December 15, 2017

A Poorly Developed Picture

Kodak_Camera_Center

I have seen an article promoted in recent days around the web called “The Church’s Frightful Kodak Moment.” After reading it, I posted the link on the IM Bulletin Board and today I will say a few words about it, not because I agree with the piece, but because it is important for all of us to see that the corporate-marketing ethos and mentality of church growth in evangelical Christianity is still alive and strong.

Thom Schultz founded Group Publishing, a popular source for youth and children’s curriculum and teaching materials in evangelical congregations. He and his blog, Holy Soup, are described like this:

Thom Schultz is an eclectic author and the founder of Group Publishing and Lifetree Café. Holy Soup offers innovative approaches to ministry, and challenges the status quo of today’s church.

[Thom] now devotes much of his time to innovating breakthrough ways to connect regular people to God.

Schultz tells what he considers to be a parable of warning for the church. Touring the formerly flourishing but now mostly empty campus of a Kodak manufacturing plant, he makes a number of observations from which he thinks the church can learn.

  • Though Kodak invented digital photography, they didn’t appreciate its potential because they were a company built upon film technology.
  • This led them to misperceive their mission. Because they thought they were in the film business rather than the imaging business, they clung to traditional methodology and “clouded their ability to think about the real objective and outcome of their work.”
  • They failed to accurately read the times, the pace of change, and the character of the culture that would embrace digital photography and leave print technology behind.
  • They became victims of their own success, “clinging to what worked in the past at the expense of embracing the future. “

Schultz think churches are prone to make the same mistakes. For example, he writes:

Many church leaders believe they’re in the traditional preaching business, the teaching business, the Sunday morning formula business. Clinging to the ways these things have been done diverts the focus from the real mission of helping people today develop an authentic and growing relationship with the real Jesus.

And:

A pastor in our upcoming documentary, When God Left the Building, said his church will not make any changes to become more effective because someone will inevitably object and get upset. “We abdicate every time,” he said. “We just can’t lose any more members.” That congregation is already dead. They just don’t know it.

So, Thom Schultz suggests that the church learn from Kodak’s failures. This is our “Kodak moment,” he warns. Unless we (1) accept the reality that things are changing and churches are declining, (2) give up trying to simply “tweak” what we do and instead focus on “revolutionizing,” and (3) take risks by acting now and experimenting with bold new ideas, we face a future like Kodak experienced.

Therefore, Schultz exhorts us to re-examine everything we’re doing. To ask big questions. To step out and try something. To boldly step into the future because that’s where God is moving.

Etc. etc. etc.

kgmisccountercard1To which I say, with all due respect, “Yawn.”

This is not challenging the status quo. This is the very definition of the status quo when it comes to evangelicalism, and it has been at least since Thom Schultz started writing youth curriculum back in the 1970’s. It’s the same old church growth mantra: “Change or die!” It’s the same old focus on “catching the next wave” and riding it into the future. It’s the same old emphasis on “relevance” and “effectiveness” and “success.”

Though he tries to convince us that the church is hopelessly committed to outmoded methodologies, the only example he uses is that people may have grown tired of the Sunday morning worship show (with which I agree). He also throws out some lines about encouraging people’s spiritual vitality rather than mere attendance (with which I also agree).

But what is so status quo and stale are the lame “answers” he suggests. Let’s get creative! Let’s brainstorm! Let’s think outside the box! Let’s do something different! Let’s be revolutionary! Let’s be bold! Let’s be proactive! Innovate, innovate, innovate!

Look.

Kodak is a business. The church is not.

Kodak sells products. The church does not.

Kodak competes with other businesses in a realm of technology and in a commercial marketplace that is constantly changing, demanding innovation in order for the business to make profits. The church does not.

The church is not a business, and the experience of commercial institutions like Kodak does not provide appropriate lessons for “making the church more effective.” I don’t find that phrase helpful in any way whatsoever. We do not and cannot control our “effectiveness” by means of better methodology. Continuing to think like this will only lead us farther away from the church’s true mission, in which Jesus is central and vital, and farther down a path which is all about making a name for ourselves and building our own proprietary kingdoms™.

