Monday, August 01, 2005

THE REAL SECRET TO CHURCH GROWTH. Phillip Johnson writes “Virtually all the people on Time magazine's list of 'The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals' share at least one glaringly significant trait. For the most part, these are the fadmakers.” He explains: “Not one of those movements or programs even existed 35 years ago. Most of them would not have been dreamed of by evangelicals merely a generation ago. And, frankly, most of them will not last another generation. Some will last a few short months (like the Jabez phenomenon did); others may seem to dominate for several years but then die lingering deaths (like Bill Gothard's movement is doing). But they will all eventually fade and fall from significance. And some poor wholesale distributor will be left with warehouses full of Jabez junk, Weigh-Down Workshop paraphernalia, "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelets, Purpose-Driven® merchandise, and stacks and stacks of "emerging church" resources.”

We can only hope so. The desire of pastors and churches to embrace these fads is a little amusing. One of the things you hear from the pulpit on a regular basis is you cannot follow the crowd, you must follow Christ. Then we jump onto the latest church fad. The 1990s, for example, were full of pastors trying to convert their traditional churches into contemporary worship centers. (I still laugh when I see guys in blue jeans playing electric guitars, standing next to Greek columns. Or having open mike night, where people swear and tell ugly stories and we let them because at least they are coming to church and we might reach them.)

Some still are. That is always a good sign that a movement is really dead. By the time Baptists get there, you know everyone else has figured out it doesn’t work and has moved on. It is kind of like high school. When the nerds discover something, the cool people leave.

The pathos enters in, and the amusement fades, when you realize the motivation for chasing these fads. Churches do it to emulate success. Success is always couched in terms of growth in membership. If Pastor Billy Bob doubled his membership having goats in the service, someone will pay him to write a book about it. Pastors and staff members will read those books and decide they need goats in their service, too. Obviously they do, for their membership has not doubled like Billy Bob’s.

They may not realize that the goats actually had no effect, or even a harmful effect, and the real reason for the growth is that the city moved in the direction of his church and he got the new members from the population growth pattern. In reality, one of the tried and true methods of successful church growth is to leave the inner city and move out in front of the suburban sprawl. Upwardly mobile, suburban families, especially with children, make great church members and fatten the rolls (with or without goats).

I honestly think the day will come, and it won’t be long, that churches will say that old contemporary worship thing just doesn’t reach this new generation. We need to go to a simple worship style. Some people will say, but we have done it this way for years. Then the leaders will say hey, it is not about you, it is about reaching more people. You have to give up clinging to these pop music sounding songs and waving hands and embrace prayer, the Lord’s Supper and hymn singing.

Some will not do it, of course. They will complain, saying, if our kids learn only hymns, they will not learn the words to these really great songs we know. Some churches will be cautious. They will have an early service for people who want to worship in the new style, while having the pop music people maintain the 11 o’clock service.

Some will embrace blended services where they will sneak in a few hymns and more regular observance of the Lord’s Supper. But, the pop music crowd will count the songs and complain that there were too many hymns. They will complain that the juice budget has gotten out of hand from having the Lord’s Supper too many times. And we only get to sing the hymns once, instead of singing the pop songs 15 times over.

Protestants chided Catholics for years for changing church doctrine on the whim of the church. Protestants now do it, too, but without following a central church dogma. Instead, they follow the best seller at the local religious book store.

Anthony of Egypt said "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us'."

I know, I know: you are saying to yourself "but you really are mad".

And you might be right.
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