What would be a church "flywheel"?

Three functions of church gatherings

I recently attended a workshop with Dr. Darrell Guder where we discussed three functions of church: Gather, Upbuild, Send.

In my church context, these are based on John 15 “abide in me”, 13 “love one another”, and 17 “go into the world”. My pastor @jamesb also likes to say that we are “externally focused, internally alive, and eternally connected”.

In the workshop, we initially talked about these in a linear fashion:

But coming from my Amazon background, I noticed that they form a flywheel:

In business, the flywheel concept refers to a process where any effort you put into any part of the flywheel increases the momentum of the whole. For Amazon, this means growth, HubSpot does something similar. It got me thinking, What would be a Church flywheel? What would be at the center?

There are many candidates like glorifying God, spreading the gospel, or making disciples, but when I view Scripture as a testimony to God’s promise and purpose in the world, I’m inclined to put “Scripture Fulfilled” at the center.


Scripture promises a New Creation and an inheritance in God’s Kingdom, along with suffering, trials and sacrifices.

Every time believers in Jesus gather to worship, build up one another and are sent out by Christ into the world, Creation inches one step closer to the fulfillment of all things. This would include the ingathering of all of Jesus’ flock, including people from every language, tribe and nation. This would include the Church reaching full maturity.

By putting Scripture at the center we don’t have an open-ended mission, but rather a faithful witness and “telos” that all of our worshiping communities are moving towards.

If we view the flywheel as if it were the head of a screw, our weekly rhythm of churches gathering, upbuilding and sending is like turning each screw deeper and deeper until it is fully secure as another part of the complete spiritual superstructure that the Holy Spirit is building as a house for God.

Although my analogy is imperfect, I think it is helpful for thinking about how digital technology can holistically support churches in fulfilling these functions from first principles rather than just adapting the “sage on a stage with a camera in the back of the room to livestream” model to a virtual environment.

How can technology support gathering?

One person in the workshop said, “We aren’t fully gathered until all are gathered”.

Many church communities can be plagued with cliquishness. Everyone already has their pocket of friends and new people feel excluded. Many churches also have trouble reaching people inter-generationally, cross-culturally, or cross-lingually.

Tech must go hand in hand with culture (how people use things and what they use them for), but one way it can help is by reducing the friction to forming new relationships and giving everyone access to the gathering.

How can technology support upbuilding?

Dr. Guder mentioned in the workshop, “The New Testament equips followers of Jesus for rejection and tension in the world…Christians reporting from the mission field, equipping one another.”

He highlighted the significance of the Greek word allelon, which is translated as the phrase “one another”. There are many “one another” commands, but to use as an example “bear one another’s burdens”, we learned that online anonymity has resulted in younger generations openly sharing their struggles much sooner than when they have to show up in person.

Digital churches probably would want to have a mix of anonymous and non-anonymous gatherings to support the full range of human experience and personality.

How can technology support sending?

Churches have long struggled with the sacred/secular divide where people disconnect their Sunday faith from life all the other days of the week. Church physical spaces can be a reminder of God’s presence, but can also feel remote when you’re not there. Virtual spaces on the other hand (along with the relationships and experiences they represent) can be ever present.

Something as simple as having Scripture readily accessible on a person’s desktop side-by-side with their work Zoom calls or an ongoing group text with other believers can sustain an ongoing sense of God’s presence as people are sent into their vocations throughout the week.

Where does the flywheel aspect come in?

In business, a flywheel is traditionally associated with accelerating growth. By putting “Scripture Fulfilled” in the center, we might not expect exponential growth of a particular church gathering, but we might expect the acceleration of Scripture being fulfilled where the testimony of the Gospel reaches all peoples and the Church grows up to maturity in Christ faster and faster.

Of course, all of this depends on the Holy Spirit. By aligning our efforts with what the Spirit is doing in and through the Church, I hope we can all benefit from the transformation God is leading us through.

PS, would love your thoughts on a “church flywheel” and how digital might accelerate any part of it. My ideas are still not fully formed, but I wanted to put the analogy out there as a conversation starter!

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Dr. Guder had this to say about the original post (in the context of my church :slight_smile: :

I am very grateful for Chris’s excellent exposition of the “ecclesiastical triad”: calling/gathering – upbuilding – sending and for his emphasis on scripture as the “flywheel force” moving the church forward in mission.

It opens up the discussion for myriad implications for the life and action of the church. In the ongoing “Gospel and our culture” conversation, the focus upon reading the Scripture missionally – that is, as the divine instrument for the continuing formation of the gathered community for its vocation as witness in the world – is expanding constructively.

Theologically, this discussion is pursued as “missional hermeneutics.” It is largely rooted in Karl Barth’s ecclesiology who brings his entire exposition together under the rubric, “The vocation of the Christian is witness.” That witness happens in the process of gathering, upbuilding, and sending.

