Monthly Archives: October 2007

 

Oct

19

2007

Jared C. Wilson|2:40 pm CT

You Can’t Program Discipleship

First Sally Morgenthaler, perhaps the most influential proponent of the attractional worship paradigm, says the paradigm doesn’t work.

Now no less a church growth icon than Bill Hybels says they “made a mistake”:

James Twitchell, in his new book Shopping for God, reports that outside Bill Hybels’ office hangs a poster that says: “What is our business? Who is our customer? What does the customer consider value?” Directly or indirectly, this philosophy of ministry—church should be a big box with programs for people at every level of spiritual maturity to consume and engage—has impacted every evangelical church in the country.

So what happens when leaders of Willow Creek stand up and say, “We made a mistake”?

Not long ago Willow released its findings from a multiple year qualitative study of its ministry. Basically, they wanted to know what programs and activities of the church were actually helping people mature spiritually and which were not. The results were published in a book, Reveal: Where Are You?, co-authored by Greg Hawkins, executive pastor of Willow Creek. Hybels called the findings “earth shaking,” “ground breaking,” and “mind blowing.”

. . . Hawkins [says], “Participation is a big deal. We believe the more people participating in these sets of activities, with higher levels of frequency, it will produce disciples of Christ.” This has been Willow’s philosophy of ministry in a nutshell. The church creates programs/activities. People participate in these activities. The outcome is spiritual maturity. In a moment of stinging honesty Hawkins says, “I know it might sound crazy but that’s how we do it in churches. We measure levels of participation.”

Having put all of their eggs into the program-driven church basket you can understand their shock when the research revealed that “Increasing levels of participation in these sets of activities does NOT predict whether someone’s becoming more of a disciple of Christ. It does NOT predict whether they love God more or they love people more.”

Speaking at the Leadership Summit, Hybels summarized the findings this way:
Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back it wasn’t helping people that much. Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for.

Having spent thirty years creating and promoting a multi-million dollar organization driven by programs and measuring participation, and convincing other church leaders to do the same, you can see why Hybels called this research “the wake up call” of his adult life.

I will cop to being a minor Willow Creek fanboy. I attended the church leadership conference in 1996, was blown away, won to the movement, has a visit to Dieter Zander’s Axis service plant a seed in my heart for some of the things I’d like to do with Element, etc. Bill and Lynne Hybels’ Rediscovering Church was a great influence on my early approach to ecclesiology, and re-reading it last year, I still found large portions of it very helpful and instructive.

So this has nothing to do with glee over Hybels’ “wake up call.”
My assumption, actually, has been that Willow Creek has been one of the few seeker-type mega-churches that have been doing an awful lot right, especially in terms of discipleship.

But I think there is something in the air. People all around are waking up to what the last 25 years in evangelicalism has wrought. What is the fruit? Every shift in evangelical ecclesiology even in the short span of the last 40 years or so appears not to be a natural, evolutionary outgrowth of the fruit of a previous movement, but a radical reaction to what came before.
So the Baby Boomers’ seeker-centered church growth model is a pendulum swing away from their forefathers’ fundamentalist traditional approach. And the emerging church movement of today appears to be a pendulum swing away from the seeker thing.

Thus modern vs. postmodern, seeker vs. missional, traditional vs. contemporary, etc.

Lord help us if we are just setting ourselves up for another pendulum swing.
When your car begins to veer off the road, you turn the wheel back to correct it. But in our frantic turning, out of sheer fear of going off the road on the left, we can over-correct and just end up crashing into the wall on the right instead.

I think what the Reveal survey is showing us is twofold:
a) the attractional worship paradigm attracts and can lead to conversion, but its track record for growth is lousy
b) you can’t offer a bunch of goods and services and expect that to lead to spiritual growth

But listen to how some are interpreting the data. Hybels surmises:

We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.

In so far as he’s talking about equipping and training, I think he’s right on. And I would never presume to suggest I know better about how spiritual growth is done than the one and only Bill Hybels.
But this self-feeding thing can be very dangerous. I have heard it quite a bit in different quarters recently.

