In the 1960’s a man by the name of Wesley Baker gave a new name to a phenomenon common knowledge to many church leaders – “the disturbing difference between the committed few and the uninvolved many” (149). Baker calls this phenomenon “factor Beta”.
“Look at the perish today. Made up, usually, of a small inner core of believers who assume the necessary posts of leadership with gratitude and devotion (albeit frequently naive), and surrounded by a cloud of uninvolved and mildly approving witnesses,…”
Even to this day it is common to see churches comprised of 10% active, core, dedicated people and 90% inactive, peripheral, semi-interested people. The question is how we are to work with this problem? Is it too much to ask the 90% to embrace their missionary call? Do we simply ignore the 90% and settle to work with the 10%? How much does this problem have to do with our ecclesiology? What must be rethought in order to redeem and reinstate the 90% towards it missionary calling?
Charles Van Engen elaborates on this idea by explaining the wrongful distinction between the laity and clergy. “It’s biblical to distinct the laity in gift, function and ministration – but there should not be a distinction in holiness, prestige, power, commitment, or activity….” we seem to assume “that the layperson in a certain discipline is one who dabbles, muddles, tries hard, but certainly does not have expertise…. there is no biblical basis for such a distinction in the Church.” (151). Fullness will be found when the other 90% join in ministry.
Neil Cole argues that we have drawn a wrongful distinction between the convert and the worker. “They are not two, but one.” In most cases the convert functions as a better worker within the harvest than one who is mature in the faith. The new believer is probably the best evangelist to be sent into the fields, the most capable and authentically charged individual whose words and life transformation will do more for his/her community then any paid charismatic professional can do within that same context. Cole says that “all these advantages are lost if we immobilize new converts out of a desire to protect them”. The failure to instill a missional mindset early on simply propagates the 90%. Instead of equipping the believer as a missionary, we train them for ministries oriented around maintaining the status quo of the 90%.
The error most common with the church is the way in which they equip the 10% to do ministry simply within the church – such as visiting the sick, ushering, leading prayer or Bible study groups, and teaching a Sunday school class. Van Engen points out how that “lay ministers” function like “little elves in Santa’s toy shop, scurrying around doing and making goodies which Santa (the “minister”) will dispense.” (153). The church needs to stop underestimating the capability of the laity. It needs to function differently than a our world of specialists and empower the ordinary to accomplish the great commission. The church needs to shift its emphasis towards equipping the whole church to be a missionary people, a whole body that is actively engaged in the community in which it resides.
Book Review on God’s Missionary People by Charles Van Engen.