The church is about Jesus. The church is about life. The church is about people. The church is about the grace of God flowing into human lives and making us more human (not more “effective”). As human beings made new in Jesus, we live among our neighbors with faith, hope, and love. Like Jesus, we lay down our lives so that others might live.

Even if our church buildings and institutions become empty Kodak-like campuses, and are ineffective, uncreative, having no form or comeliness that make them attractive, with no organizational or institutional beauty that people should find them desirable, by God’s own simple and creative means — people of faith loving their neighbors — God will bring life and health and peace and build the church.

Thom Schultz’s article represents the same tired evangelical thinking about the church’s mission and methodology: imagining that what we’re about requires relying on “spiritual technology” to “connect people to God” and build “effective” churches. It’s just plain bad theology, folks.

In fact, it is nothing less than an ongoing denial of Jesus’ words about the organic nature of the Kingdom, which involves seeds falling into the ground and dying so that they may bear fruit and bring forth life.

Though all the world go digital and beyond, building gleaming towers that reach to the heavens, the mission of Jesus proceeds with a quiet, unstoppable tenacity at ground level.

Get the picture?

Comments

  1. “Get the picture?”

    I think I do.

    Too many in Evangelical circles have developed a theology of glory. I don’t want to be negative, but I shutter at the thought of people making snap judgements about traditional worship. This crop of preachers will showcase their glossy techniques but will ultimately be overexposed and will eventually washout. We must focus on the macro and hold steady in the face of those who would blur the lines of orthodoxy for the sake of a polaroid moment.

  2. Yeah, and that article is also only slightly more specific in its recommendations than “wherever you go, there you are”…

    Thank you for this post, CM

  3. Daniel Jepsen says:

    “The church is not a business, and the experience of commercial institutions like Kodak does not provide appropriate lessons for “making the church more effective.” I don’t find that phrase helpful in any way whatsoever. We do not and cannot control our “effectiveness” by means of better methodology. Continuing to think like this will only lead us farther away from the church’s true mission, in which Jesus is central and vital, and farther down a path which is all about making a name for ourselves and building our own proprietary kingdoms™.”

    Mike, this is such a good analysis. Thank you.

  4. TruthSeeker says:

    Ah, but the Church IS a business. It is big business. It is a multi-billion dollar business in this country. Buildings. Curriculum. Staff. Conferences. Video screens. Music. Books. It all adds up to billions of dollars a year. That industry relies on church-goers longing for “new and improved” in order to keep growing. That industry tells church consumers that they are no longer satisfied with the “status quo,” that they need the next new thing.

    I’m not sure where we could go to find a church atmosphere that is not driven by the need for proprietary kingdoms. I guess that is why many of us are here at InternetMonk, huh?

    • They are out there. Smallish churches (usually, but not always) that proclaim God’s Word and administer His sacraments faithfully…without business type goals…but mission oriented.

      But it might take a bit of work to find them these days.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Ah, but the Church IS a business.

      Not it is not. A Business is defined but its *GOAL*. A church is not a business. A government is not a business. Neither should be operated as such. People like to drop “if … was run like a business” as if to mean that is something good or appropriate; but doing so would fail the goal.

      > Buildings. Curriculum. Staff. Conferences. Video screens. Music. Books.

      So? Of course they have those things. The Church exists, physcially, in this world.

      > It all adds up to billions of dollars a year.

      And people are Businesses! They have houses, and cars, and consume food… that adds up to tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars every year!

      > That industry relies on church-goers longing for “new and improved” in
      > order to keep growing.

      No, it does not. My local Catholic churces are new-and-improved?

      > I’m not sure where we could go to find a church atmosphere that is not driven by
      > the need for proprietary kingdoms. I guess that is why many of us are here
      > at InternetMonk, huh?

      They exist in many places.

      • Final Anonymous says:

        Attendance at one board meeting will convince anyone that church is primarily a business. (Attending a year of them may drive you out entirely.)

        I know there are exceptions, but I don’t believe you’ll find them among the “change-or-die, relevant” churches.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          >Attendance at one board meeting will convince anyone that church is primarily a business.