If it only means training and equipping Christians to practice spiritual disciplines, to take responsibility for their spiritual growth, then I think it is right. But if it is merely a reaction, sort of a “Well, they obviously don’t need the church, so let’s help them not need us,” I think it can be one of those over-corrections that just leads to a whole new set of problems.

The last thing we need today, in a culture of lonely people practicing loneliness together, among people who from the beginning of time have been broken by pride and self-idolatry, is a concentrated focus on further lone ranger Christianity. Is more individualism really the answer?

The Church is the Body of Christ, and we need it. We need community. We need the sustenance the community provides.
Jesus asked Peter a question: “Do you love Me?”
Peter said yes.
And Jesus didn’t say, “Then teach my sheep how to self feed.”

What this means is not an end to churchly provision. What it means is an end to The Program as key to spiritual growth. What it means is we cannot install an event, and when we see it doesn’t work, install another event and hope it succeeds.

Discipleship is about following Jesus. And people have to want to do this.
Rather than attempt to program churchgoers into discipleship, why don’t we try this:

a) proclaim and exemplify the gospel as often as possible.
Isn’t it odd that for so long we have begun with the idea that we must demonstrate how practical and applicable to every day life Christianity is, yet so few people are actually being matured by the process that begins that way? I think it has something to do with the fact we aren’t beginning by addressing the real problem. We assume it is dysfunction or lack of success, when really it is sin.

b) express and exemplify the need for community as often as possible.
Many churches are finding that simply introducing a small group program doesn’t magically make their folks want to do small groups. You have to demonstrate the need for it to them by authentic preaching in worship gatherings and by setting up opportunities between people to share their hearts, arranging mentor relationships, etc. Maybe this means testimonials from the stage. Maybe this means returning to an on-campus small class structure with the aim of eventually transitioning them into home groups. But this is something that has to be cultivated, not just programmed.

c) focus on, center on, orient around Jesus and worship him as God.
What good is it to win people to the life of a church’s programs if they aren’t in love with Jesus? We have been stunning failures at Christ-intoxication. Exalt Jesus as more than a role model who teaches how to handle your finances, and those who see him as the Door rather than merely the doorman to success will be all the more ready to follow despite the cost.

d) trust the Holy Spirit.
This something that convicts me personally, and I lump myself in with shame: We don’t pray enough.

Are we trusting our programs, or are we trusting God?

I don’t believe the right response to “the programs aren’t working” is to conclude the life of the Church is not the place for Christians, new and “old,” to be fed. I don’t believe the right response to “our goods and services aren’t having their desired effect” is to work on creating more independent Christians.
We just have to further and more fully devote to the proclamation of and the living out of the Gospel of Jesus. In community. Feeding each other. Having all things in common. Caring for the least of these.
That’s life together.

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Oct

18

2007

Jared C. Wilson|1:46 pm CT

Jesus is For Losers

A few weeks ago our pastor said one of the boldest, riskiest, best things he’s said since he’d arrived at our church in April: “Sometimes you have to let your dreams die.”

It was not said in a woe-is-me and poor-poor-pitiful-you way. It was about God’s will. It made total sense. And yet it is the sort of thing rarely said in churches these days, when the prevailing theme appears to be God Exists to Make Your Dreams Come True.

A few months ago I listened to a podcasted message by the man I consider my mentor-pastor, and while I can’t remember every jot and tittle of his sermon text, one sentence was burned into my brain the moment I heard it and has never left: “To be a follower of Jesus you must renounce comfort as the ultimate value of your life.”

Why do statements like these sound revolutionary?
Yes, they challenge our natural bent toward self-interest. Yes, they challenge our cultural premiums on pleasure and independence.
But within church culture, why are they so revolutionary?

Some friends of ours visited a church recently and in relaying the quality of the message, one of them said that, teaching from Philippians, the pastor announced that the normal Christian life is characterized by suffering. My friend, a big smile on his face, concluded, “Which, you know, was good to hear.”

It’s not about being joyless or gluttons for punishment. It’s about, partly, not saying to believers who are growing through some terrible, terrible things “You are abnormal; something is wrong with you or your faith because this is happening.”
And yet that is the message many of our churches send.

The more Scripture I read, the more alien to it much of the modern church’s message seems.

At its root, this renewed call to Scriptural consistency, this turning back to the message of repentance from our ego, pride, self-interest, and self-satisfaction is actually about being more ourselves, more real. I don’t trust anyone who says following Jesus means everything should go great for me, because nobody who’s ever lived has ever had everything go great. It is not honest to say one can avoid suffering and defeat and failure.

So which is greater? A message that dishonestly preaches that with Jesus everything can be “total victory” or a message that honestly preaches that in life crappy things happen but because of Jesus’ total victory those crappy things are given meaning and significance? One message urges victory in avoidance, which isn’t even possible; the other urges victory in the experience.

The following is from Matt Kleberg’s great, gospel-blaring post at Common Grounds this week called Real Love is Transparent:

Last summer a certain friend of mine weighed heavy on my heart. I made a point to pray for him and love him whenever and however I could. That same friend later shared with someone else that he simply could not relate to me. In his eyes, I had put on a glossy façade, feigning invincibility and faultlessness. I never revealed my weakness and humanness and thus was not a real person. He saw me as a fake, like a mannequin in Christianity’s window display. My friend’s assessment was right on- my pride and fear kept me from really loving him at all.

I internalize and cover up my sin and weakness because I fear that any failure on my part implies a failure of Christianity. I must be perfect; otherwise Christianity is just a big flop, exposed as an elaborate hoax. The pressure is on and I must perform so that Christianity looks like a good buy.

This assumption is the exact opposite of the gospel. It is anti-gospel. To say that my failures somehow discredit Christianity completely disregards the cross! What pride and hypocrisy! Out of death we are made alive in Christ and our new identities are not bound up in our own righteousness, but rather the righteousness of Christ. It is by His perfection that we are presented as spotless before the Father. And while the Spirit does begin its healing work on our hearts, it is forever the work of Jesus that makes us children of God. I no longer have to disguise my sin for fear of nullifying the gospel. The gospel, rather, nullifies my sin, and frees me up to live as though transparent. The world can see through me- can see that I am needy and that there is a savior who triumphs over my brokenness.

For His power is made perfect in my weakness, not my prosperity.
His grace is sufficient for me, because my successes are not.
When I am weak, then I am strong.

The message of self-empowerment is the antithesis of the gospel and must be challenged.

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Oct

18

2007

Jared C. Wilson|12:16 am CT

"10 Things" for Starting a Ministry

Actually, this is Gary Lamb’s “10 Things I Wish I’d Known When I First Started Church Planting”, but I’m guessing they may be fairly applicable to any ministry start.

1. Be secure in your calling . . .

2. People who come one time and act like you are the greatest thing in the world, want to sign up for everything after one visit, talk about how they are called to ministry after one visit, etc are the ones that won’t last long. It happens every time.

3. You can NEVER cast vision too much. Volunteers do what they do because of the vision, not because they need something else on their schedule.

4. Small groups are a lot of work and NO ONE is doing them well especially if they are reaching unchurched people. However when they run right there is nothing greater.

5. Who you do this thing with is so important. Do it with friends and people you enjoy being around.

6. Don’t be afraid to talk about money. The bible talks a lot about it and it is part of spiritual growth. Big vision takes big money and God uses people to fund that vision.

7. Be yourself. The world doesn’t need another Ed Young, Andy Stanley, Rob Bell, or Erwin McManus. It does however need you to be you and who God created you to be.

8. Don’t be afraid to lose people. I never want to see people go, but there are times when people need to leave and in the early days I was too afraid to lose people that I kept people around that needed to leave.

9. Take time off!!!! Starting a church is a marathon, not a sprint. You are in this thing for the long haul so take care of your body, your mind, your soul, your marriage, and your family now where you can be doing this thing later.

