Alan Hirsch: Church Model Reaching Only 40 Percent of Americans

The contemporary church growth model can only reach a maximum of 40 percent of the American population, said a leading thinker in the missional movement on Thursday.

This is a problem because 95 percent of American churches are using a model that even if successful will reach less than half the population, said Alan Hirsch, an internationally recognized missiologist and founding director of Forge Mission Training Network. He spoke at "The Genius of And" conference, hosted by Granger Community Church in Granger, Ind.

Most churches target the 40 percent of the population that's within the cultural distance of the church, he explained. Meanwhile, attractional churches that have more of an external focus and cultural relevance will, again, only work for 40 percent of the American population. And after a few years of coming to Christ, most people are socialized out of their context and into the context of the church, which removes them from their sphere of influence.

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That leaves 60 percent of the population that the church is not reaching.

"Does anyone see a problem here? It is called all our eggs are in one basket," said Hirsch in his message titled, "Living in the Land of And." "At any given point and time to resolve the missional challenges in which we face we only have a variation of one model."

Hirsch cited Einstein's famous quote, "Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them," and called on church leaders to use their imagination.

"Many in our population are increasingly in isolation from us and we have to take the message to them," said the missiologist, born in South Africa to a Jewish family.

To illustrate his point about the 40 and 60 percent, he used the business strategies of Red Ocean and Blue Ocean. The Red Ocean is highly competitive space where competitors have to compete for the same market. On the other hand, the Blue Ocean Strategy is one where you innovate and create new demand in an uncontested market space.

American churches are overwhelmingly going after the same market, the 40 percent, leaving the larger 60 percent and increasing unreached, he said.

But American churches are capable of being both attractional churches and missional churches, he said.

"It is the first time you are living in an unchurched, dechurched culture," commented Hirsch. "America has been churched for so long and now we have to think differently. That is why it sounds like such a challenge, but [it is a] great opportunity to expand our understanding of the church."

Church, he stressed, comes out of mission, not the other way around. "We need to plant the Gospel and let church come out of that."

Hirsch was the opening plenary speaker at "The Genius of And" conference, which focuses on how established churches can continue to attract crowds and use their strength to release missional communities. The two-day conference aims to address the problem of America having more churches than at any point in history, yet facing church attendance decline.

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