          It is important not to confuse being a Business with being an Organization (which churches are, and must be).

          I was on a board of Trustees once. I have been in Business. One was nothing at all like the other. I’d consider my time on that church board to be a failure in numerous ways, but it was not due to it being Business-like [or Business-unlike].

          Everyone, even the individual, has to do-business, that is not the same thing as being-a-Business.

          Of course many churches have adopted a Business Model world-view. But I doubt it is really as many of them as those here suppose. There is adopting that world-view [an error] and there is just being lousy and haphazard. Neither should those two things be conflated.

          • I agree with what I think Adam is saying. My own experience is that church boards are necessary, for there are business-like aspects to churches which must be overseen. That said, I view most of my church-board business as “stewardship” in nature, not “business” in nature. In other words, a church board’s primary function should be for oversight and stewardship, not “business.”

          • Final Anonymous says:

            Adam, I have been in both too, and this one was exactly like a business. But that is where the church was choosing to go — bringing in CEOs as guest speakers, creating “executive” leadership positions and filling them with successful executives, establishing systems and processes to measure goal achievement, the marketing, the profit goals, etc. etc.

            It went far beyond “How do we keep the lights on the next six months? What are our legal liabilities and responsibilities?” And I still believe their hearts were in the right place, and heck, I was apparently the only one who disagreed with the direction, so maybe they are right and I was wrong. But I saw things I just couldn’t stomach. I still don’t believe it has to be that way.

            As mentioned downthread, when your goal is to emulate business best practices, you will begin to function as a business.

  5. Once again, I find myself confronting the great chasm that yawns in any discussion of “the Church” when you move beyond the sphere of the Cathodox and attempt to include Protestant whether ‘evangelical’, ‘progressive’, or ‘broad’. Protestantism is highly mutagenic, and its handlers are always tampering with its DNA. That’s what made me suspicious in the first place. This whole article, and the ‘Holy Soup’ blog from which it proceeded, makes no sense in a Catholic or Orthodox context. We aren’t going to change. You have felt needs? Go feel them. The Church will offer what she has always offered; the Word and the Sacraments. If you find that tedious or irritating, it’s a symptom of a greater malaise, not something to be avoided at all costs.

    Yet, people are still making their way to our doors.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > This whole article, and the ‘Holy Soup’ blog from which it proceeded, makes no sense

      I am more and more in that camp; of finding Protestantism increasingly just not interesting. There is so much ‘redefinition’ to [ironically] many recycled forms. And arguments over tedium. And endless revolutionary and counter-revolutionary rhetoric that leads to nothing at all.

      > You have felt needs? Go feel them.

      There is so much maturity, and ultimately compassion, in this attitude. In my Protestant experience people where asking the Church to be so many things it was not, and for the Pastor to be thier Best Friend [only he can’t be]. In hind-sight some of my own injury came from that juvenile [for lack of a better term] relationship to the church.

    • Mule….a hundred thousand +++++++++++++’s.

      [I am totally stealing CathOdox….it says so much so concisely!]

      And the more I read about the surges of faith and growth of the Church in Asia, the former Soviet states and Russia herself, and other areas outside of North America and Western Europe, the more convinced I am that God’s Word is alive and doing just fine, thanks for asking. Americans and our 1st world brethren are just too happy and satisfied to need God…..or they are so convinced of their own importance that even spiritual longing cannot break through their ennui.

      The Church cannot compete with the world on the world’s playing field….nor should we try to!! The sooner these “relevant” churches understand this fact, the faster we can return to true worship and focus on Him who made us, not our own “felt needs” and other psychobabble.

    • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

      I completely agree. And for many of us, it seems that the traditional has come back around to being new. I got married two Saturdays ago. As one of the priests at the parish (ACNA Anglican), I was rather involved in putting the liturgy for the service together. The officiant found my proposed liturgy weird… but my proposal was the very things that we’d been doing for centuries before folks started monkeying with it in the 1970’s. It was also my last service at that parish, as I had accepted a position at a parish whose liturgical ethos is much more traditional and unchanging. As I reflected on that, I realized that this wouldn’t have even been an issue if I had gotten married in my new parish, as they always use the traditional readings and service and don’t monkey with it.