As Chris’ paper shows, these three emphases shape and interact with each other. Sending results in calling/gathering. How we upbuild/prepare the community is a visible witness to the Gospel that the world can experience.

This is the conviction that gets expressed in the basic formation question: How did this text continue the formation of a faithfully witnessing commuity/believer then, and how does it do so today?

We’re going to continue this discussion in a Zoom call on Saturday 1/30 at 9:00am!

Provisional title (DM me for the Zoom link): “Rethink Witness: Moving away from Christendom”

“You can be a bad witness, but you can’t be a non-witness.”

Here are some notes from that session on “Rethink Witness”

Notes from James B’s intro

Taming the adventure of faith into an add-on activity into a therapeutic experience. With that reduction comes discontentment and distortion of the church and our relationship with God. It becomes burdensome, irrelevant and embarrassing.

Union began with the question: How do we help one another live fully into the adventure of being disciples of Jesus. Looking at the upper room Jesus gave three priorities: remain in me, love one another and go out into the world.

At Union we call this externally focused, internally alive and eternally connected. By being externally focused it leads us to see the need to be internally alive for support and equipping and to be eternally connected for God’s strength and hope. Being internally alive encourages us to remain in Christ and go out into the community to serve. And being eternally connected spurs us to love one another and be agents of reconciliation.

Many churches have these priorities, but due to time starvation or priorities, only one gets emphasized.

Our rhythm keeps these priorities in our minds.

In Amos, the people had reduced their priority to one. But without the other two, the one became weak and they failed to seek Justice and love one another. That appears to be happening in the American church. One person God has raised up to re-expand the fullness of the church through his writing, teaching and friendship is Darrell Guder. He has taken us deeper by moving us from the descriptive words of our vision statement to the action words of our purpose of gathering, equipping and sending.

In light of our discussion of Amos and where we see the church in America today, with such need of expansion of who we are called to be and what we are about. It is a delight and privilege to be together.

Notes from Darrell Guder’s intro

This triad is a fundamental pattern of Karl Barth’s theology of the church. That thinking in Barth was influential in the thinking of these three dimensions of church. We must grapple with it.

Gathering, Upbuilding and Sending are three interactive dimensions of what it means to be the body of Christ. Every major biblical theme is illumined by these three basic concepts.

Why is sending an issue?

Gathering is evangelism, outreach, calling the world to Christ. Upbuilding has to do with the purposefulness of the gathering. We are “edified” as the gathered community, built up, equipped for…

And the third thing we tend to leave out: our sending.

There is resistance to the idea of sending today because of the discussion and controversy over the missionary movement of the last century. There are many people who disavow that crossing of barriers to other countries to get the gospel out. They call it cultural hegemony as a violation of the cultural sanctity of other non-western cultures. Mission is the latin term for sending “missio” means sending–mission has become a discredited theme in Christian history. I am a missiologist, meaning I study mission, so I am touching on this question. It is very important that we recognize that there are good reasons to be critical of the western missionary enterprise.

Much of that criticism is that we have not properly understood what sending is all about. We think of sending as crossing a boundary. Of going from the Christian west to the pagan non-west to bring all the benefits of the Gospel (and Western Civilization). So it was wrapped up in colonialism. There have been some fascinating television dramas on this theme. It does appear powerfully wrong headed. Yet it was a movement that ultimately generated global Christianity.

Regardless of our criticisms of that missionary movement, Christianity has become a global movement. We are now part of the ecumenical church–the church embracing the entire world. That requires a rethinking of what we mean by sending. It is no longer necessary for sending to mean crossing boundaries. It defines what it means to be gathered and upbuilt. It completes the triad of “who are God’s people” and “what are they for?”

The task of God’s people is not to build an institution called church. It is to serve God’s healing purposes for the world. Sending is the definition of the life that is being lived for that purpose. It is not so much sending as “sentness”. We are defined by God’s love for the world, “for God so loved the world that he sent.” that’s where mission begins. It begins with God’s sending. God sent Jesus to bring about the new life of forgiveness, love, upbuilding, purposefulness which is what the whole biblical story is about.

The theological terms circle around the central claim that the fundamental purpose of God’s people is witness. “You shall be my witnesses”, “live a life worthy of the calling you have been called to”, “as my Father sent me, so I send you”.

This is about God’s people, how you are formed and what you are called to do. You are sent where you are. It defines who we are as a gathered people. It is how God is working in the world. We move out from sentness to explore the mission of God. We get mission right by not looking at our mission or western mission, but looking at God’s mission. God is a missionary God and we as God’s people are a missionary people. The most comprehensive biblical definition is in 1 Peter.

9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

This fundamental text written to struggling congregations on the Black Sea draws together all major biblical themes defining GOd’s people and links them together. Go to Amos and look for several of these themes as essential for God’s people to understand who they are and what they are for (identity & purpose).

To proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Sent-ness corrects the idea that the church exists for the benefit of its members, is in the service of Christian tradition, or to maintain a particular institution or culture or architecture, etc. The church exists for God’s mission and has been called and set apart to be that sent community. The community is the evidence in the world that the Gospel is true. The community is witness.

Can you speak a little on the distinctions and the relationship between the Kingdom of God on one hand and the Church on the other?

What emerges out of the complex history of the origin of Christianity, the church loses its sense of sentness in the High Middle Ages because there was nowhere to be sent to. The church was everywhere and dominated society in the western world. Christian theology in the western world does not deal with mission as a challenging theme because it is irrelevant because it has been accomplished. We came to understand western Christianity as God’s Kingdom on earth. We developed a political, power centered ,institutionally oriented concept of the church in which the church represents God’s rule. Jesus is represented as Emperor. The entire culture of Western Christianity has some powerful distortions of God’s people.

In the 20th century, the theme of the Kingdom of God was rediscovered by biblical scholars because it is a central theme especially in the new testament. In the beginning of Mark, Jesus says, “The Kingdom of God is drawing near, repent and believe the Gospel”.

What is that? The church understands it as something we do. We say, “we are building the Kingdom” a revolutionary society as a Kingdom people. But in the Bible, God’s Kingdom is the outcome of God’s Word. We receive the Kingdom, we are drawn in, entering like Children. Kingdom existence is a response to God’s action in our lives, forming us into a people, calling us to be upbuilt so that we can be sent.

The theology of God’s Kingdom is about God’s rule in the world and how it is being worked out. How our lives are evidence in the world that there is good news in Jesus Christ.

We must move away from institutional and cultural understandings of kingdom to the understanding of Kingdom as the realm where God rules. And we are invited into that realm as servants, which is what witness is all about. God gathers us in a great variety of ways and many are a challenge to us because in our history, one of the real distorting, problematic elements of our culture is that power and wealth have become characteristics of the gathered church.

It is not a typical kingdom we are talking about. That’s why Jesus begins his earthly ministry with temptation in the wilderness. The world’s understanding of power, kingdom and rule are not God’s will. You need to be liberated from those captivities in order to be servants of God’s kingdom. Remember Jesus, “my Kingdom is not of this world”. It cannot be reduced to human patterns of wealth, power and institution. It will be a contrast to it.

Church is then the instrument of God’s Kingdom to accomplish God’s healing purposes. Going back to Abraham, the Church is God’s people going to be a blessing to the nations. It fulfills God’s desire that a rebellious creation becomes again a loving creation fulfilling God’s purpose. We can say the same thing about the church today. We are blessed in order to be a blessing–that is sentness.

Final Comments

Darrell: One of our tasks in this passage is to help Christians who are befuddled, concerned and disoriented deal with the fact that Christendom is over. Walter Bruggeman encourages to reclaim lamentation to lament the things we lost that were very good.

Where I am encouraged is growing is that with all of the challenges and the end of Christendom discrediting so much of our history. The enormous task of what these changes really mean, we are also experiencing an incredible expansion of the formation of new congregations that are responding to that challenge. We have a hundred congregations in Seattle, Union Church being a major example of changing to meet the challenges we find ourselves in.

Church planting and rejuvenation research was fascinating to see how many initiatives there are–some are cooky admittedly–but many are taking the changing context of the North American mission field seriously.

Renee: Thank you Darrell and Chris for your voices and I wish I could have been in every breakout room with all of you. I wish I could have a conversation with each of you to hear where you are struggling. I want to name that struggle again, how do we have these conversations with people who also call Jesus Christ their Lord and Savior who fundamentally disagree. I think we have to do some more work in how we encourage one another in that and the heartache we’re experiencing. I appreciate what you say Chris about platforms, but there are also places where we long to be face to face. On Amos, we need to immerse ourselves in Scripture and allow Scripture to read us–you let Scripture flow through you because you have marinated in Scripture.

I keep coming back to Genesis 10-12. The generations of Noah are spreading across the nations, but then you go to Genesis 11 when the people start building a tower to be the same and have the same language and be like God again. And what does God do? He breaks down the edifice and scatters the people and multiplies the languages. We are created to be a diverse people who are one humanity. I think Amos is challenging that same desire to build that edifice. Tomorrow he challenges that attitude of going to “church” and doing “church time” while also ignoring the crying suffering of the people of the land. And God says, “No. I will disrupt that to call you back to myself”.

James B: It’s simplistic, but I think we need to find common ground. We have a lot of common ground, beginning with Jesus and who Jesus is. Who do we say Jesus is? One thing we would ultimately get to is that the Christian nationalists apparently don’t believe God is big enough to bring forth his Kingdom–that it’s up to us–and therefore we must fight for our rights. If you look at Amos, one thing in his prophetic critique is to elevate the greatness and splendor of who God is. Let’s rest in here, find our safety and security in who God is regardless of what happens to our bodies.

Interesting paper: The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy