I've Got Good News and Bad News: First the Bad News

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Here is a quote I read recently that should be of interest to people who care about the spread of the knowledge of Yeshua.
First, let’s look at the church world.
In an issue of Mission Frontiers magazine, Mike Breen laments that in the United States, “96 percent of church growth is due to transfer growth. . . We’ll consider it a win because we have the new service or program that is growing … but that growth is mainly from people coming from other churches. That’s not a win! That’s a staggering loss
That figure indicating that 96 percent of congregational growth is through transfers from other churches is a sobering indictment of the appalling evangelistic ineffectiveness of the American Evangelical experiment. There is no place to hide from such a statistic. (http://www.outreachmagazine.com/features/18568-two-statistics-every-church-planter-needs-to-know.html)
 Now let’s look at the Messianic Jewish world.
But here’s a more shocking statistic, for any of you involved in the Messianic movement, formerly the Messianic Jewish Movement.  You will have to agree that MORE than 96 percent of the movement’s growth is transfer growth, mostly from Gentiles bailing out on the church for one reason or another. I would guess that 99 percent of growth in Messianic Jewish congregations is transfer growth. And that’s a conservative estimate!
There is a solution to this problem, and I think I know quite a bit about how it can be implemented. I have been holding off blogging for a long while deciding what role this blog might have in a strategic plan featuring other media in which I am involved.  In fact, by the grace of God I am forming a team committed to the demanding path of implementing solutions using those means and more.
But before I do. I’ve got a prior question. Do we agree there is a problem?
Or for many people is the fact that your congregations are making budget and even growing success enough?
Again, do we have a problem?


  1. Hello Stuart — I’ve been appreciating your podcasts, and, in some degree, waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’m still uncertain what that shoe will look like, but you offered an intriguing hint in the above that it is about to drop and perhaps what it might look like. It seemed to me somewhat telling that you should refer to “the Messianic movement, formerly the Messianic *Jewish* Movement” [emphasis mine, though I think it consistent with your implications in adding the critical/historical adjective]. It seems to me that you have implied that the movement was, but is no longer, Jewish, that it has been taken over by non-Jewish personnel — and perhaps that it is no longer operating as a movement motivated by Jewish particularism but rather as a somewhat universalistic one. I suspect that similar dynamics were in play during the early second century CE, and we know where *that* led (with a little help from the politics of the Roman Empire).

    And yet, you have described your Interfaithfulness organization as positioned at the nexus between Judaism and Christianity — or at least between Jews and Christians, which is not quite the same thing. Now, it could be observed that Rav Shaul operated at a similar nexus in his era. Given the benefit of a long period of historical hindsight, do you believe you can obtain better results than he did? Of course, Rav Shaul’s personal guidance and sense of inter-communal religious balance was removed from the movement shortly before the Hurban, so it may be understandable that forty or fifty years later the ties of gentile disciples with Jewish ones, or with any form of Judaism, had diminished (particularly since Judaism itself had become something of a moving target as it adapted to a dispersed exilic existence).

    I suppose the challenge of our own era is to reverse the ancient process by which two distinct communities of disciples became distant. Indeed, that challenge may include an event of similarly significant proportions to the Hurban: which would be the rebuilding of the Temple and the restoration of sacrifices as a logical follow-on to the reversal of the exile that has been occurring during the past century or so. Can gentile disciples be readied for such an event? Can Jewish ones? Can Jewish disciples be returned to Torah observance and ‘hasidut (and to dwelling in Israel), in preparation? Can they be reclaimed from the false outlook of “minut” and the “sinat ‘hinam” that helped to destroy the second Temple? Can gentile disciples be prepared to support Jewish praxis and to respect Jewish space sufficiently to fit Isaiah’s expectation that their sacrifices will be acceptable on the Jewish altar, without converting to Judaism or trying to become pseudo-Jews themselves? Can they be prepared to combat a present array of forces that would deny Jewish legitimacy, and particularly Israeli political legitimacy to reclaim Jewish sites and to live in all parts of the ancient Jewish homeland? [Indeed, one may well wonder if the battles to prepare for the messianic era and kingdom have begun already, even before the prophesied events of first resurrection and rapture herald the messiah’s arrival. Should there be, perhaps, some urgency about how little time may remain to accomplish such goals?] Can Interfaithfulness offer the encouragement, definitions, and guidance toward theological and practical resources that individual members of each distinctive ecclesia need in order to progress in such a direction?

    1. Shalom! Thank you for your comment. However, you misread my intent and as yet have no idea where I am going with this because I have NOT given a clue . . . yet.

      My side comment on the Messianic Movement once being the Messianic Jewish Movement touches on two issues. First, the movement at its beginnings was a movement of, by, and for Jews, and their families, concerned to preserve Jewish familial intergenerational continuity while serving as a vehicle for its members to bring others of their family and friends to share that in that same faith. Such is no longer the case. For MANY people, the Messianic Movement is a place for Gentiles disenchanted with the Church to learn and practice a cobbled together “Judaism lite” that in many places bears only superficial resemblance to what Jews would call Judaism.

      The fault is NOT in these Gentiles, but in a movement that forgot to remember what it was about. Also, the financial realities of establishing and maintaining synagogues of some sort made it more convenient to some say broaden the movement’s ideological intent, others would say, abandon the original intent.

      The fact that there are Messianic Congregations now with no Jews at all, and that the Jewish population of the movement is likely about 20 percent underscores this shift.

