Church growth pulls towards strategies of promotion. ”If only we had the right sign” or the “right add” or the “right music” or the “right preaching.” Yet we live in different times. Church growth no longer centers solely on promotion. Like 12 Steps Programs, church growth will come more and more to focus on attraction.
The promotion strategy does on occasion work. But when it works, it can actually lead us to the wrong conclusions. As one author noted…..
Many of us have a story about someone who stopped, looked, listened and came in. (Attracted by a sign or an add) That person is now chair of the church council. But there’s a danger here: when a story becomes an anecdote to justify a strategy, it soon becomes a deterrent to congregational efforts at becoming truly missional. The few who are attracted by the sign reinforce the church’s behavior. They are like pigeons pecking on a lever that rarely rewards them with a grain—but all it takes is one grain in a thousand pecks for them to keep pecking at that lever.
What then of “attraction”? The terms “attraction” needs definition. It is not the attraction of a beautiful church filled with smiling faces. It is the attraction of a church whose members actively engage themselves in the world around them. The congregation’s members then becomes the attraction – not from a deliberate endeavor to draw people via person magnetism but by the compelling, quiet witness of lives lived for a higher purpose, lives lived for others. Church is a matrix, an environment supporting that journey.
We will NOT grow by traditional means as the church has over centuries come to understand it. Doctrinal debates and proofs will attract some but serve few. Beautiful buildings will attract some but serve few. Even emotionally moving services will attract some but serve few. (My two favorite Pastor’s – Andy Stanley and Rob Bell – are masters at being a calm, understated presence in the pulpit.) What will attract many is the serving of many.
That does not of course mean the Sunday service is done, is over. We need the magic of Sunday. It is the critical pivot, the “foyer” as one famous minister characterized it. But sustained growth, growth beyond just the surface, will depend on co-creation that travels far beyond the Sunday experience. It is the co-creation – deep partnering – that brings the Church to the world, that shares the suffering and joy of others, and supports people in cultivating their dreams as God gives them to see them, and refining those dreams into ministries.
Last night I was asked by a friend how NCL planned to grow. Well, that is it. Co-creation/ deep partnership/ ministry is not a complex strategy but it is effective. I find myself constantly pulled by the desire to “do more” to “add more” – to make it more complex. And yet there is this quiet and sure knowledge that growth does not lie in what the preacher does or in the sheer volume of offerings. It lies in what the Church does, what the Church creates, how the Church partners with others.
Each of you has a dream my friend, one given you by God. Live into it. Christ is there as a loving partner and witness to your bringing it to life. That was His intention in creating the spark that is you. Not all dreams are realized. But so what. His gift is the journey – through blessings and breakings – the gift and holiness of life. That is growth. Even failures in that context are life giving.
Such an orientation forces us as a Church outward. It forces us to serve by going deep. That is tough terrain yet it in doing that, I think we begin to speak the language, one to another, that is the heritage of Christianity, a heritage not of exclusion but of inclusion, a heritage of life lived for others, a heritage of care for the spirit, a heritage of love and wisdom realized in service. The soul of the New Church.