Mission Beyond the Saucer

I was having a coffee with Rory a few weeks back and he made an observation that has been really helpful to me in framing up what we believe we are called to do as Upstream Communities and in a broader sense with Forge as we train missionaries for the western world.

He was asking me to describe what we do and as we were talking said,

“It sound a bit like this to me…” pointing to the coffee cup on the table.


“If the cup is the ‘church’, then most churches tend to reach people in the saucer – those who are nearby, who are already seeking, maybe those who are needy and requiring help. They come because they know its a ‘church’.

It sounds like what you are doing is intentionally moving beyond the saucer to try and connect with those around the ‘table’ who are not needy and may not even be that interested.”

I thought it was a great analogy and have used it plenty of times since, because it does feel very much like what we do, and it also helps us to come to grips with why our work is slow and at times seems to be unfruitful.

I have been asked many time why I don’t just pack it in and ‘go back to church’, because we had more ‘success’ in that environment. But the question is actually quite a foolish one, a taunt that if we paid attention to would do more harm than good to the cause of mission & the gospel here in Australia.

I have no problem acknowledging that for some the existence of church in its regular public form is the way they find their way to faith / God or whatever they discover. For ‘saucer’ people ‘cups’ make wonderful sense and are very accessible. When ‘saucer’ people do Alpha courses it is usually because they are open and seeking and as a result they often make significant faith decisions in that context. There’s no question we need ‘cups’ for those who live in the saucer.

However we also need those who are committed to connecting with the folks who live well beyond the saucer, who are unlikely to find their way to the ‘cup’, or who may have an aversion to ‘cups’ or previous bad experiences at the hands of ‘cup’ people. They may not even know that ‘cups’ exist or if they do they see them as having no bearing on their own lives.

Its important to realise that these are not evil debauched heathens who are destroying our societies with their wicked ways, but in fact are more than likely to be good decent people who feel no need to find their spirituality in the Christian story. We have often said the hardest people to reach are those who are happy, moral and satisfied with their own life – probably a majority of our society. And if they aren’t happy at the moment they will be when they make their next purchase!

I haven’t met anyone yet who would say it is a relatively easy task to reach beyond the ‘cup’. As I speak with local pastors of churches large and small no one is able to tell me of ‘great success’ in communicating the gospel to those beyond. There is no question that some ‘cups’ service the ‘saucer’ better than others, and grow accordingly but for those trying to connect personally outside the saucer the road is long and slow. I was discussing this with a pastor of a large pentecostal church last night – a church that is doing good work and making progress with saucer people.

On an organisational level they see some progress there as they are a well run church with some excellent programs, but at a personal neighbourhood / friendship level they are equally perplexed about how to connect the story of Jesus with their friends who like them, respect them, but just don’t feel a need for faith…

There’s a part of me that says ‘that’s life and its ok because people are free’ and there’s a part of me that says ‘that’s life and its not ok at all!’

I reckon our challenge is to walk that line Peter speaks of – always being prepared to share the hope we have but with gentleness and respect.

shining the divx online

13 thoughts on “Mission Beyond the Saucer

  1. I’ve a funny feeling we need cups. It is very important that we work with table people but in time they need to find their way to the saucer and eventually the cup because that is where they get the sustenance of being part of God’s family. There will always be something missing if they remain alone on the table refusing to associate with the cups and saucers. However, the question is what sort of cup? This is a place for fine bone china and there’s a place for disposable cups. There’s even a place for cracked mugs!

  2. Hi Rob – I agree we need cups, but I also think we need gravy boats and salt shakers and the various other implements that inhabit the rest of the table!

    To clarify metaphors… for me the cup is church in its normal Sunday service form – appealing to some but not the place many would choose to get involved.

    I agree we need faith communities because discipleship is inherently communal, but I would like to see forms other than cups because that would say we have really paid attenton to the diversity of people in our communities.

    So in a sense we say the same thing, but I would choose to describe alternative communities in words other than ‘cup’!

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  4. At Bedford we run a program called Toddler Jam which acts as a dynamic for many of the other ministies and programs in and church and together they reach over 400 people each week, most of whom have no church contact.

    The difficulty for us is having the patience to see them move from outside the saucer, to the saucer, and then into the cup. This takes prayer, work of the Holy Spirit and the church itself being mobilised.

    What I think happens is that many more established churches just give up…it is far easier to just reach those in your sphere, and convice yourself you are doing a good job.

    But then, I would say that apathy can affect us all, not matter what our church style.

    So my thesis is that what methods you choose are up to your personality type….and your effectiveness will be determined by your prayer life, and your willingness to take the kingdom by passionate force….”From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it”

  5. Mark – what I would hope is that we would start new communities (plates? salt shakers? etc) that do not need to make the journey to the saucer and cup.

    In a sense the saucering and cupping is a process of enculturation that could be left along.

    Does that make sense?

  6. No….not if being in the cup means becoming part of the body of Christ…the called out ones, the church.

    Thats our goal…to make disciples.

    I think what you are saying is that you dont want to drag people kicking and screaming into a traditional church, fine, start a ‘funky’ one, whatever…but our goal needs to be that they choose to follow Christ, and thus become part of His body…however that is expressed.

  7. I think that is the mistake we have made though – to assume being the body of Christ = being a cup.

    Ok – this metaphor is getting messy!

    I would like to think there are many ways of expressing our faith other than that of moving from table to saucer to cup.

    Perhaps it is table to plate to soup bowl… same idea but the destination / expression of community does look different.

    If funky fits the context then well and good, but if meat and potatoes fits then so beit too

  8. I almost feel like you are disagreeing with yourself….

    “I would want to say ‘of course, you don’t have to attend Sunday worship events as we have always done’, but as I read the scriptures I would say it is impossible to be a Christian outside of community. The whole ‘one another’ passages become absurd! The nature of God as trinity and we ‘being one as he is one’ loses all meaning.”


  9. Hi Mark

    I think we are talking at cross purposes! Forget the metaphors for a while…

    I wholeheartedly agree with what I wrote a few days back, but I am saying that there needs to be many expressions of church.

    For some they are still in ‘Christendom’ mode and will find church in its normal form quite acceptable.

    For others who are much further from a Christendom understanding they will be unlikely to find their way to church, so we need to go beyond our normal reach and plant new communities among them.

    Any clearer?.. 🙂

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