Friday, April 18, 2008

Pump Up Your Church

The idea was that growth was the most important thing. You had to get bigger at all costs. Bigger meant you would be more effective. Bigger meant you would reach more people. Bigger even meant more money. So you decided that there needed to be changes so you could grow. And you looked around - you saw what others were doing. They were getting bigger. So you did it too. Who cares if it went against your values, who cares if it went against how you were raised. You did it too, and you got bigger.

Later, maybe, if you were honest, you admitted things. Sure, you were bigger - but you weren't as healthy - you weren't as well grounded. Things tweaked you more easily. More nagging. That healthy whole wasn't there, as some parts just got too big for their britches, wanted to throw their weight around. But you were bigger. There were more people who followed what you did. There was more money coming in. Isn't that good?

No, it wasn't.

Steroids were bad for baseball.

Steroids were bad for the health of the players who used them - although I can understand the temptation to use them. Steroids lead to a sloppier, less elegant form of the game (only now are we beginning to value advancing the runner and things like that again). Steroids led to players being caught up in lots of nagging little injuries that just kept bothering them. Of course they did - because the Body was forced to do something that it was designed to do.

The Church is a Body. A church growth mentality is like steroids for the Church. The focus is the same - the question isn't an existential one, it isn't what is this Church and what are we supposed to be (in Christ) any longer. . . the question shifts away from Christ, away from the Word - and out to an ideal. Growth. We must get bigger. And the thoughts become how do we get more people here.

Not how do we feed people rightly and give them good food - how do we get more people here (maybe I should have done a comparison to McDonald's instead of steroids)? What does it take to accomplish our goal? And anything goes - and when anything goes - we lose our center. We aren't focused on Christ anymore. We don't even trust Christ to take care of His Church - instead, we are focused on what we need to do.

And then the nagging comes in. Sure, you might get some people in. . . but then there is anger, dissention, division. We need to do X, no we need to do Y, how come we can't do Z like we used to, I liked Z! And decisions are made on the basis of what we want, what we like.

And if you don't like it. . . well, maybe this isn't your home anymore. Things break down - and people leave jilted. . . but also taught wrongly - taught that the purpose of Church was to do what they wanted it to. Christ is gone from the picture, even from the ones who like something "good".

Well, but then, finally, when the old naggers are gone, things are finally settled - and we have a happy church. But we need to grow. . . and it starts over again. Sure, new people cycle in - it's exciting. . . but others slip out. Dozens, maybe hundreds join each year. . . and yet. . . we're still the same size we were. . . a little bit bigger than we started, but the growth doesn't keep up. Well, what are we doing wrong now - we need to get bigger. . .

More desperation. Different cocktails of worship and programs. . . maybe that will work. Change the pastor, this one is stale. Still. . . more join, but just as many leave. And then. . . not even that. There is a decline. You aren't the hip place to be. Too many people have cycled through and on to another place.

The Church starts to break down. It isn't cool. People who used to sway things. . . they don't any more. They take their ball and go home. Others start leaving - it's just not as exciting anymore, I don't get anything out of it. . . where have all the people gone?

And then you are broken. But it's okay - you get told by the experts that a congregation only has a limited life span - that they only last so long. So start a new one - new place. Sell off your building to someone else. Come up with a new, witty name - that will attract them.

And off you go again. And Christ - lip service in reality, that's all.

Don't do drugs. Church growth is a drug.

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