Blue Ocean leaders have “discovered what too few have discovered: that there is a tight-suit faith, and there is also a blue-ocean faith. One confines, one beckons. One limits, one liberates. One restrains, one expands. I’m so glad that this book is available to introduce more people to Blue Ocean Faith.”
from the Preface by Brian D. McLaren
By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit
Five hundred years ago, Reformer Martin Luther nailed a manifesto for religious freedom on a church door in Germany and touched off a worldwide revolution in faith. In 2017, as we have reported, Germany is drawing pilgrims from around the world who are celebrating that anniversary. This is a timely moment for a new network of American men and women to follow Luther’s example—by publishing a manifesto calling for an end to barriers in religious life. That’s the hope of Dave Schmelzer and leaders in growing congregations from New England to southern California.
This new Christian movement is called Blue Ocean Faith and the book introducing this daring new network of congregations bears the same name. The book’s subtitle signals the group’s high hope that they will be able to touch off another spiritual tidal wave. That lengthy subtitle reads: “The vibrant connection to Jesus that opens up insanely great possibilities in a secularizing world—and might kick off a new Jesus Movement.”
Schmelzer understands the religious history:
- Two thousand years ago, that belief in a living Jesus drew a wide range of people together into early churches and propelled Christianity to become the world’s largest religion.
- Nearly three centuries ago, a renewed focus on welcoming everyone fueled the Great Awakening revivals that shaped the birth of the United States.
- One century ago, the idea of radically demolishing social, racial and cultural barriers in pursuit of a relationship with Jesus touched off the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles that ultimately sent Pentecostalism circling the globe.
- Half a century ago, the so-called “Jesus movement” once again fueled explosive interest in authentically connecting with Jesus.
“We’re well aware of all that history. It certainly has been encouraging to us. We think another wave is building,” Schmelzer said.
ALL THAT WATER
There are a lot of water metaphors in this movement, which the founders are hoping will become a rising tide. Their name springs from a best-selling 2005 business book on marketing called Blue Ocean Strategy.
“The basic idea we take from that book is: Stop all the competition! Stop defining yourself by the boundaries you draw about who’s in and who’s out! There’s a big blue ocean of people out there who are hungry for a fresh word of welcome—who are hungry for Jesus. So, we’re not defined by boundaries. We call ourselves ‘centered set.’ If you want to move toward Jesus as the center of your life, you’re welcome to be a part of our community.”
Stop to think about what that radical assertion means. Over the past century, many Christian denominations waged divisive civil wars over racial barriers as well as disagreements over whether women could become leaders at all levels. In the past few decades, churches have been tearing themselves apart over whether gay and lesbian men and women can truly be considered Christian. In fact, many of the founding members of this new movement once wrestled with issues of inclusion within the boundaries of their earlier religious affiliations.
A CLEAN SLATE; A BIG BLUE OCEAN
Blue Ocean Faith debuts with a clean slate—removing all those divisive barriers.
“The idea of that business book, Blue Ocean Strategy, is to go out and fish where other people aren’t fishing,” Schmelzer said. “Remember back in the days when Apple was known for introducing products that people didn’t even know they needed? Well, most churches still are focusing on bringing their traditional services to people who they know are looking for a new church. We’re innovating for a population that we believe can be well served by knowing more about what Jesus has to offer—even if they’re not looking for it right now. We’re working in parts of the country where there are a lot of people who aren’t even thinking about church! They’ve given up on that idea. We believe that, as we launch Blue Ocean Faith, a market will form around it.”
He added, “We’re confident this can work. We look back to earlier reformers and earlier revivals. We’re welcoming people who are open to hearing what God has to say right now, what God is doing in the world right now.”
That’s one reason Blue Ocean Faith—which clearly is Christian—doesn’t have any of the typical religious terms in its name. It’s simply “Blue Ocean Faith” without words such as: Christian, Church or Evangelical.
“Today, terms like ‘Evangelical’ or ‘Pentecostal’ or even ‘Christian’ have so much political baggage attached to them that it doesn’t help us in reaching out to people who haven’t been interested in church,” Schmelzer said.
