From Franchise to Communion: A Missional Paradigm Shift for Anglican Churches
As people are increasingly drawn to forms of liturgical worship, we may need to adjust our missional paradigm. The Rev. Seth Richardson of Christ the King Anglican in Fayetteville posits that rather than establishing an Anglican brand, we need to learn the slow art of joining and sharing.
by Seth Richardson
A few years ago, Anglicans and other liturgically-oriented types gladly welcomed a handful of articles reporting how people are increasingly drawn to more ancient, liturgical forms of church. At last, many of us thought as we congratulated ourselves on Twitter, our work preserving and cultivating these forms of church is paying off. Vindication!
I dobelieve we Anglicans are entrusted with stewarding a way of church that can renew mission in North America. Yet, my hunch is that the observations represented in these “Ancient-Liturgical-Church-Is-the-Answer” articles could be either a false positive or not a wave worth riding. We have not listened long enough to understand both what all this means.
If we do not listen more closely, we run the risk of operating with a “franchising church” model for mission. If we seek faithful presence and not merely the expansion of Anglican brand identity, we need a missional ecclesiology shaped not by franchising, but by communion.
Moving out of franchising and into communion happens when our church’s missional engagement necessarily involves joining and sharing with and in the people and places we inhabit.
Missional Ecclesiology as Franchising
Like a business looking to expand and scale up, “franchising church” looks like extending the church’s presence by replicating a predetermined product or experience in new territories. The church brand (liturgical or otherwise) basically looks the same wherever it goes. There is a detailed blueprint from one place that can be easily reproduced in another place – Arkansas, Chicago, Boston, or London.
A franchising church model also carries a proprietary spatial logic. The logic is to establish ownership over a space with a clear brand identity. Then, that brand identity is disseminated center-out through a discipleship mechanism where the influence is mostly unilateral. The franchise church thus shapes loyal customers in its image.
The problem is that we end up treating people as objects to convert into our way, not persons but projects to influence for purposes we’ve already determined. In the worst examples throughout history, such proprietary spatial logic has sometimes looked like the disfiguring and dehumanizing of the peoples among whom the Anglican Church has been “on mission.”
Not many of us, I think, actually intend to come into a new place, set up our Anglican brand, and then begin converting others into loyal customers, who look and sound exactly like we do. The concern is what we end up doing without intending to do it because our ecclesial and missiological structures work against our individual desires and convictions.
Some of the fuel that propels franchise church models are numbers-based church planting initiatives. “We want to plant x number of churches in x amount of time; we want to see a church in every neighborhood in our city in x amount of years.” What is meant by “church” here is usually (not always) a “fully-operative” version of the mother church or flagship church within the denomination or diocese.
The logic of scale and space herein mimics the strategies used by businesses looking to expand their influence. Although that logic takes on a new, “softer” form in the franchise, it is not altogether different than the kind deployed in the Anglican Church’s imperialistic history. Although we do not intend it, the center-out logic of the franchise model can be paternalistic, void of genuine communion.
Eucharist Without Communion?
Among sacramentally inclined folk, there has been an effort to reassert how the Eucharist itself is missional. If the Eucharist makes the church (see Henri de Lubac) and the church exists on mission, we reason, then the practice of Eucharist should shape a church for mission.
This conversation is helpful, but showing up in a place, setting up shop with all the right rites, and then deploying a discipleship strategy does not in itself birth a missiology that shapes the church beyond franchising logic.
Shaking loose from a franchising church model touches not just on the “inner mechanics” of the Eucharist, but also how the practice of Eucharist gets worked “out” among us. Performing the mechanics of the Eucharist rightly does not necessarily lead to communion. With proprietary assumptions in franchising models, practicing Eucharist can be twisted into consumption.
In contrast, communion signifies that practicing Eucharist necessarily works out among us under the presumption that we will be consumedinto Christ’s body, as we join and share with others, forging a new trajectory for life in Christ we couldn’t have known before being consumed with others in a place.
My Struggle With Franchising
I am guilty of operating with a franchising model of missional ecclesiology and am still learning how to detox from it. When I first arrived in Fayetteville two years ago to plant a new church, I tried to reproduce the language and liturgy particularly important in my previous parish, located only three hours away. Despite the small regional difference, it was clear that my presumptions were foreign to the particularities of the new people and place.
The saving grace for me was that I lacked the energy, resources, and charisma to persuasively bend the new community around all of my presumptions. After six months of facing blank stares and fizzled efforts, I had no choice but to reckon with myself, take a new posture among the people, and start asking different questions.
I had to learn to lead by communing with others, allowing our practices and discourse to be shaped through the process of joining and sharing together. Two years later, it’s still happening. Now we are all learning together how to move toward communion. Presently we are wrestling with the question of why we struggle to engage meaningfully with people who are different from us (we are mainly white, middle-class, and educated). We believe this question can only be answered by seeking communion with others.
Missional Ecclesiology as Communion
This is not all bad news for us Anglicans. I think we are poised in many ways to make the shift from “center-out” to “communing-with.”
Consider, for instance, the practice of choosing a name for our churches. We do not come in with a “brand-name” to disseminate, but rather discern a name alongside the people already there while paying attention to what Gospel hope means for that particular place (e.g. St. Mary of Bethany).
The identity of a parish, therefore, can only be discovered within the practice of communing-with. Through communion, there is a unique identity in Christ forged for and with the people and place we join. This is the identity that God is calling us into together in this place, which is probably different than we thought before we came.
Communion-based models affirm that the shape of our gathered life-together is necessarily oriented toward intimately joining and sharing life among and with particular people in particular places. In joining and sharing, we allow the particularities of the people and place to shape together with us a new life in Christ for everyone. As we offer our joined life unto the Spirit, we will become transformed people, different than before we “went” on mission.
Eucharist Is Radically Non-Proprietary
Critically, it is precisely a Eucharistic imagination needed for leaning into this vision for missional ecclesiology.
The practice of Eucharist should de-center our ecclesiology to the degree that it births mission that involves joining and sharing by necessity.This kind of mission does not flow from a center-out structure but rather exists as a community practicing communion with and among others. We seek transformative space in union with Christ through the act of sharing and feasting together. The influence is not one-directional (us-to-them), but is necessarily mutual, dialogical, and generative.
This is the critical difference: franchising, center-out missiology needs only customers to convert into the existing brand identity, but it does not requirecommuning with anyone for self-understanding or being on mission.
A community grounded in Eucharist is thus radically non-proprietary in its relation to the people and place among whom it exists. Entering and engaging a new context does not issue from the need to lay claim over physical place or “brand identity” (and the aesthetics therein). Rather, being radically non-proprietary means operating with a spatial logic that moves toward joining and sharing with and in people and places.
What if we entered new places in smaller numbers, embodying the logic of “discerning a name” all the way through? What if we waited to deploy all the particular aesthetics that configure space and the discipleship methods that shape identity, and allowed the practice of Eucharist to lead us to cultivate spaces for sharing and joining with the lives of other, out of which, over time, a way of life in Christ unfolds?
Seth Richardson and his family live in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where Seth is Rector of Christ the King Anglican Church. He most often thinks and writes about spiritual formation, sacramental theology, and place. He probably drinks too much coffee.