Recently, I noticed there were reports about a list of the 100 largest churches in the US. I actually read a bit about one in a blog post. I am astonished at some of the assumptions involved. I read so much from people who are completely disenchanted with the entire evangelical emphasis, that it takes me by surprise to run across folks who still think it is the way to go and the bigger the better.
Many of the actions of this large church are being copied at my church, not with my approval of course. I put my two cents worth in but don’t really expect them to listen to a minority view, especially one that doesn’t support the current big plans. In the scant decade that the current leadership has been in charge, we have completely redone our sound and video capabilities. This was badly needed since before we were still using an old fashioned overhead projector for praise songs. Having actual video capabilities is a lot nicer, and the previous sound system was full of gremlins, or so it seemed. The new control area for sound, lights and video took out some seats though, so we eventually built onto our sanctuary, adding an overflow area that can be used for a variety of things.
Then some lenten studies expanded into several core classes, including one on spiritual gifts, one on the fruit of the spirit and one on witnessing, in addition to discovery membership, which was the only thing previously expected of us all. We really had a pent up demand for the spiritual gifts course, and I personally found it quite helpful, since I was looking for expanded ministry opportunities once both kids were in school. The witnessing class was my least favorite, unsurprisingly since it is right at the bottom of my gifts profile. I actually started this blog as a way around it. I saw it, at least at first, as a form of witness.
Now at some point, perhaps a year ago and a bit more, they announced a “reunion” of the witnessing classes. Even though it included a meal, not very many people seemed interested. I thought the very idea was odd. I guess they are disappointed then, that we did not enthusiastically begin saving people right and left and bringing them all to church. Frankly, for my part, I’ve been scratching my head for years, when they would talk about how we should invite our friends and neighbors to this or that. It’s not that I have no friends, but those I have are mostly christians already and they have their own churches. Those that don’t have their reasons. As for neighbors, if we lived closer, maybe that would make sense, though I suspect many of them have their own churches as well. I’m not into sheep stealing!
I guess it’s just that the bones of the plan are beginning to show. Am I imagining that we were told if we invested in a sound system, it would bring people in? I certainly recall being told that a building project would be sure to attract attention, at least from those nearby. It did bring us a few people. They were quite gung-ho about the praise music at the later service, pretty much disinviting the choir and the bells, even though many long time members would tell us how much they missed us and enjoyed our rare appearances at that service. I’m not sure it was said in words, but there seemed to be an assumption that younger families would want the praise music, not organ and choir. Well, we did have a few new ones from time to time.
But I guess it was not enough. They have lost patience with us who aren’t bringing in people by the handfuls, or better hundreds. So now they are going to imitate churches like the one I read about, where the head pastor stated that his responsibility was to his team, not the congregation. I guess if you have 12,000 in attendance, you surely can’t know them all, but it still doesn’t sit well with me when the shepherd makes no attempt to even know his flock. How can he even preach, with no idea of what they need to hear? It seems a little like an echo chamber, or maybe that is just my strange perspective because I also go somewhere once a year, where the speakers actually listen to those who come to hear them, and adjust their messages accordingly.
So, they have changed the time of the later service, which had unwelcome domino effects on things that have always been important to our congregation, like christian education. They have given it a catchy name and are hoping all these new people that will come will fix our church and turn it into an evangelical juggernaut. Maybe that will happen, and maybe not. Some long time members have already left, and should that become a trend, it might well undercut all these new members supposedly coming. I wonder who would be discipling all the new people, if the mature christians have left?
But I digress. I really wanted to talk about the ideas put forth in our latest newsletter, from their “church growth expert.” Well, actually the monthly newsletter says this part came from a book on church growth. Basically it says your church will be in one of 4 phases, “Vision, Relationships, Programs and Management.” All are good except the last one which equals dying. I had actually heard something about this before from a friend, who felt all could be present at the same time, which would ruin the whole idea. You see their point was that without a new vision, your church is destined to die.
Now first of all, I’ve heard the vision talk before, and the church was one I’ve previously attended. They had a lovely vision of an entire church community, including schools, a gym for members and connected retirement housing. It was really a beautiful image, but it never came fully to fruition. But because of some subsequent leaders, who must have had other ideas, that church is now in dire straights, leasing out part of the facilities they cannot afford to maintain and bleeding former members who don’t want to be part of someone’s power trip. That’s not to say vision is a bad thing, necessarily, but this paradigm emphasizes it a little too much.
What if your loyal members have a different vision for their church than the one put forth from the administration? And what of the idea that growth and change can be happening constantly along with decay as in a living organism. Isn’t that what we are supposed to be, the body of Christ? I’ve been at this church for a long time, minus a break when I was elsewhere. I’ve thought it was dying before, only to find it healthy and well 15 years later, with many new people. I’ve seen it shrink when there was a pastor who didn’t understand what made us tick, and recover when one arrived who asked questions like, “what do you want to see happening here, and who are the people who are important here, whether they are on staff or not?” Imagine, a pastor who wanted to serve us, instead of throwing out some grand vision and saying, “make it happen!” And I’ve seen it struggle, when people are trying to do things they feel called to do, yet the administration fails to appreciate those ministries, because they don’t fit their ideas of where our priorities should lie.
I wonder, if God has called me to something, and you don’t like it or don’t understand it, what should I do? Should I go along with the program and support the vision? Or should I trust that God knew what He was doing all along and concentrate on my calling? And at what point should I shake the dust off my feet and move on, if my calling is regularly dismissed as unimportant, or simply neglected?
The problem with paradigms is the person who sets them up asks the questions. They are multiple choice, but they never include the answer, other. Jesus usually responded to those sorts of questions with another question, in the other category, that would reveal the motives of the person with the paradigm. Be willing to think outside the box, because life is not a box, with neat answers to everything. May He help us see beyond the paradigms to the people, who are so much more complex.