10. Enjoy the ride. Quit worrying about the next growth barrier, the other churches in town, the critics, etc. Just enjoy what God is doing. Stop and smell the roses. If you don’t do it now, you never will. Keep pushing to reach more people, but enjoy what is happening while it is happening.

I’m not a church planter, but #’s 2, 5, 7, 8, 9, and 10 resonate strongly with me.

For you planters or church founders (or other ministry veterans), what are your “things you wish you’d known”?

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Oct

17

2007

Jared C. Wilson|8:50 pm CT

Ecclesial Adultery

This is my first encounter with Gen-X Rising blog (I didn’t even know people still used the label Gen-X except in a historical sense), but this post by Andrew Thompson is a hum-dinger:
Cheating On Your Church

A substantial taste:

There are some legitimate reasons to leave a church once you join as a member . . . But they are few in number. And most reasons people leave amount to nothing more than ecclesial adultery. When you promise fidelity to both Jesus and a congregation of his disciples and then break that promise over matters as simple as boredom with worship or frustration with a committee, you are running out on the bride of Christ. It’s cheating on your church, folks . . .

There is, of course, an underlying reason why people instinctively think that seeking out a church that meets all their felt needs is a God-given right. And it has to do with consumerism and the aforementioned market economy. Most Americans simply cannot conceive of the idea of not being able to choose their church the way they do their cell phone plan or where they’ll get tonight’s take-out. But think about what that mindset does to the Bride of Christ: it turns her into a cheap prostitute, who peddles her wares on street corners in the hopes that you’ll condescend to choose her over all her similarly cheap competitors.

If you want to do something truly radical for Jesus (and ‘radical’ is a relative term in our historically weak era), commit to his bride the way you did to your own bride or groom on your wedding day. Stay with her through thick and thin. Help your fellow brothers and sisters there to grow in discipleship. And whenever you get mad at some perceived slight in your church, realize that you are committed to that community in such a way that you are called to reconciliation rather than self-chosen alienation.

Spot flippin’ on.

(HT: Matthew Johnson at the BHT)

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Oct

17

2007

Jared C. Wilson|3:00 pm CT

The Requisite Osteen Post

You can watch the “60 Minutes” feature on Joel Osteen here, as I did.

It’s fairly bland. Nothing revelatory.
Except for the interviewer, Byron Pitts, asking some really, really great questions. He asks why no Jesus in the book. He asks if he’s more like Dr. Phil than a pastor. This is stuff most interviewers would not have the context from which to wonder about.

There’s some stuff from Michael Horton (whose books are in my recommended reading sidebar, fyi) that’s pretty good. He pretty much calls Osteen’s teaching “heresy.”

Okay.

The Internet Monk has the best barnstorming post on the interview. Read it.

Osteen, by his own admission, says he doesn’t talk about sin. He doesn’t talk about the cross. Jesus shows up at the end of his messages, for what reason I don’t know, because he seems incidental or unnecessary during the message itself.

Sin and the cross are necessary components of the Gospel. Excise them and you’ve got no gospel. No gospel in your teaching means you’re teaching something else. Right?

“I mean, there’s a lot better people qualified to say, ‘Here’s a book that’s going to explain the scriptures to you.’ I don’t think that’s my gifting,” Osteen says.

These facts don’t mean Joel Osteen is not a Christian. But they do mean he is not really a Christian pastor and has no business teaching a church. A Unitarian Universalist church, maybe. A life-coaching seminar, a self-help conference sure.

It is a dangerous business, preaching. Eternal destinies hang in Osteen’s call of “God wants you to have that promotion at work.”

