Hillsong LA
(Photo : Courtesy of Hillsong LA's Instagram (@hillsongla))

The idea that the church in America is experiencing a stagnancy or even a decline is one that is shared by many. In the midst of the alleged stagnancy, however, are many ever-growing churches, many of which are churches with young congregations. Dr. Sang-Hoon Lee, a professor of Missiology at Fuller Theological Seminary, discussed these young churches during his lecture titled, “An Innovative Pastoral Ministry and the Missional Church,” at a recent pastors’ forum on March 10 hosted by Methodist Theological University Future Ministry Research Group and Joyful Pastoral Education Research Center.

The missional church movement is one that has already been receiving a tremendous amount of attention from churches in North America. Moving beyond older ideas of missions as the act of sending out trained missionaries to different regions and countries, the missional church movement focuses on the idea that every member of the congregation has a call to share the gospel and live missionally wherever they are.

Lee said the pastoral ministry of the Korean immigrant church—which has tended to focus much attention on programs and hierarchical structures—needs a renovation of sorts, through which it can become a missional church that discovers true calling in the gospel and at the foot of the cross. According to Lee, a missional church is one whose focus is on sharing the gospel and participating in Jesus’ life and ministry by making and sending disciples all over the world.

He gave examples of churches that serve as models of growing young churches in North America. One such church is Reality LA, located in the heart of Hollywood. Though the church was established in 2006 with only 30 people, today, the church sees some 3,000 members strong each Sunday, most of whom are young adults. However, Lee said, the church does not boast special programs or events that draw these young people to church. On the contrary, Reality LA focuses on a simple structure and focuses on the basics – the life of Jesus Christ, the challenge to share the gospel and to live missionally.

“The excellence of Reality LA’s simple and intuitive worship has nothing to do with flashiness or hierarchical structures,” Lee said. “Reality LA minimizes the aspects that may make a contemporary worship seem fake or self-glorifying, and the sincere effort to go deeper into God’s presence is so evident.”

Lee went on to explain that though the worship team at Reality LA is superb musically, no one in the congregation would be able to tell who they are from the stage – the lighting on the stage is so dark that the only part that one can see clearly are the lyrics shown on the screen.

"I realized the simple truth that a desperation for God and fixing our hearts and perspectives on Him begins with minimizing everything that brings attention and glory to ourselves,” he said.

Lee mentioned another church in downtown Los Angeles that meets and worships in a location that is usually used for clubbing on weekend nights.

"There were a lot of loud young people waiting to go into the worship service, some of them even dressed as though they were going into a club—I was pretty confused at first,” he recalled. “But once the worship started, the atmosphere was totally changed. They were truly worshipping.”

There are several aspects about churches such as these that allow for a God-centered worship, Lee said. First, there is freedom in the worship structure. Lee said that the sermon—which, in Reality LA, is usually an hour long—is not a stiff, structured time, but one that allows for the congregation to reflect and think on how to apply the Word into their lives. The reflection allows them to be able to see practical ways to change action. Further, the focus is not only on listening, but also in exchanging and interacting through music and culture. Many of these churches do not have worship in a typical church sanctuary, but in school gyms, warehouses, and even nightclubs. Another significant aspect is that the sermon and worship moves the congregation to partake in serving the church as well.

Lee wanted to discover what specific theologies or strategies these churches were applying that drew so many young people to church, but he realized that the answer behind all of this was simple.

“They were simply living their lives in that way. One pastor said that for 20 years, his family had never lived only to themselves in their home. There had always been guests – some people who were experiencing homelessness, some who were going through drug addictions – who needed help and lived with them. Through living together, they would teach them and share the gospel with them, and see them being completely transformed. Isn’t that how Jesus actually discipled his own?”

“Ultimately,” Lee continued, “a missional church, and the renewal of the Korean church, is really dependent on the life of the minister. A church’s culture and life will be revived as much as those who are willing to serve and sacrifice.”