A few weeks ago I read George G. Hunter's new book "The Recovery of a Contagious Methodist Movement." Part of the Adaptive Leadership Series, it was one of the collection of books released prior to this most recent Methodist General Conference.
During my time at Asbury I never took Dr. Hunter, but I knew he was pretty serious. This little book confirmed that thought.
What stuck out the most to me was this idea, found on pages 41-44. A catalytic Christian movement will begin when "hopeless" people are reached. The category of "hopeless" is defined by any people group outside of the established population of a local church. This is radical outreach because it means incorporating people that are definitely "not like us".
The center of the early Methodist movement involved reaching out past established and churched populations. John Wesley's version of this involved miners, field workers and the folks driving the engine of the industrial revolution in England. In America, it took place among others on the outside. The Methodists were famous for going to the hardest, meanest and most "non-churched" and socially "hopeless" parts of the local population.
NPR has a great article showcasing a community in the Northeast and their gathering at the Maryland Deathfest. In "Portraits of an American Metal Festival", Lars Gotrich showcases a deep community. This is just a glance into a pre-existing people group, with a catalytic number of people. They are already connected, share a common set of sensibilities, issues and beliefs.
I would bet in many communities, similar people groups exist. They will have gathering spots, identifiable leaders and local variation. Here is just one example of a culture outside of the boundaries of most local congregations. I bet they don't know the doxology or the difference between a stole or a vestment.
In each of our communities there are countless sub groups of people that we can quickly identify as "not church people". But if we are truly passionate about the saving and healing grace of Jesus Christ, and his commissioning to create disciples...it would be in our interest to start learning about these new groups of people.
We all want to see our churches grow. But until we learn to look outside our own comfort interests and notions of who is in church, we will not see that growth. Jesus went to the outside and Wesley went to the outside. As Methodists, this journey to the outside is part of our DNA. Let us place ourselves back inside of it and find who might previously have called hopeless.