Osteen’s biggest sin in the interview? Tucking his T-shirt into his basketball shorts in the driveway hoops-shooting scene. What a nerd.
Pitts should be ashamed he got schooled by Howdy Doody. :-)

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Oct

17

2007

Jared C. Wilson|2:32 pm CT

When Buzz Matches Vision

The big idea of what my church is trying to do with Element has to do with discipling folks 18-30something. Experientially, while we do have college students and we do have young marrieds, the majority of our participants are young professionals in their mid to late 20s.
What we are doing in terms of our program format — a weekly “generational” worship service and small groups — is not much different from what lots of other churches are doing for young people in that gap when most young people vanish from church. I think what sets Element apart, at least from similar generational efforts in our area, are two things:

a) We are trying to do what we are doing in the context of community (as opposed to merely hosting a program, an event. The Element events, for us, are components of cultivating community, which ideally builds up and bridges to the greater community of our church. (The events aren’t the only components in this effort, by the way. I only mean that the events aren’t meant to be stand-alone attractional alternatives to staying home.)

b) While in format, again, we are not unique among twentysomething services (worship/teaching), I do think we are unique in that our teaching approach is conscientiously cross-centered, grace-driven, and Gospel-focused. The idea is that what people need foremost is the Gospel and application comes secondary. This is a risk on our part, because when asked what they want out of a message, most will say some variation of “practical, applicable, etc.” People want homework.
At Element, we do give stuff to do; we just like to overshadow it with what Jesus has done. What we are trusting is that when that unexpected message hits, even if someone wouldn’t have expressed wanting it before hearing it, it is a relief and a relevation.

This is all great in theory. If it all about “what we’re trying to do,” we could measure our effectiveness and success purely on whether we thought we were hitting that mark ourselves. The scary part is asking people who attend “Why do you come to Element?”

I’ve mentioned before that we have a divinity school grad student using Element as her congregational case study project. I informed her that we are not a congregation, but she was taken enough with what we’re doing for that not to hinder her interest. She’s spent the last couple of months asking anybody who will talk to her all about their interest and participation in Element. I have had no idea what anyone was telling her.
Until last Sunday night. After she interviewed me for a while, I wanted to interview her and ask her, out of my own concern and curiosity, “So what’s the buzz you are getting about Element?”

What I really wanted to know is, Are the things people are getting out of this the things we are hoping they do? Are our aims true?

This is a sampling of things she reported:
- Generally, people are coming from church backgrounds they consider burdens and they are liking the, in her words, “focus on grace.”
- Generally, people are enjoying that Element is, in her words, “not superficial.”
- More than one person indicated that Element was for them, in her words, “healing.”

It does not behoove us to be naive about critical response to our efforts. I know opinions are as varied as the people who hold them, and I know that even among our regular attenders, there are folks who have concerns, questions, and criticisms. But she said the dominating buzz is positive, and further, it is a reflection precisely of what we are wanting to convey.

It is very easy to worry about numbers, exposure, influence, reputation, etc. I can get discouraged very easily when I bog down on those things. And I’ll be honest in saying they are issues for me, and I think they are valid ones. But before we started doing anything, my heart’s desire for Element was that people would encounter the cross of Christ as I believe I have, that people would be scandalized by grace as I believe I have, that people would get outside themselves to focus on Jesus as I believe I need to. And if that is being accomplished, even in a small way, it is a measure of success that is far more rewarding, to me, than whether ten times as many faces merely walked through the door.

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Oct

11

2007

Jared C. Wilson|9:58 pm CT

You Can’t Make this Stuff Up

“I don’t care what the name on that title says. Reach out and snatch it! It’s yours.”

Uh huh. Back here in Normaltown, we call that stealing.

I’ll spare you my rant.

I know I’m supposed to see something like this and laugh it off, consider it marginal or inconsequential, ignore it as an easy target, gloss over it because “picking on TBN’ers is so cliched,” etc.
But I think about the thousands (millions, probably) who send these people money. I think about the elderly and the naive, those who are sick or mourning or in huge amounts of debt who are desperate for relief, who are eager to trade their faith for whatever promises can be made for deliverance, and then guys like this say things like this, and it makes me angry like nothing else. I think of people I know who are suffering, hurting, confused in their faith because they’ve trusted God for something big or needful and God has chosen not to give it to them, and then I see guys like this suggest it was withheld because of a lack of faith. I see people every day who are hungry for the Gospel, and most of them don’t know it, and if the only exposure they have to the Christian message is guys like this saying stuff like this, it just makes me want to vomit.

