Why Churches Don’t Grow

Thom Rainer has a list of 7 reasons why some members of churches don’t want them to grow. It’s a pretty good list when even the pastor can say, “Yeah, I get that. Sometimes I feel that way.” For example:

Loss of memories. I recently heard a poignant story from a lady whose church was demolishing the old worship center to build a new one to accommodate growth. She and her husband were married in the old worship center. She understandably grieved at the loss of that physical reminder of their wedding.

Others I don’t find as compelling. My favorite not-a-good-reason is number 5. (Or maybe I should write like a click-bait headline: “Number 5 will make you roll your eyes. Again.”)

If Genesis 11 is a commentary on people’s refusal to obey the commandment of Genesis 1:28, then what is the commentary on people’s refusal to obey the Great Commission or John 20:21 or Acts 1:8?

Pew Data on Same-Sex Marriage

The Pew Center has released some interesting new data on public attitudes about Same-Sex Marriage.

Polls and surveys are tricky for two reasons. The first is methodology: was the survey properly taken, did they get a representative sample, and so forth. The second is suitability: is a poll really the right tool for the job? Years ago, the Harvard Lampoon published a parody edition of USA Today featuring the headline: “Chromium Heaviest Metal: Poll Finds.” The poll might have found it, but chromium isn’t the heaviest metal.

Anyway, I was interested in this bit of the poll:

Among the groups most likely to favor same-sex marriage in 2014 were Millennials (67%), Democrats (64%) and people without any religious affiliation (77%).

(Some of my previous posts on this topic.)

The Magic Word

I saw this sign during a nature call on the Parks Highway near Mt. McKinley.

Toilet Sign

 

That’s a great sign.

The sign assumes you want to help, or are at least willing to help, and only lack instruction about how. It says that doing this badly has a financial impact, but doesn’t make threats about removing the toilets or replacing them with pay toilets.  Then it assumes you’re willing to do something to make the next person’s experience more pleasant, and says how: by closing the toilet lid.

But beyond that, look at the language. It’s not regulatory but invitational. “Please” do this. “Help” with that. Some people would write the sign “Do not dispose of trash in the toilet,” but this is much better.

Thoughts on the beginning of Lent

Somewhere I read a line that said: Instead of giving things up for Lent, take something on.

That’s a good word. But if you still want to give something up, here are some ideas: Forty things to give up for Lent.

Here’s a “college-friendly” list of things to give up. Here’s another list that reminds us it’s not a second crack at New Year’s resolutions.

Congregations Dying and Rising

In his own blog, Bishop Grant recently brought my attention to a blog post entitled “A Growing Church is a Dying Church.”

I liked what the blog post said about the role of the pastor:

What then can your pastor do? She can make your board meetings longer with prayer and Bible study. She can mess with your sense of familiarity by changing the order of worship and the arrangement of the sanctuary. She can play those strange new songs and forget about your favorite old hymns. She can keep on playing those crusty old hymns instead of that hot new contemporary praise music. She can bug you incessantly about more frequent celebration of Communion. …

and:

What can she do to grow your church? Nothing. There’s nothing your pastor can do to make your church grow. She can’t save your church. Your church already has a Savior and it’s not her. She can push you. She can open doors. She can present you with opportunities. It’s up to you to take advantage of them.

But the greater point was that churches often look for numerical growth and a prolonged lifespan, which isn’t very Christian. More bodies, sometimes, is precisely what God refuses to provide. And as for length of days: we of all people should not be afraid of death like those who have no hope. Resurrection can’t happen until there’s been a death.

My only quibble with the article — not, I think, with its main thrust, but with its wording — was that it conflated two ideas: transformation and resurrection. Resurrection includes transformation, but not all transformation is resurrection. (Consider the transfigured Jesus and the risen Lord. Consider the Peter of Luke 5 and the Peter of Acts 4. He’s been transformed, but neither one is the Peter we will know in the age to come. Or the Paul of Acts 7–8 and Acts 21. He’s been transformed, but not yet resurrected.)

In the case of a local congregation, what the pastor is trying to orchestrate (midwife?) is transformation, not resurrection. The congregation may resist that transformation. It may prefer to die with dignity than to contextualize the gospel for neighbors who don’t look or sound or behave like the people who paid for the organ or put in that stained glass.

What happens when a congregation dies? Sometimes, our church buildings are recycled as restaurants, or even homes and condos. But sometimes they are resurrected for new worshipping communities, like when the small foreign-language Pentecostal congregation buys the old First Mainline Protestant church downtown. May God bless them and give them a fruitful ministry.

I can’t criticize those few survivors hanging on in First Mainline. They’re tired and dizzied by the way the culture has changed under their feet and overwhelmed by the new demographics of their community. I can understand why they might be ready to go home to be with the Lord, just like Paul.

But life is a gift from God, and we are called to make good use of the time we have been given. Paul himself says it: “if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.”

So let’s let God take care of resurrection, and in the meantime, apply ourselves to the work — and it is work — of being transformed so we can be agents of transformation.

Barriers to Giving

Everybody talks about how their church is (or tries to be) friendly. But “friendly” is more than just shaking your hand when you arrive. It encompasses seeing things from your guests’ point of view and asking yourself what they want or expect. A case in point is giving (although, churches should be even more friendly about giving, because guests are probably a tiny fraction of the people who give to your church). From the Lovett and Weems Church Leadership website:

When you design and communicate financial policies, make sure they are done from the perspective of the giver and not simply to satisfy rules. Make sure that readers know your interest is primarily in them and their desire to fulfill their giving goals, not for the convenience of those handling the funds.