…and the worthlessness of bank-enslaved, debt-ridden pastorates.
From North’s Critical Mass – Part 14: The Division of Labor
If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body as it hath pleased him (I Cor. 12:15-18).
The greater the number of integrated parts, the greater the body of Christ. This is why church growth is a moral imperative. But this does not mean that church growth is cost-free. We must count the costs of church growth.
All good things have a price tag attached to it.
Because the church has been on a century-long retreat, except on the-foreign mission field, Christians tend to-forget that stagnation also has a price: the threat of attrition. Attrition has an even higher price: the threat of extinction. So, a price must be paid for church growth and for attrition. Attrition is too high a price to pay: you eventually wind up in a different, theologically weaker church anyway.
Also, all evil things.
(And aren’t you wary of endless, endless retreat and endless, endless failure? I certainly am! And if I, a mere sinful believer, am tired of it, would’t God be actually enraged with our disobedience – with our wealth and our ease and our cowardice and our contempt for His word?
Actually, I think it’s long past mere enragement: THAT was back in the 1910s-1950s period, of blood and violence and insanity and public slaughter of young men (and the masses under both flavours of Socialism). Now, I believe that God isn’t worried at all about the Western Christian Church, and it’s high levels of comfort with our quiet slaughter of the unborn…
…”let the dead bury the dead”.
And as for the remnant that still hews close to His will, His commandments?
God sees the few who strive and struggle to obey Him, as surely as He sees the multitudes who mock and hate Him.
Wait and see…)
Consider the benefits of a growing congregation. Specialization increases with the increase in the division of labor. The productive church member finds that his talents fit the needs of the congregation more closely than before. The needs of the congregation can therefore be met less expensively than before. As with all specialization, output per unit of resource input increases.
There are limits to this growth process. One major limit is parking space….
The number-one limit to growth, however, is leadership management…
There are ways around this: see Beating the State: Third Century Christianity in the Third World Today and The Unknown Christian Revolutionary Who Has Launched a Massive Recruiting System to Transform the Third World. (Also: Is the Third Great Awakening About to Begin? But let’s continue…
On what a dying church looks like:
The psychological problems facing a shrinking congregation are many: loss of confidence, increasing embarrassment, a sense of futility, growing frustration followed by desperation. The economic problems facing a shrinking congregation are also bad, especially if the congregation is in debt.
God has little use for churches who are in debt to bankers, and not to Himself.
Most American pastors don’t believe this.
Most American pastors are as insipid as possible in their preaching, to keep those donations coming to pay off the debt.
God has ways to get even with rebellious pastors, who have placed bankers, real estate, and money before His explicit commandments.
In my opinion, the greatest problem facing a shrinking congregation is the reduction of the division of labor and its corollary, a reduction of specialization. When a congregation begins to shrink, the number of tasks associated with it rarely shrinks equally rapidly. It is like a family’s expenditures: when the income stream drops, expenditures rarely are cut proportionately without careful budgeting — and nobody likes to budget. So, as a congregation shrinks, the leaders ask the remaining members to take on more burdens. This request must be accompanied by a motivational appeal. As a temporary emergency measure, the appeal may work. But when the burdened members see that the attrition process is continuing, they are tempted to quit carrying these extra burdens. The polite way to do this in modern congregational Christianity is to transfer to another congregation. Roman Catholics cannot do this easily, since their system is geographical: a parish system. Not so in American Protestantism.
When the challenges are attrition challenges rather than growth challenges, most people prefer to avoid them. To avoid them, some members will transfer. The longer the attrition process goes on, the more people will leave: compound shrinking. Eventually a shrinking congregation reaches negative critical mass. Then it dies.
Expect to see a lot more of these dying churches, in the next few decades. Blatant Christian contempt of God’s explicit commandments has a price tag – to the astonishment of comfortable churchmen and pew warmers everywhere.
But don’t churches who hew close to God’s teachings stay small?
Sound theology is controversial; it drives away most people. The pastor who preaches sound theology finds that his congregation stops growing early in his career. He must content himself with a limited audience, The congregation’s common denominator theologically is high, but it is small.
Here is the inescapable truth: to grow a church, there must be a change in the prevailing standards for preaching. This can be done in several ways. First, the formal theological standards are reduced, as with liberalism. Second, the theological content of preaching is reduced, as with neo-evangelicalism. Third, the theological content of the morning worship service is reduced. This is my recommendation. Why? Because this inescapable reduction can be offset in the other meetings.
The fact is, outsiders who know nothing theologically cannot be force-fed advanced sermons based on the Westminster Confession of Faith or its equivalent. They will leave. They do leave. They have left . . . for three centuries.
Theology must be made both understandable and practical if newcomers are not to be driven out. As surely as foreign missionaries on a new field must downgrade the content of their sermons, so must preachers after their sermons to meet the abilities and interests of newcomers. Communications require that the one speaking deal with the capacities of those listening. For example, no one tells foreign missionaries to preach from the Westminster Confession in terms suitable for seminary students. It would be far more sensible to tell seminary professors to teach their students as if the students were recently converted savages.
Personal debt and church debt make fear-driven pragmatists of most American pastors. With their congregations in debt and vulnerable to an exodus of donors, pastors are terrified to speak out against abortion, let alone other, less controversial abominations of the day. Built from the beginning on compromise and borrowed money, a large congregation whose leaders begin taking controversial stands will face the attrition process. Debt plus church-growth techniques water down the testimony of most growing congregations. The only alternative, pastors believe, is attrition.
True, this: large congregations won’t tolerate Biblical teaching, in the main.
Now, the best way to handle this is to NOT build megachurches: instead, there should be many , multiplying small churches.
But I’m stealing North’s thunder here, from Critical Mass 16. Let’s stick to what’s available here, today, and read North’s concise and powerful answer to the problem:
Grammar, Dialect, and Accent
To communicate, you must speak the language of your listeners. You must properly employ grammar, dialect, and accent. So it ls with preaching.
First, there is Sunday school. Here is where the basics of the Christian faith are taught, what I call the grammarof the faith. Bible stories are appropriate here, for they are more easily remembered than theology. We teach our children here. We also teach others who know little about the Bible.
The evening service should be theologically rigorous. The Christian Reformed Church requires every congregation to be taken through the Heidelberg Catechism once a year: 52 sermons. This makes good sense. Here is where the theological heritage of the denomination is maintained. I call this the dialect of the faith: the denominational tradition. I argue that elders and deacons must attend. So must candidates for church office. Here is the backbone of any congregation.
The key to growth is the traditional American 11 am. service. It must be set apart (sanctified) for introductory evangelism. It is from 11 a.m. to noon (not one minute longer) that attrition is overcome. It is here that the spiritually walking wounded of a nation must be confronted with the simple gospel message. To attract people and keep them, the gospel must be tied to practical topics: getting your life together, disciplining children, attaining better relations with in-laws, helping the poor, and a dozen other practical, real-world, problem-solving topics. Jesus speaks to these issues. He heals people who are suffering from lack of answers and lack of will. I call this the accent of the faith: whatever local conditions require. “Solutions spoken here!”
By structuring Sunday’s entire program in terms of this three-part communications model, churches can bring the immature, step by step, into positions of authority within the congregation. This is the homiletic structure that produces spiritual maturity.
…and there’s your battle plan!