Okay, so I ranted a little bit.

Here’s something similar. I’m not as worked up about this, mainly because it is mostly fascinating in its incomprehensibility.

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Oct

09

2007

Jared C. Wilson|3:42 pm CT

Ministry Engines (and the Starter Switch)

Tony Morgan highlights some insights from Jud Wilhite of Las Vegas’ Central Christian Church.

Something that jumped out at me was this:

Jud indicated for their church it means simplifying their ministry programming to focus on weekends, groups and serving. That’s it. They’ve tried to eliminate anything else that might compete with these primary ways that people take their next steps toward Christ.

It jumped out at me, because this was the original intention I proposed pursuing with Element, our church’s ministry to college students and young professionals. We wanted to orient the ministry more in terms of community, not merely in terms of programming, and in fact, when I was asked about my interest in teaching for it, that was one thing I sort of made my involvement contingent upon — that it not be just a service or just an event, but an attempt at building community, and thereby providing for our demographic an introduction to and bridge into the greater church community. Any other program, in my mind, would likely only forestall the exodus of young people out of the life of the church another four years or so. I didn’t want to be a holding tank for people who’d still leave, but a growing tank for people to grow up into the life of multigenerational Christian community.

So what I proposed were three “tent pegs,” so to speak:
- continuing and multiplying the small group structure we already had for the purpose of relationships and in-depth Bible study
- service projects
- a worship service that would serve as both a “front door” for people interested in checking Element out and a place for the entire community to gather to worship together

That structure was entirely based on my assumption of what might work. I am happy to see Wilhite basically promoting the same three tent pegs as the one focus of his ministry’s approach to growth. Of course, other factors have to be considered also. The DNA of a ministry community is not just made up of what it attempts to do, but who is attempting to do it, how much available time they have, how engaged those entering in want to be or can be, the prevailing cultural climate of the city or community or church, etc.

Dan Edelen asks today how discipleship is done.

I don’t think there’s just one answer, but when I look at Scripture I see a few things standing out mostly. They boil down to “abiding in Christ,” but practically they appear to involve loving and serving in community, studying and worshiping in community.
In that sense, “sermons don’t disciple,” as Dan states elsewhere, is true, but then, I don’t really see anyone claiming sermons are all that is needed for anyone to be discipled. But in the context of a worshiping, serving, studying, and loving community, a proclamation of the Scriptures can be a motivating and edifying steering of the ship toward greater revelry in the glory of God. The community needs someone proclaiming the Gospel into it as regularly as possible, just as it needs everyone in it to be living the Gospel into it as regularly as possible.

The proclaimed gospel can be the starter that sparks the three engines of worship, service, and community.

But of course nothing works without the Spirit’s empowering presence.

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Oct

09

2007

Jared C. Wilson|3:40 pm CT

Tuesday is for the Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha

From Lark News, of course:

For church singles groups, it’s all in a name:

The singles group at Sherman Oaks Presbyterian church was languishing, with poorly attended potlucks and a core of only 9 people, five of whom were mentally retarded or had just been released from prison.

“It’s pretty bad when even the singles group leader doesn’t want to go,” says leader Jerry Cook with a laugh.

Cook convinced the church to hire a consulting firm to create a better name than the one they were using, Singled Out. After spending $50,000 and going through hundreds of options, they ditched the old moniker and embraced a new one: 2gather.

What does it mean?

“Lots of things,” says Cook. “Gathering together, building community — all the things singles want.”
2gather quickly gained momentum in the Christian singles market in L.A., and now draws hundreds of singles to its mid-week “2do” parties.

“The cost of the name change was worth every penny,” says Cook, who has been promoted to assistant pastor.

Dozens of U.S. churches are paying consulting firms big money for clever names they hope will turn their fortunes with fickle single church-goers.

“Our old name wasn’t saying anything,” says a Milwaukee singles pastor whose group had attracted mostly divorced men over 45. Now that the group changed its name to 1-2-1, “membership has quintupled, and we don’t get as many weirdos,” he says.

