Thursday, May 17, 2007

Why are some churches growing?

This is the text of an email I sent to a friend this week, but I thought it was worth publishing as it is probably of wider interest:

Dear xxx

I have been reflecting on some things we talked about when we met. I have looked at a number of churches I know of that are growing to see if there is anything that can be learned. These range from places like Carrubbers (which is fairly hard line) to Hillsong (which is totally charismatic).

The reasons they are growing seem to be threefold:

1. They are preaching a message which appeals to a specific group of people. These are not geographical groups but socio economic groups. It could be students, it could be young professionals, it could be people with young families. Like attracts like and the churches are geared up for the group they are targetting.

2. These churches all have a close sense of community. Everyone is encouraged to be involved as soon as they start coming and church is not something that is only for Sundays.

3. These churches all have an emphasis on mission and evangelism as a core function of why they exist. This creates the work that the members are involved in, which in turn increases their sense of community.

I suspect that Baptist churches would have a problem adapting to work this way because they do have a strong sense of being "local" churches with geographical areas to reach rather than reaching types of people.

The further I have thought about this the more I am convinced that different personality types are attracted to different types of church. All the classical musicians I know who are Christians are Anglicans. All the sales reps I know who are Christians go to independent charismatic churches.

There must be more to this than coincidence. It might be a question of working out what "type" your church appeals to most naturally and then mining that seam, which in reality is what a lot of successful churches are doing.

This then leads me onto whether there is a role for para church organisations. The first part of the churches mission has to be to present the real Jesus and the real church because as Bishop Fulton Sheen said:

"Few people reject Christ or even hate the church, but many reject and hate false notions and erroneous ideas about Christ and Christianity."

I think there is a role for organisations that can break down these barriers, and get people along to hear the gospel when they won't not go inside a church.

The problem with para church organisations is that they usually do not have sufficient links with local churches in order to get people grounded in an appropriate church. This is one of the (many) problems with BMF. It might be that a group of churches running a seperate mission to men would be more successful than the churches doing it together or a totally independent mission like BMF. BMF is also very specific to narrow range of Pentecostal doctrines and a very particular presentation of the gospel (which could be described as "victoriousness" e.g. you won't ever hear me give my testimony at BMF because I have continuing health problems which don't make a good testimony).

I think in Livingston we have some very specific problems reaching people because of the way the town is set up and the culture that exists. This is why nobody is really making any headway. The two pentecostal churches are waiting for God to do something, but as I said to someone from the AoG church last week "God can't steer a stationery vehicle". I also don't think any of us can justify maintaining churches with 20 or 30 members each. Its not viable and its a bad witness to the town.