church relevant again.
  • that the church members, themselves, would need to be intimately involved in this outreach. Otherwise the church would continue to stagnate and slowly die.

From this research Patrick developed Partnership for Missional Church going through several iterations (and names) before it matured into what we are using today. He also wrote a book: We Are Here Now


Note: See also Eileen’s article in the September/October Church Magazine for her thoughts and experiences of the changing role of local Churches in the community.