Rethinking Church…

Note: This post is one I had written nearly six years ago on the topic of  the endless ‘system’ books for building a church. Not much has changed since then but I wanted to share it again…slightly revised as I go through my own journey….

 

ImageI’ve been clearing out my bookshelves lately.  I’ve decided on a long range plan for paring down my library for the eventual day my wife and I will downsize our living quarters.  Gradually, I’ve sold a few sets of my older bible study materials and I’m getting more and more audio and ebooks to replace paper (and it’s related space).  I’ve really had to think hard before clearing out some of my books but among the first to go in my Christian library is the plethora of church growth books I’ve amassed over the years.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with growth but I’ve come to appreciate that most church growth folks don’t have a clue what they are talking about.  I’m not going to single anyone out because that would be in poor taste but it seems to me that all of the “Do-It-Yourself” church growth manuals are quite repetitive in their instruction.  The great church leader Richard Baxter said this about repetition in books:

It is not the reading of many books which is necessary to make a man wise or good, but the well-reading of a few, could he be sure to have the best. And it is not possible to read over many on the same subject without a great deal of loss of precious time.

As I was putting some books in a box to give to my pastor friends here in Denver, that thought crossed my mind as I began thumbing through the many texts on church growth I have and I began looking at the process prescribed in each.  For the most part, the process is the same:

  • Identify your Mission
  • Make a vision statement
  • Prepare core values from the above
  • Simplify
  • Outreach
  • Assimilate

I speak for many preachers I know here in Colorado.  We’ve tried all the methods prescribed.  We’ve done the mailouts, handed out enough bottled water to fill one of our state’s resevoirs, did the kindness evangelism until we didn’t feel so kindly anymore, and have seen very little results from it.  Those tricks can get people in the door but they won’t keep them.  To be fair, the ideas shared above have some merit.  Having a clear vision of what you feel God has led you to for your church is crucial.  Cutting through the red tape to simplify the process of people getting to know the Lord while not compromising on the essential doctrines of the faith is great.  But after that, I’ve found that all the “methods” outlined in the various books have one thing in common.  It worked for THAT church.  Too many men have tried to duplicate the process elsewhere and have failed miserably.  Why?  Because they didn’t give themselves to the Lord to find out his process for THEIR church.  Here’s a quick illustration to highlight this point…

I absolutely hate receiving direct mail from churches in my mailbox.  Not because I’m a church planter myself but because they all say the same thing:

  • Wear comfortable clothes
  • Contemporary music
  • Relevant teaching (what does THAT mean)
  • Wonderful kids ministry
  • Not your Mom and Dad’s church (As if THAT was so bad)

I wonder…If I am a pastor and this stuff sickens me, does it sicken those who don’t have a connection to the church?  I would be amazed if I received a piece in the mail that said something to the affect of: “We’re all on a journey trying to figure this out.  We have our handbook for living and we’ll do our best to give you principles to live by but most of all, we just care about you and your family and want you to know we’d love to have you join us.”  Please, no more statements of why your church is so great.  Believe me, someone else is doing those “things” better than you.  It may not all be at one place, but somewhere else, specific areas areas are better.  What is going to keep people?  Richard Baxter speaks again…

If they can see you love them, you can say anything to them.

So there you have it.  That’s why I no longer ask about what a person’s running anymore.  It’s important as a church planter for me to be about LIFE TRANSFORMATION.  I DO understand the reasons behind the question.  But what’s more important is “How is your church health?”  Are your people learning how to BE a church instead of just focusing on how many fannies are in your seats..

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2 comments

  1. Scott Berglan

    Scott, you need to get out of head! Your observations about the content of the church growth books is dead on. Never really thought about the mailer, but those themes are always present.

    Church growth strategies work, but I developed a real distaste for them. They appeal to the consumeristic nature of the individual and they continue to attend based on how well the church is meeting their needs. So, the church leadership spends more time focusing on how to meet their consumer needs than helping them grow (which doesn’t always appeal to people’s warm and fuzzies).

    Excellent post. You are on the right track!!! Praying for you buddy.

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