'Church growth strategies are the death rattle of a church that has lost its way.'
The problem is that , generally speaking, we love all these strategies and so we are often found rushing to grasp, like starving refugees, at the aid wagons driven by the theoreticians and the 'encouraging' sorts who bring the stuff to our doors. The problem is that hungry people will clamour for what they have on offer and so swallow the fare before them without ever questioning exactly what it is that is going on. 'We're starving - feed us,' we cry!
Our innate desire to continue to exist means that we drink water muddied by spin and eat every morsel handed out before us regardless of what it is - indeed a hungry man will eat strange foods - you only have to see some of the tripe on the Christian TV channels to realise that!
We cling to every word of the stories of success that those on the wagon tell us; the tales of great new works and successful churches and we dream of that city called 'success' where the streets are paved with gold and long to be citizens of it also. we pray that God will send Willow Creek to our failing congregation or that we, academy-like, might be adopted by some mega-grouping: 'O God, make us to be like [insert church or group name here]. Send us the image of the blessed [insert leader name here] that we might follow them and, believing their words, be raised from the dead,' they cry.
Now I'm someone who is taken up with Church and making it more effective in its mission. I want to see people reached by the Gospel and I take no greater pleasure than to see someone come into relationship with God through the cross of Jesus (the Christ) and, being filled with the Holy Spirit, take up their right place in the body of the Church as they do whatever it is that God has for them to do. The problem is that I engage with people who appear to want to 'do' Church rather than be it.
I meet people from churches where the numbers are diminishing almost as quickly as the candles on the birthday cakes increase and this is truly a nasty reality to be living in.
Yet although I believe that there is much strength and wisdom to be found in the older members of the congregation there is also the sadness that some churches appear to have nothing under the age of fifty in their ranks and this makes them desperate. They see the speed meter falling and realise that those who would have once powered the congregation and supported the works are becoming less due to age and death and so some of the following appear on the horizon as ways forward.
If you happen to read this (or the points to come) then I'd welcome, after you've prayed and thought about them, some comment on them. Give me some solid thinking and some insights gleaned from God and your own experiences - we might actually find we can work together and be of some use to the Church if we do.
i. Change the 'worship'
What great idea this isn't! This is one of the cries of those who see an ageing church and think the way forward is to become 'relevant' (which means 'play the music I like').
Bin the organ, gas the choir and bring in lead, rhythm and bass guitars, add some drums and some overly exuberant singers (thankfully we've dispensed with rainbow coloured guitar straps and chunky pullovers) and you've cracked it!
You have managed to make the church look so different it is exactly like all the other churches around you and even if the music is excellent - you're still looking at the same market in terms of consumers i.e the converted!
Whenever I encounter this approach I find that the only tangible effect (outside of the noise) is the fact that many of the stalwart (stale wart?) members pack their bags and head for a place where choir, hymn and the more traditional church are to be found: Any growth is transfer rather than converted - and that isn't church growth, it's merely signing up rentacrowd (until the next sparkling fad is announced somewhere that is).
And of course - EVERYTHING WE DO IS WORSHIP!
So please stop thinking of liturgy as words and worship as music: It isn't!
And an impassioned plea
If you don't have the musicians (music group or organist and choir) then please look at using 'proper' backing tracks for the hymns and songs. The number of times I have visited places where they are using a 'worship' CD with the audience clapping and singing along and the musicians going off into some heavenly riff and ad lib free worship - and this just doesn't do it properly.
(I once managed to find a track I thought was a straight rendition of a song I wanted to teach some people but, failing to play it all the way through, never realised that they sung the last verse as a reprise in French! Sacré bleu and all that sort of thing!)
I am just a little tired of the places where the leader is also the DJ. Unless you're doing something club-like then it's in the wrong place.
Please note that I am not against guitars or anything in church, but I am against those who claim that Church can only be done in a certain manner using certain strategies and styles.
I don't care whether you are high, central or low church, as long as you preach the Gospel and tend the flock and serve the community around you then everything else is optional.
But the hour is coming, and is now here,
when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth,
for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.
God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. John 4