      Why do I lament? I lament because the goals originally promulgated have, except in theory, been abandoned. With it, we have abandoned the Jewish people, and God’s call upon this movement to be a sign, demonstration and catalyst of God’s consummating purposes for the Jewish people.

      The problem is NOT gentiles!! When I joined the missions movement fifty years ago there were MANY Gentiles playing key roles. But ALL Of them were there to serve God’s purposes for the Jews, as they understood them.

      Is that true now?

      There has been a shift. And I mourn.

      Finally, I am enthusiastic and supportive of God’s work among Gentiles of every stripe. So was Paul in the First Century. ABSOLUTELY. I preached last Sunday in a Church that is keenly appreciate of the Jewish people and deeply learns from Jewish ritual, but a Church that knows itself to be a church and is not ashamed to be such. This is good. Churches are good. Gentiles are good. But confusion is bad. And abandoning the purpose for which a movement was raised up while hiding that abandonment from oneself is perhaps worst of all.

      1. Stuart — You mention a shift, and a problem for which to mourn of “abandoning the purpose for which [the Messianic *Jewish*] movement was raised up”. If that purpose of Jewish support and development has been abandoned for a broader, more generic movement, has that movement not ceased to be a Jewish movement and become a gentile one? It seems to me that a “Messianic Movement” that does not emphasize the original purposes of the MJ movement, as you described them, is not the same movement. It is another movement with other purposes — not unlike the formulation of gentile Christianity as a religion different from, often at odds with, the original movement of Jewish messianists who were hasidic pietists devoted to the admor haRav Yeshua ben-Yosef. Are we not seeing the same pattern repeating itself today?

        Note that there still exist modern Jewish messianists who follow the trajectory that was launched in the purposes of the original modern MJ movement. They tend, however, to be resented and repressed by representatives of this broader “Messianic” movement that usurped the momentum of the original Jewish movement begun some four decades ago — primarily because of their insistence upon Jewish messianists pursuing traditional Jewish thought and praxis, and their integration with the wider Jewish community, as well as their view of a bilateral ecclesiology. I can rejoice over the gentile “Messianics” (bad grammar, good intentions) in this alternative movement; but if this movement could so easily abandon the Jewish purposes of the MJ movement from which it developed, within only a few decades, how little time may elapse before it adopts a stance resembling traditional Christian supersessionism? The questions I posed in the last paragraph of my previous post suggest views that might prevent such an outcome. I look forward to reading any alternative suggestions you might wish to propose.

        1. BTW, Stuart — I was a bit short of time as Shabbat was approaching here, so as I hastened to shut down I neglected to include in my last response an augmentation of your description of the original goals of the modern MJ movement. So let me add that now and wish you a Shavua Tov, as well. You cited a social goal of familial intergenerational continuity, which was certainly one characteristic goal, but you neglected the intellectual and theological goal of rediscovering the Jewish content and thought-framework of the apostolic writings, including especially their record of Rav Yeshua’s teachings. It was in pursuit of this goal that the question could be considered, as you cited it in a recent podcast: “What if Yeshua wants Jews to be observant?”. While most of the original Jewish participants in the MJ movement were not at that time fully cognizant of how such observance might affect them, they recognized that an affirmative response of some sort was required of them. Similar to the question that was popularized among Christians a few years ago: “What would Jesus do?”, MJs of four decades ago were asking themselves: “What would the ancient Israeli rabbi Yeshua expect of his modern Jewish disciples?”. Somewhat more recently was more attention given to the related question treated in Acts 15 regarding what was to be expected of gentile disciples, and how that differs from what is expected of Jewish ones. Answers to these questions are critical to determining the behavior and purposes of a “Messianic” movement that is no longer a movement conducted by Jews for the benefit of Jews (and only thus beneficial also to non-Jews).

          While you’re on the subject of good news and bad news, I’m curious about how you might see the above notions and questions and answers affecting “interfaithfulness”, likewise perhaps the definitions of two kinds of good news that Rav Shaul cited to the gentile Galatians as good news for Jews (i.e., “the circumcised”) and good news for gentiles (i.e., “the uncircumcised”). Perhaps the bad news also comes in two flavors.

  2. Yes, it’s a very real problem in both Christian and Messianic Jewish worlds.

    But there’s another statistic I’d like to have – what percentage of new believers continue in their faith for more than a few years. I was recently talking with an old friend and his view (as a church leader) is that it’s not a lot. He reckons it’s primarily people who grow up in Christian families that continue to identify as Christians throughout their lives. Isn’t that interesting – “conversions” not lasting and faith running in families – it reminds me of something… I wonder what? 🙂

    Going back to the MJ world, I think far more research needs to be done. Is our movement genuinely growing? In other words are Jewish people coming to faith in Yeshua? And how does this happen? Is it through the work of the traditional Jewish missions, messianic congregations, or personal contact? If our movement is not growing (other than with disaffected Christians), then we definitely have a serious problem.

    Assuming that some Jewish people are coming to faith in Yeshua, I am also interested to know what sort of Jews they are. I have a feeling that they are mostly reform or unaffiliated Jews(which make up about 2/3 of US Jewry). The percentage of messianics from observant backgrounds (Orthodox or Conservative) is probably very tiny indeed.

    One final point – the situation in the US is probably different to the rest of the world. In particular, it appears that the messianic movement in Israel has grown significantly since 1948. Where has that growth come from? I’d love to know.

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