Other groups have found success switching to names like SingleMinded, 1-4Him and Only U., for which a large Virginia church paid a consultant $75,000.
Observers say churches are rediscovering singles groups again. Singles have more disposable income than families, and can be “amazing” sources of revenue for a church if they become tithers, says one pastor. Singles also have more time to volunteer at church.

On the downside, they tend to be flakier, church-hopping in search of potential mates. But with the market for new church-goers staying stagnant, churches are leveraging any asset they can, including names, to battle for singles. One church singles group in St. Augustine changed its name to OneHeart and now holds OneHeart cruises — 5-day ship tours of the Bahamas for thousands of singles who come from as far away as Kentucky. The OneHeart brochure promises that “attendees are screened for odd behavior and criminal backgrounds,” and that singles will enjoy “life-position appropriate” social events — code words meaning that never-married 20-somethings will have a separate mixer from, say, aging divorced people.

Smaller churches which lack the money to pay for new names are a tad resentful, and have started an underground backlash. A boundary-pushing church in Boise cheekily named its singles group LonelyAsHell 2:18, taking inspiration from Genesis 2:18 which says, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”

“Why hide it?” says LonelyAsHell 2:18 pastor Derek Cavel. “That’s why people come here.”

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Oct

05

2007

Jared C. Wilson|9:01 pm CT

What You Win Them With is What You Win Them To

Who first said that? I have no idea. But he (or she) was a very wise person.

What you win them with is what you win them to.

Mark Galli has a good post up at CT on marketing the church. In it he writes:

When we “market,” we try to make a larger audience aware of the value of exchanging a good or service. We assume both parties will benefit from the transaction. Marketing is a wonderful thing. I like to hear pitches about products I might use. I like the fact that my publishers pitch my books to a larger public. Thank God for marketing!
Related articles and links

But there’s a reason Jesus said “You shall be my witnesses,” and not “You shall be my marketers” . . .

Should it surprise us that in this church-marketing era, members demand more and more from their churches, and if churches don’t deliver, they take their spiritual business elsewhere? Have we ever seen an age in which church transience was such an epidemic?

Should it surprise us that in this era, pastors increasingly think of themselves as “managers,” “leaders,” and “CEOs” of “dynamic and growing congregations,” rather than as shepherds, teachers, and servants of people who need to know God? And that preaching has become less an exposition of the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection and more often practical lessons that offer a lot of “take-away value,” presented in an efficient, friendly manner, as if we were selling cheeseburgers, fries, and a shake?

. . . Today churches large and small (the small imitating the large) have unthinkingly adopted a marketing mentality that, it turns out, subverts rather than promotes the gospel. We inadvertently imply that the church benefits as much from the spiritual transaction as does the recipient. Marketing, by its very nature, contradicts the essence of the gospel lifestyle of Jesus, who came not to be served, but to expend his life for others—no exchange implied or expected.

How can we possibly communicate the radical, self-giving love of God to our culture if we continue to use a method that by its very nature replaces the notions of sacrificial service for an exchange of goods and services?

Good stuff there.

But let’s be as clear as possible: The problem is not so much the co-opting of cultural means to disseminate the spiritual truth; the problem is entirely the subsuming of spiritual truth by cultural means. What was once idealized as “church can be the place where one experiences spiritual truth” has become “church is the place where a spiritual product can be consumed.”

And if you’re following the research, the surveys, the data — it’s not working. It’s just not.
What I find interesting is that the very thing most of the seeker movement purported to be against (turning evangelism into a sales pitch and amassing “fire insurance” coverts) it has instead embraced as the measure of its success. So the emphasis on numbers as the sign of effectiveness naturally carries over from “How many are attending?” to “How many are signing on the dotted line?”, but for far too many the question still not being asked is “How many are growing?”
Are we cultivating disciples as much as we are gathering converts? That is what Jesus said to go do, after all — “make disciples.”

