Thursday, January 11, 2007

Church Growth

(I posted part of this as a comment on Wayne's blog. But I wanted to add a little more.)

I don't want to be overly cynical, but I suspect that filling a church would be pretty easy if we weren't so picky (i.e., exclusionary). My impression is that, for example, a church known to be open to ex-offenders would have people pounding down the doors. Of course, they're not the people "we" want to build a church with.

It becomes tougher to fill the church when the question isn't - "how do we reach the unchurched," - but instead is, "How do we reach the 'unchurched' in the narrow demographic that we feel comfortable interacting with."

Perhaps I'm wrong, and it would be hard to get ex-offenders (and other folk who have very different backgrounds and/or odd looks or behavior) to come to our churches as well.

Part of the problem seems to me to be the "voluntary" nature of church. You reach a tipping point of different type of folk in your church, and I suspect many of the middle-class stalwarts might feel uncomfortable, and take their families and their money to the church down the street in which they feel more comfortable. In this case, the invisible hand of the market seems to lead to "cherry picking" - church competition drives away ministries to less desireable folk (in the world's eyes) and rewards devoting resources to "ministries" that middle-class folk like.

Another thought, as long as I'm on the topic. So much of the discussion about "works" in Lutheran circles takes on a somewhat abstract quality. I think that's because most of us are (generally) law-abiding, pillar-of-the community type of folk. So when Paul writes, "Let him who steals steal no longer" (Eph 4.28), that seems obvious. Few of us are caught up in a life of theft, after all.

But to many guys in prison, this command has bite real bite. That's the way that they live in the outside world. So the admonition, "Let him who steals steal no longer," is a real call to live a transformed life. To be sure, it also speaks to the rest of us - don't steal from your employer by loafing on the job, don't steal from the government by lying on your tax form, etc.

But I wonder if some of the "moralism" of the early church fathers is a reflection of the type of church growth that they experienced. People living on the margin of society often times have blurred thinking about right and wrong, as a result of repeated sin and/or repeated abuse. In that case, their pastors need to lay sanctification on a little more thickly than they do after 2000 years of Christendom.

Just a thought.


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