Wednesday, November 18, 2015

It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time (An open letter to Church change agents)

Okay, I get it.  
You wanted to do good. 
You wanted to increase your church’s attendance.
You wanted to help build the kingdom of God.
You wanted to win souls to Christ.
You looked around and saw other churches that seemed to be growing, but yours was stagnant. Regardless of your sincere intentions, your church’s membership rolls were not increasing. 
You asked yourself, what were you doing wrong?  What was it about the church down the street that attracted so many more people?

Soon you became aware of new buzzwords and phrases in the evangelical community that you had never heard before; phrases like seeker friendly, seeker-sensitive, church marketing, felt needs, relational ministries, friendship evangelism, and purpose driven.

And you began to hear of strange and exciting new business models for church growth from marketing gurus like Rick Warren and Bill Hybels that seemed to be producing remarkable results. You studied their books, you examined their promotional materials, and you listened to the seminar presentations.  And then you decided that you were doing everything wrong.  This is a new world.  Your old model was no longer relevant.  It was stuffy.  The music was not stimulating.  The preaching was too confrontational or too convicting.  People were bored and not engaged.
That’s when you called your other trusted church leaders together to discuss, in confidence, a new paradigm to reach out into the community and attract the unchurched.  It would be great, you thought.  It would expand your ministry opportunities as unbelievers were drawn in and exposed to the gospel.  One of your men even suggested a radical change from the old ways; the formalism and liturgical practices that made unbelievers feel uncomfortable.  “We need to (figuratively) tear down all the walls and fences and throw open the doors so that we can be attractive to the whole community,” he said.

So your “leadership team” (your newly adopted, unbiblical term for elders or pastors) made the business decisions without the approval or knowledge of your congregation and began its work to “lead” them into a radical new way of doing church.  It was subtle at first; a little insignificant change here and a cleverly crafted, upbeat success seminar speech masquerading as a sermon, there.  Before long the signs were everywhere but most of the people were still not sure what was happening.

Oh, there were a few resisters who began to question your practices.  But you were prepared, Rick Warren had already warned you about the “troublemakers,” and you were prepared to either intimidate them into submitting to your authority or let them go.  Some would just go away quietly, but there were others who saw your intentions and directly confronted you.  You knew that you would have to force them out for the sake of “unity.”

It all seemed like such a good idea at the time but “a deep and abiding passion to see our churches grow is a very dangerous thing." Andrew Heard.

It wasn’t long before your Constitution was nullified. No, you didn't overtly change it; you just stashed it out of sight, along with your doctrinal statement, deep in the back of the bottom drawer of an old file cabinet in a dark storeroom.  Formal membership requirements were minimized or waived.  Church discipline became an obscure, archaic concept buried deep in the archives of church history.  The doors were thrown open wide; everyone was welcomed to join in the profane worship and became active participants and, in some cases, leaders in your ministries.
Along the way, you began to notice cracks in your foundation; and there were rumblings of trouble on the horizon.  About a decade ago some of the major national leaders in the church growth, purpose driven movement, began to admit that they were wrong and that their methods were not working.  Why didn’t you stop to re-evaluate then?  Were you too far invested to give up?  Were you too proud to admit you were wrong?  Or were you just arrogant enough to believe that, although the experts failed, you knew better?

So here we are today, at least two decades into this alternative church growth plan (which is contrary to God’s plan).  It has been said, “What you win them with is what you win them to.”  So, Pastor, how is all that working out for you?  If you have been paying attention, you probably already know that the newest "movement" is trending back to more traditional models.  And by now you are discovering that your “target market” has changed.  They are moving on.  They have grown weary of the same old worship bands singing that mindless noise that was so relevant and contemporary just five years ago. Some are moving down the street to the next “newest gimmick.”  And if you are going to remain in your church, by now you know that you will probably need to make some serious strategic changes or perhaps it would be easier to lick your wounds and just move on to another place.

On the other hand, if you have resisted the temptations; if the Word of God is boldly proclaimed from your pulpit; if your primary focus is on preaching the whole counsel of God; if your congregation is fed a regular, healthy, steady diet of expository preaching; if you boldly and unabashedly tell the truth about sin and constantly warn your people of its consequences; if you are obsessed with the glory of God, then you have a real "relevant" church.  You don't need no stinkin' gimmicks. 


Eddie Eddings said...

The Bride of Christ should not be flirting with the step-sons of P. T. Barnum.

Pumice said...

Two comments,

(John 6:66 KJV) From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.

(Matthew 7:14 KJV) Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

We want to grow but most people want to sin.

Grace and peace.

Alec said...

Thank you for writing this letter. If only it were not true.


PS The Aquila Report link has an extra quotation mark at the end, causing it to fail. Would hope that most people would be able to figure it out, but who knows?