I discovered musician Shaun Groves’s blog this past week. He’s got an incisive post called Dismantling Event Church. An excerpt:

Let’s say you’re not a Christian. You come to an event church service one day and you leave buying it. You pray for the first time in your life, you believe in Jesus for the first time too, and even join the church. Then what?

The event church doesn’t answer this question all that well – if it even asks it. The pastors know the bible is clear on what God wants from them: make disciples. But they either think 1) they’re doing that with their excellent worship service OR 2) they’re doing that with “Sunday School” classes or small group bible study classes OR 3 )they think making believers is the same thing as making disciples.

So the event church laments the horrible puny percentage of personal incomes given to it (tithe) and wrings it’s hands over how on earth they’ll ever get 98 people to volunteer to work in the childrens ministry. And they don’t even dare dream of creating programs to end poverty and hunger and illiteracy and unemployment in their city or around the world. Hell, who would give and volunteer for such ambitious programs? It would never work.

So, I’m a critic of the event church because it attracts bored Christians and a small percentage of non-Christian adults but spends little on making disciples – which, ironically could grow a church and would definitely eliminate the beg for money and volunteers portions of the Sunday service.

It’s good to not feel alone in my conviction that the bulk of the churches that promote themselves on “reaching the unchurched” are mainly growing by transfer growth (ie. Christians bored with their previous church). The emerging data supports this theory.

Have you looked at any of the research on church drop outs? I’ve mainly studied up on this as it relates to the demographic I’m attempting to minister to — college students and young adults — but the trend holds sway across the demographic spectrum. Event church is great at bringing people in. It is terrible — terrible — at keeping them, growing them, maturing them.

And this is why: What you win them with is what you win them to. So if you win somebody to your event, they’re going to be expecting the event each time, all the time. And eventually, the event gets old. Churches strive to go bigger, better, flashier, fancier. It’s burnout waiting. And in 3-4 years, the convert won to the event moves on to the next event church because it’s different.

We are finding this out with student ministry, where the ministries geared toward entertaining, wowing, preoccupying kids then pours those kids out into the “regular” church community where they are then expected to go without games and skits and the bombardment of cultural detritus.
The result? 70% of high school graduates disappear from church.

They weren’t won to Christian community; they were won to the show. And when there’s no show, they’re no-shows.

But the tide may be turning. I wonder if event churches will catch on.

When you look at the research, when you look at the reasons college students and young adults, for examples, return to church, they are not saying “great music” or “exciting media.” In fact, programming issues aren’t even mentioned. The reasons many of them return — and the reason the ones who stay stay — are generally two-fold:
a) spiritual growth
b) relationships

To sum that up: discipleship. They felt connected to community and they were growing in that community.

If you want to attract people to a gathering, music and media works. The show works. Event church works if you want to fill seats and get “big.”
But if you want to attract people to a community, the hard work of investing in community and spiritual growth is necessary. To repeat: It is hard work. But it is the work Scripture calls us to.

Does it even strike anyone as odd that the prevailing church model these days is only loosely based on an interpretation of the attractional aspect of Jesus’ ministry?
I mean, attractional ministry and missional ministry don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but the way the pendulum swings so far toward the attractional worship paradigm, you’d think Jesus and the disciples were playing clips from Sophocles, punctuated by some powerful ballad with Peter on the lute, and then a tidy little message on how to succeed as a fisherman.

But the attractional aspects of Jesus’ ministry weren’t just meant to attract. When he fed the five thousand, it wasn’t just about getting a crowd, performing a neat trick, and hoping it impressed enough people to stick around. It was about demonstrating God’s power to provide, about testifying to the provision of life inside the kingdom.
And those are big, whole values and signs our attractional approaches don’t even come close to approximating.

“Jesus likes the stuff you like” is not the message of the gospel.

What you win them with is what you win them to.

If you’re focused on numbers, that may not matter to you. But if you’re focused on the call to discipleship, it will matter. It matters not in most of the ways the modern church measures success, effectiveness, productivity, and quality. But it matters greatly in the the ways the Scriptures measure church success, effectiveness, productivity, and quality.

We may have to nail some very cherished things to the cross.

Semper reformada.

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