      Gosh, it’s a relief to not have to fight some of those battles any more.

    • While I myself am somewhat attracted to Cathodox churches, I also realize there is nothing uniquely ‘pristine’ in them – that is, they don’t accurately reflect the ‘early church’ of Acts or the early 2nd century any more than modern Evangelical churches (well, maybe somewhat). (Nor should they necessarily want to – there was nothing ‘pristine’ or any more perfect in the New Testament churches than many today – is Corinth a good role model?) They are, like any church, a reflection of a culture and a church interacting with that culture. True, it is the culture of late antiquity/early medieval Europe, but it is nonetheless a reflection of the church at a particular time and place. A good modern example is how some people in Evangelical churches long to return to singing the ‘old hymns’ (which are really ‘gospel songs’ from the revivalist period of the late 19th/early 20th centuries), not realizing those songs reflected secular music that was current when they were written (just like contemporary Christian music today). Another example is the Amish – why did they decide to stop the clock in the 19th century, as though they had found the perfect, timeless expression of the faith? Was the church in late antiquity/early medieval Europe the perfect, timeless expression of the faith? (If it was then why have even Cathodox churches change?)

      One of the strengths (and weaknesses) of the Christian faith is that it can prosper in and adapt to almost any culture. That can’t be said of most other religions – Islam requires (and imposes) a specific social/cultural structure to flourish (which is why there are no democracies in prodiminately Muslim countries [the only one being moderately democratic is Turkey, and that is because it is only moderately Muslim]). Hinduism likewise imposes/requires a particular social structure, and Judaism (if it were practiced per biblical models) also requires/imposes a particular social/cultural structure (e.g. Hassidic Judaism).

      Christianity can flourish in Africa as well as in Asia or America, since it can adapt to different cultures and doesn’t necessarily impose a social/cultural structure, though it does, and should, challenge some of the values of the culture. True, it sometimes has imposed a social/cultural structure, as in Medieval Europe and, until recently, America, and missions during the colonial period attempted to impose Western culture as much as Christian faith, but these are due to confusing faith practices with cultural practices.

      It is because Christianity is not time- or space-bound that it can flourish and God uses it to minister to people of all cultures (and times). In order to do that the church must reflect some of the culture (could there be a reason why people aren’t flocking to Amish churches?). But the danger is adapting too much of the culture, and of course, confusing the expression of the faith in a particular culture with the ‘true faith’ (whether it’s modern American culture, 19th century American culture, or late antiquity/early medieval European culture).

    • A pox on all your right-wing houses.

    • “You have felt needs? Go feel them.”

      This seems a little too callous to me. One of the reasons the early church spread as a community in antiquity is that it embodied a more humane alternative to the viciousness of much life in the Roman Empire. And this appealed not only to those in need, but also to the privileged classes, who found meaning in using their good fortune for the benefit of others in a community that embraced wealthy and poor alike. And the reason it appealed and gave meaning is that we are created for nobility and generosity, for compassion and caring, despite our history of viciousness and barbarism.

      The early church was often rigorous in its demands on believers, but I find it hard to believe that there weren’t many pastoral exceptions made in those early centuries in the name of love and welcoming the stranger, exceptions that history does not remember but were very real and decisive nonetheless.

      I don’t think it was a matter of tow the line or “go feel your needs…”

      • I didn’t interpret it as callous at all, but rather as a heart-felt encouragement. We all have felt needs, and need to feel them – but the church is not necessarily the to do so.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > I didn’t interpret it as callous at all,

          +1

          And one needs to avoid over emphasizing the role of the church organization and institution. Meeting personal needs – that is the role of friends; people who can be intimately involved in your life. It is a mistake to let the church try to fill this roll – it can’t anyway – and this accounts for much that goes awry in many churches. It is not the roll of The-Church to meet the needs of people, that is the roll of their brothers and sisters. The Church has its roll, that is is not its role.

          • Adam,
            Down thread you wrote: “Nope, a church is most essentially a community.” How can the church be a community if it is not intimately involved in the life of its members? In fact, it may be an organization or institution and not be so intimately involved, but can it be a community?

