My questions and reflections for the Churchology series come from Reggie McNeal’s book, “The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church.”
The second question is a response to the church growth movement which has tended to say that having larger and larger membership rolls is not the measure of a church’s success while most of its own efforts have been directed to that end. A lot of the church growth that has occurred in some churches has been at the expense of smaller churches and has been accomplished by offering more/better programs to feed and attract members. The church growth movement asks the following kind of questions which are heard in most churches anyway.
- How do we get our church to grow? How do we get them to come to us? Wrong questions. Jesus never took that kind of stance. In fact when He was asked to stick around so more people would come, he was known to reply that he was sent to go out. Those questions ask them to help us. Most people can smell that sort of rat a mile away. Their response to that question and the corresponding attitude is most likely something like, “What have you done for me lately?”
- The more biblical question… the variant, tough question is, “How do we transform our community?”
Obviously, only by the power of the Holy Spirit can that happen. Scripture and the Holy Spirit are of the same substance. The scriptural basis for this tough question grows out of the Great Commission and the central Old Testament mandate to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.
I recently heard a very context specific variation on this question. The variant I heard was by a church that decided that the measure of their success would be if the community crime rate fell, rather than the numbers on the rolls increasing. Here are some other possible variants. How can we help more people to have more peace/joy/hope/blessings in their lives? How can we raise the general level of education/health/nutrition in our community?
In order for a Christian life to be the kind that Jesus lived, taught and commanded; it must be in the form of outreach. The only time He preached at home they tried to throw Him off the cliff. It might require us to go to where people are already hanging out and be prepared to have a conversation with them about the great love of our lives. Most likely that conversation will not be welcomed until they have experienced God’s love through us because we have allowed that love to transform us. Oddly enough, when people smell that kind of transformation and love, they are attracted to it.
In the first century, the church grew exponentially because Jesus’ followers were noticeably different in terms of how well they showed love. When the church and state merged a couple hundred years later, it forgot that lesson because it didn’t need it any more. Now that church and state are more and more separated, the Church needs to remember that lesson. By our love they will know us.
In the love of Jesus Christ,