Article: "The Cellular Church"

The full article can be found here, entitled "The Cellular Church", by Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell is also the author of bestselling non-fiction books, Blink and The Tipping Point. His thoughts were featured in a recent Time magazine article where he commented on the growing Christian tendency to morph itself into culturally digestable ways.

Apparently, Gladwell is taking a further investigative approach into this, and so shall we, for two particular reasons. One, for Asian American churches, priority has been placed on "getting it right" first — orthodoxy leads to orthopraxis; but in many cases, we are more about the "-doxy" part, than the "-praxis." There are a great number of theologians and seminarians in our pulpits who help to illuminate the Word, but when it comes to relating to others who have never stepped foot on a seminary, we have rarely found it easy to welcome the failures, runaways, and "alternative" Asians of society to our churches. When we fail to be effective in reaching out, we console ourselves with the satisfaction of knowing that our doctrine is rock-solid. In other words, our presentation is roughly the same from church to church. We focus on the integrity of the message, but not ways in which that message needs to be translated.

Secondly, Asian American churches typically are isolationist in terms of culture. So the notion of an Asian American church systematically reaching out to engage the culture at large has been difficult. Even when it does happen, nobody schedules the event as "Recurring" in Microsoft Outlook. So despite the impressive numbers of churches that Asians have planted across the country, they rarely create networks among themselves, much less with other ethnicities. They are, in a word, islands.

Here, Gladwell's article about Rick Warren brings up some interesting points for the Asian American church to wrestle with. Whether you find Rick Warren theolgoically sound or not, I've found that his ability to speak to the public, his strategy on creating small group communities, his living example of handling fame and fortune, and his ability to consider networks of churches as viable channels of distribution are worth noting and applying in our churches.

The following are a few excerpts from the article with marks made for emphasis mine.

Warren's great talent is organizational. He's not a theological innovator. When he went from door to door, twenty-five years ago, he wasn't testing variants on the Christian message. As far as he was concerned, the content of his message was non-negotiable. Theologically, Warren is a straight-down-the-middle evangelical. What he wanted to learn was how to construct an effective religious institution. His interest was sociological. Putnam compares Warren to entrepreneurs like Ray Kroc and Sam Walton, pioneers not in what they sold but in how they sold. The contemporary thinker Warren cites most often in conversation is the management guru Peter Drucker, who has been a close friend of his for years. Before Warren wrote "The Purpose-Driven Life," he wrote a book called "The Purpose-Driven Church," which was essentially a how-to guide for church builders. He's run hundreds of training seminars around the world for ministers of small-to-medium-sized churches. At the beginning of the Internet boom, he created a Web site called pastors.com, on which he posted his sermons for sale for four dollars each…

A typical evangelist, of course, would tell stories about reaching ordinary people, the unsaved laity. But a typical evangelist is someone who goes from town to town, giving sermons to large crowds, or preaching to a broad audience on television. Warren has never pastored any congregation but Saddleback, and he refuses to preach on television, because that would put him in direct competition with the local pastors he has spent the past twenty years cultivating. In the argot of the New Economy, most evangelists follow a business-to-consumer model: b-to-c. Warren follows a business-to-business model: b-to-b. He reaches the people who reach people. He's a builder of religious networks. "I once heard Drucker say this," Warren said. "'Warren is not building a tent revival ministry, like the old-style evangelists. He's building an army, like the Jesuits.'"…

"There is only one thing big enough to handle the world's problems, and that is the millions and millions of churches spread out around the world," he says. "I can take you to thousands of villages where they don't have a school. They don't have a grocery store, don't have a fire department. But they have a church. They have a pastor. They have volunteers. The problem today is distribution. In the tsunami, millions of dollars of foodstuffs piled up on the shores and people couldn't get it into the places that needed it, because they didn't have a network. Well, the biggest distribution network in the world is local churches. There are millions of them, far more than all the franchises in the world. Put together, they could be a force for good."

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