          • That depends on how one defines ‘the church’. If it is a large, somewhat impersonal institution, whether a modern mega-church or an ancient one, you might be correct. However, if one defines the church as the people of God united in community through Christ, then it is very much the roll of the church to care for its members (friends) and those outside as well, with concern for their spiritual, physical, and ‘felt’ needs as well. That, as Robert F noted, is one of the major reasons the early church grew as it did (see, for example, Rodney Stark’s ‘The Rise of Christianity’), and is clearly seen in the New Testament.

          • Both the organic and the organizational aspects of the Church are important.

            We believe in economia. What I meant was that the therapeusis of emotional suffering was not meant to be what attracted peoiple to the Church, but rather the promise of New Life.

            We aren’t the Care Bears.

          • Let me be clear: I have not experienced the church in my life as a place of close community. My church relationships have been shallow and unsatisfying, and I don’t have a single Christian friend whom I could call an intimate friend.

            But then, truth be told, I don’t really have intimate friends outside the church either. I’m one of those people, whether we are few or many, who has very few deep, nurturing bonds with others, friends or family. We are estranged, and we feel our estrangement acutely, and we blame ourselves even as we yearn for connection we seem incapable of realizing.

            At one time I had a scant hope that the church might become a community and network of spiritual friendship and companionship, the place where I, and my wife, might feel less lonely, might feel like we belonged and had a place.

            I’ve given up that hope, and yet I feel as if the church should really be such a home for the lost and estranged of this world, and that to the degree that it is not, it fails in one of its most important purposes.

            So I confess that my own comments are made out of my own deeply felt needs, the deepest of which is to be loved. Is it wrong to want the church to be a place where people know, where we know that we are loved?

            “You have felt needs? Go feel them.”

            “Love one another. By this the world will know you are mine.”

          • And so, who will you leave the therapeusis of emotional suffering to? The “professionals”? You want to send the emotionally distraught packing to therapists and self-help groups, telling them only to return when they’ve reached a suitable level of emotional wholeness and equilibrium?

            You prove my point about callousness.

            You’re not the Care Bears? Only the strong need apply to the Holy Club?

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            > Down thread you wrote: “Nope, a church is most essentially a community.”
            > How can the church be a community if it is not intimately involved in the life
            > of its members? In fact, it may be an organization or institution and not be
            > so intimately involved, but can it be a community?

            A community involves individuals and describes their matrix of relationships as a set. A church community will not a be mesh network of seamless love; nor can the clergy be expected to meet the needs of all the congregants. But relationships between members of the community *should* be meeting some of the needs of others; otherwise, no, then it is not a community.

            It is a messy affair – I can only look at it in contrast o what seemed to be exected in Evangelicalism – which expected a Tidy system where the clergy was by friend and *everyone* got along; in that case what the institutional church was expected to provide was (a) my best friend, the pastor, (b) my schedule of social events, and (c) my peer group [probably broken down by demographic information like age, marital status, children…]. Only that model is very unrealistic [and, I suspect, at least slightly insane]. But it seemed like a good idea at the time.

            The church is full of gruby broken people. With needs as various and inumerable as the stars. They will not, and cannot, find all their needs met there. What they should find there is compassion and welcome, and those will come primarily via other individuals. If they find some actual substational “help” – then that is a real win. But alone they are much less likely to find any of those things and there are very few institutions like the church – which operate not to gain from members, but to provide.

            > And so, who will you leave the therapeusis of emotional suffering to? The
            > “professionals”? You want to send the emotionally distraught packing to
            > therapists and self-help groups, telling them only to return when they’ve
            > reached a suitable level of emotional wholeness and equilibrium?

            Is it possible we have an entire industry of therapists and related roles because we have diminished the value of Friendship? People are very much alone. And, yes, this value [or anti-value] of Autonomy has leached from the over culture into the church. No doubt. I hope that burns out; but this is America, it will take awhile and undoubtabely have its vigilant hold-outs. Our deprecation of Friendship is a grevious error.

