Jon Ritner on How Churches Can Thrive in a Post-Christian Context (Like Hollywood!)
Welcome back to another episode of the unSeminary podcast! Today we’re talking with Jon Ritner of Ecclesia Hollywood.
For ten years Jon served at a megachurch in the Williamsburg, VA area. During his time there he worked in a number of different roles as the church grew. As the church experienced explosive growth, however, he began to wrestle if this was the place he was meant to be for the rest of his life. Jon always had remained in touch with local colleges and mentored young adults, but found that though they were interested in the Bible and spiritual things, they had no desire to come to church. His concern about reaching the younger generation grew and he knew something had to change.
During this time, a friend serving in Europe connected with him, and Jon and his family moved overseas to Brussels for an opportunity to learn from and experience sharing the gospel in a post-Christian context. Here discipleship existed primarily outside of the traditional Sunday church gathering. When he came back to America, Jon moved to the largely post-Christian city of Hollywood with his family to implement the strategies he learned in Ecclesia Hollywood.
Jon talks with us today on how churches can thrive in a post Christian context.
- Take charge of creating disciples. // In Brussels, discipleship looks different than it does here in America. The disciple making process is much more personal and European Christians take ownership of it. American Christians are taught to simply invite people to church gatherings, expecting the pastors and presence in the church building to pop out a disciple. So the only job of an American Christian is to invite someone into the church building. Europeans have grown up in much smaller churches and so they know you cannot invite someone to church and get a positive response. It’s a complete disconnect for the unbeliever. We have to be the church and take ownership over the disciple making through relationship building. We have to discern what is the good news for unbelieving people we are talking to, and what would sound like the gospel to them?
- Change your narrative of good news. // There is no sense of shame over sin in Europe because there is no sense of absolute truth in the culture. In America, most of the situations in which people come to Christ center around shame over an area of sin in their life which they want to change. In Europe no one views morality as absolute, so you can’t lead them to Christ through feelings of shame over sin. How do you have good news for people who don’t feel bad about themselves? When Jon realized this, he worked on figuring out what are other narratives of good news. One example is, Europeans are obsessed with work, so he focused on helping them find rest and knowing that there is no shame in rest. Our Creator rested on the seventh day. They long to receive a blessing and God will do that through rest with Him.
- Take the church to the people. // For believers in Hollywood, the city can be hostile toward Christianity and faith can feel like it’s about survival out in the world. Some churches there have created cultures that distance themselves from the rest world, and so Ecclesia Hollywood has had to reset people’s thinking. Instead Ecclesia sees themselves as a training center which teaches and equips people to go out into the world and engage with it about faith and truth. Jon says you can’t expect people to come to church, instead the church has to go to them. Share meals and hospitality with people you come across. Listen for wounds. Use that to engage the deepest longings of their heart. As our culture changes, churches and the people within need to innovate and recognize the need to adapt.
Learn more about Ecclesia Hollywood by visiting their website at https://churchinhollywood.com/
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Helpful Tech Tools // 5Q Central
Ministries Following // Brian Sanders and Tampa Underground Network
Influential Book // White Awake by Daniel Hill
Inspiring Leader // Joe Maddon
What you do for fun // Anything I can compete in… pick-up basketball, host poker nights, video games