Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How to grow your church... smaller

I got a couple of emails saying I should read this and how right they were.  There is a great deal of wisdom in this little article on the Huffington Post.  You can read it all here for yourself.  But that will not keep me from a couple of good quotes.

Success is a slippery subject when it comes to the Church. That our ultimate picture of success is a crucified Messiah means any conversation about success will be incompatible with a "bigger is better" mentality. Yet, bigger and better is exactly what most churches seem to be pursuing these days: a pursuit which typically comes in the form of sentimentality and pragmatism.

Sentimentality and pragmatism are the one-two punch which has the American Church on the ropes, while a generation of church leaders acquiesces to the demands of our consumer culture. The demands are simple: tell me something that will make me feel better (sentimentality for the churchgoer), and tell me something that will work (pragmatism for the church leader). Yet it is not clear how either one of those are part of what it means to be the church.

And more:

Perhaps more than sentimentality, pragmatism is ravaging the church. Pragmatism has led to a fairly new niche industry I call the Church Leadership Culture. Taking their cues from business, church leadership manuals are more than willing to instruct the interested pastor in how to gain market share. I once heard church consultant and leadership guru Don Cousins say that you can grow a church without God if you have good preaching, great music, killer children's ministry, and an engaging youth minister. Cousins should know. He helped build Willow Creek Community Church and the church leadership culture. In the pragmatic church, there is only one question that matters, "What will work to grow my church?" 

I was especially intrigued by the sentence:  You can grow a church without God...  Isn't that exactly what we are trying to do?  The church growth movement has tried to identity growth characteristics and turn this into a marketing strategy.  It is an evolving and ever changing strategy because as soon as you implement it, the world around you moves on and you have to move on to keep up.  Sadly, in too many Districts of the LCMS and for a time in the holy city (St. Louis) we thought we could grow the Church and did not need much help from God.  We thought that we could grow God a Church and then hand it to Him while expecting to receive thanks and commendation.  When we do this, we forget our own theology.  What is it that Luther said, "I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him..."  Even if we believe that we cannot bring ourselves to faith, we have certainly deluded ourselves into thinking we can bring others to faith and grow the Church with little help from the Savior.

I went to Don Cousins' web site and pulled off this sentence:  Results change when the approach make sense. But isn't that the very problem?  The Gospel does not make sense.  It is not rational or logical.  What is required is not convincing of the mind but the Spirit's breaking down of the walls of the heart that we might trust in that which makes no sense at all -- that God comes in human flesh and blood to take our place in suffering and death that we, the unworthy and undeserving might be declared forgiven, righteous, and holy.

And finally:

So, God save us from the successful church. Give us churches who shun sentimentality and pragmatism and aren't afraid to face the inevitable shrinkage which comes as a result of following Jesus. God save us from church leadership strategies.


Janis Williams said...

William James. What gives the best cash value....

Bonhoeffer. We don't build the church.

Anonymous said...

I guess this is another example of there being nothing new under the sun. Don Cousins sounds a lot like Charles Finney:

There is nothing in religion beyond the ordinary powers of nature. A revival is not a miracle, nor dependent on a miracle, in any sense. It is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means—as much so as any other effect produced by the application of means. . . . A revival is as naturally a result of the use of means as a crop is of the use of its appropriate means" [Charles Finney - Lectures on Revivals of Religion]

Both men are pelagians?

Anonymous said...

In history books Charles Finney is
remembered for his antislavery
crusades before the Civil War.
He was an outspoken advocate that
slavery in the United States should
be abolished.

Lee said...

I read this blog entry after driving my son home from Cub Scouts tonight where we saw four searchlights in the distance, obviously advertising something. My eight year wanted to see where they led. Of course, it led to the parking lots of one of the local mega-churches in town. The parking lot was full but I am not quite sure what the event was. My son thought it was strange for a church to do this. I responded, "Well, some churches like to have a lot of 'bling'." "They're just wrong," he said bluntly. Trying to be a bit more diplomatic about it, I said, "It's not necessarily wrong, just different." But I must admit, I was glad my son had some sense that the church should be different than the local carnival.

Dixie said...

Had to laugh about the comment of "bling"...being Orthodox we are all about the "bling"! (But I know what you meant.)

Anonymous said...

This is neither here nor their, I'm fairly certain Don Cousins' son (Kirk) is the starting QB for Michigan State University...