EXCITEMENT OF THE ‘JESUS MOVEMENT’
“We’re telling the world that we’re simply people who are doing our best to try to follow Jesus,” Schmelzer said.
While that might sound naïve, Schmelzer remembers the powerful excitement in the so-called “Jesus movement,” which arose in the 1960s and 1970s as a nationwide network of people from diverse backgrounds who hoped to rediscover an alive-and-active Jesus interacting with the world.
“I’m old enough that I came to faith in the tail end of what today is regarded as the Jesus movement,” Schmelzer said. During its heyday, according to historians of American religion, many mainstream leaders and institutions were touched by the movement—from an explosive revival at Asbury College in Kentucky to appearances over the years by evangelists like Billy Graham. Many of the movement’s early leaders eventually moved into institutions, such as the booming congregations that sparked the megachurches of the 1980s.
“I remember the very enthusiastic response that so many of us had in the original Jesus movement,” Schmelzer said. “It was delightful. We knew that God is alive in the world. We were very focused on having a real relationship with Jesus. This wasn’t just truth for the head; it was an encounter with Jesus, alive and guiding our lives. The Jesus movement was a major religious revival in the classic sense of the word ‘revival.’ So, in launching Blue Ocean Faith, many of us already have had a personal experience of how this can move and grow.”
WELCOMING ‘THE NONES’
While the early Jesus movement was shaped by enthusiastic leaders, many of whom were not trained in traditional seminaries and graduate schools—Blue Ocean now is benefitting from grassroots leaders coast to coast who are steeped in theology, Bible study and other academic disciplines. For example, the leadership has closedly followed the ever-growing body of research into America’s millions of “Nones”—men and women who decline to give any religious affiliation.
Not to be confused with atheists, Pew Research scholars—among others who are studying the Nones—stress that those who self-identify as having no religious affiliation have a complex, if ambivalent, relationship to religion. Nones now account for 23 percent of the adult population, up from 16 percent in 2007, according to Pew reports.
“Many of us in what is now Blue Ocean Faith were early adopters of the Nones language,” Schmelzer said. “The initial word about this term ‘Nones’ was that it represents a huge number of people who are leaving churches. Now, research has shown us a lot more about this group—and we’re very encouraged that what we’re doing with Blue Ocean Faith can connect with Nones. We’re hearing it from Nones who already are choosing to join with us. One of the defining experiences of the Nones is that they have found ‘church’ and ‘religion’ to be loaded with triggers that tell them they are not welcome, and their friends are not welcome. What they are walking away from is all that baggage because a lot of that baggage has to do with the boundaries between ‘them’ and ‘us’ that define so many churches.”
‘I’M STILL HERE WITH YOU’
Schmelzer recalled a recent experience with a man who now is an active Blue Ocean participant in his southern California congregation. “My story about this guy is like a lot of stories we’re all hearing in our communities coast to coast. After attending for a while, he comes up to me and says: ‘I don’t know if you realize this, but when I first showed up, I sat way in the back because I was just waiting for you to say or do something that would trigger me to leave. And, you know what? Week after week, I came and sat there—and I wasn’t forced to leave. I moved in closer. I’m still here with you.”
And that spiritually potent line—“I’m still here with you”—is one of the central affirmations in this new Christian movement. Blue Ocean Faith’s founding principles are further explained in Schmelzer’s debut book, available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online booksellers.
“We’re not keeping this a secret,” Schmelzer said. “I’d be happy if lots of other people found what we’re learning to be helpful. So, we’re telling the world what we’re doing.”
Later in 2017 and in 2018, Blue Ocean Faith hopes to keep growing and to publish at least two more books about lessons they are learning about their radical approach to Christian growth. Sign up for the readthespirit.com weekly newsletter on our magazine’s front page for further coverage this year.
CARE TO READ MORE?
Blue Ocean Faith is available from Amazon. (NOTE: If the page says “Temporarily Out of Stock,” order anyway. The message is the result of initial interest in the book; Amazon has been quickly fulfilling orders, despite the message.) The book also is available from Barnes & Noble. The book also is available for Kindle and other digital book readers.
You also may want to visit the website: www.BlueOceanFaith.org