About 30 years ago, the church growth movement hit North America. The movement came to us out of a response that the church had lost its mission. So, we did what we know how to do best - we trained consultants to go out and tell us to grow churches.
Out of this movement, we saw a few camps develop. One group was stating that if we did what God called us to do and were filling the Great Commission, the church would grow. The other camp was laying it at the feet of God .... God is responsible for it.
It has created a huge mess. I am currently in a youth ministry forum that is dealing with a number of threads on youth building, youth ministry numeroucal growth and target ministry to reach the masses. Some of the conversation to me is just sickening.
But, Reggie hits a point early on in chapter 2 when he says the following: the idea that churches should be growing put a lot of pressure on denominations and church leaders on whose watch the steam had gone out of post WW II church expansion.
Right and Wrong of the Movement
There were a few things that were right about the movement. The could include the following:
1. Wake up call to the church
2. It introduced the idea of missiological principles
3. Called to attention of the growing diversity of individuals
4. Brought cultural relevance to the front burner
5. Moved away from just church thinkers
There were definitely some things that were wrong with the movement. Here are a few of them:
1. Church Hopping
2. Mom and Pop churches "folded" to the Megachurch
3. Church leadership abused the church
4. Go Short of Sin to "bring up the numbers"
5. Celebrity church
These are some thoughts that come from the book. I have personally seen these principles take shape. They occur more in some places than others. Some of the most prevelant I have seen is from Lexington, Kentucky and Birmingham, Alabama.
There are numerous churches that are "growing". Well, their numbers are up but they are due to location move, church hoppers and engulfing the small church with great programs.
Reggie hits a homerun when he says: we have the best churches that men can build, but we are still waiting for the church that only God can get credit for.
So, we are looking at the wrong questions and the tough questions. Here are the questions for the church growth to kingdom growth.
Wrong Question: How do we grow this church (dow do we get them to come to us) ?
Tough Question: how do we transfor our community (how do we hit the street with the Gospel)?
Come to us Baby ....
This is what I think of when we are talking about church growth. We yell out to the community, come to us. This has caused us as church (congregations) to compete. It is kinda like Jerry McGwire ... Show me the .....NUMBERS. We are concentrating on numbers now so that has switched us into the customer service mentality. Yea .. now that really has helped us and had caused us to answer God's call. We now spend multi-millions to satisfy an increasingly high-maintenance consumer.
So, we are stuck in this methodology rat trap and we keep spinning and jumping from wheel to wheel hoping that the next thing will launch us into the right direction.
Let's take a look at the tough question ...
Reggie sums it up perfectly when he says, "churches that understand the realities of present future are shifting the target of ministry efforts from church activity to community transformation."
We need to be connected with God's heart and we need to have our heart break where His heart breaks and we rejoice in what brings Him joy.
We though are not connected with Him. We should be (since we are the church) but we are not. One of the reasons is that we have turned spirituality into a refuge mentality.
I am currently reading a book that is really challenging me. The book is called "The New Friars". It is a book of stories on individuals who are out there in the world, giving up everything to be with the people. The book is challenging me greatly and it ties into this question very well. I need to have my eyes open and my heart tuned to God so I can see where there is hurt and injustice and be there.
We have now become the pharisees and we need to hear His challenge and follow His example. Instead of "come and get it"; it was "go get 'em". Instead of withdrawing from people for the fear of contamination, he ate with them.
I think that the toughtst part is that when we hear this challenge, we think there has to be a new evangelism or outreach program to due this. This is understandable because of what business and what the church growth movement has taught us. But, we usually fail because it is nothing more than trying to "entice" the unchurched to come to church.
We as churches really need to take a proactive approach and see how we can staff and funnel our resources into community transformation. Each community is different and each transformation that needs to take place will look differently.
What is it in your community ?
One of the different aspects about this is highlighted in the book. Kingdom thinking does not force people into the church to hear about Jesus or maintain the church membership is the same thing as kingdom citizenship.
We need to be where they are at and we need to be meeting the needs of community. This is tough though because this means that we are not sure how to "measure success".
Final words for me today. I know that this has been long and I am not sure if anyone is still following but it is not our job to convict people of sin. We are to be out there showing them God's grace.