            And, of course, this is a a real roll for professionals as there are people who need careful and scheduled help – something a community of volunteers is frequently not going to be able to provide. And the institutional church is attached to that network of professional helpers [at least the Catholic church is]. One upside of the current cultural zeitgeist is that there is a *much lower* stignatism on people who seek help than in previous times [a zeitgeist that, to me, looks like one based on compassion].

            Every individual church will have its own feel and level of hospitality. But they are not universally so terrible; but they are *all* filled with terrible people – some of whom are kind and hospitable. Especially when immersed in a culture that does not value community the creation of community, and the integration of individuals into a community, takes time, and it takes compassion, and realisitic expectations regarding the institutions men create. Everyone I meet is not `my cup of tea`, they are not on my `level`, but that is OK; with patience I blunder into people who are. Then, sometimes, those people show me how to love those other people.

          • RobertF –

            Yet somehow some of our ancestors achieved sanctity, who had no therapeusis available to them, who lived unimaginably hard lives. Some, like Saint Symeon the New Theologian were sodomized as children in the monasteries of the most Christian city that has ever existed. Some were mentally ill by our standards. Some were thoroughgoing fascists. Others, equally holy, would have recoiled from them like amoeba in a Petri dish recoil from a drop of acid.

            Two young men are currently competing for the attention of my daughter. One is a calm and industrious young man of middling allegiance to the Church. The other is in attendance every time the door is open, but he has a kind of OCD thing going on and has no clue as to how to act among other people, not even picking up on conversational clues.. I have to tell him explicitly. “I am going to talk now. You have talked enough. If we are going to have a conversation, you need to let me speak.” Then, “OK I am finished now” when I have said my piece.

            Which of these two young men would I prefer for my daughter? It should be obvious. Which is closer to sainthood? I have no insight into the hearts of men, but I would put my money on the difficult one.

          • I’m kind of missing the whole point of the use of the word “therapeusis.” It seems kinda jargony to me.

            Gotta agree with Robert F, and just because some people were unable to find the emotional/psychological help they needed does not mean that they were more holy because of it.

            that is a huge fallacy in the understanding of mental illness/emotional pain and suffering that has led far too many to avoid seeking the help they desperately need.

            Having been there myself, I can state the above with no little conviction, and the idea of having lived in a time and place where medicines and other forms of therapeutic treatment were not available (not long ago; during my lifetime, in fact) is a very unpleasant thing to contemplate.

            I do not think anyone who is truly suffering from/because of mental illness – or physical illness – is going to find holiness via their pain. At all. (I have severe chronic pain problems and have had them for over 3 decades, fwiw.) It is how one lives regardless of the pain that counts, and freedom from emotional and physical suffering and pain is vital for people to be able to thrive.

            I seriously doubt anyone here would say that having smallpox or even breaking a bone is a good thing re. holiness. So why is it the case that people overspiritualize emotional/mental suffering and pain?

            [/rant over; am speaking in general terms re. the overspiritualization of suffering, as it comes up in just about every tradition you can name, though some have it more front and center than others.]

  6. I grew up as a pastor’s kid in the evangelical church of the 70’s. And I’ve spent many years on the front line of “ministry” in my church, as paid staff and a participant. It wasn’t until I hit 50 and decided it was time to venture outside the four walls of my church that I realized the extent to which the Church is alive and well and making a difference in people’s lives. I’ve seen this most often in the people who work and volunteer at community agencies and non-profits, where you will find many Christians who are actually being the hands and feet of Christ to those who need Him. They aren’t worried at all about how to get people into a church building…they simply find them, love them and help them. I’m not knocking the local church…it has it’s place. But it can be a hindrance to our true mission at times.

    • Thanks for this Alison. In my opinion, you are right on target. Our mission primarily consists of living and working in the world as real human beings among other human beings. If we equate the “gathering” times of the church with our mission, we end up building our own kingdoms and emphasizing methodologies that will “attract” people. If we emphasize being God’s people in the world, we can better balance what we should do when we gather with what we do when we scatter.

      • Acutally, in a post from Aug.22, 2012 entitled “Forget Evangelism, Forget Discipleship”, Thom praises a group CANA, in Dodge City Iowa, that incarnates many of these same values and convictions. It seems as if Holy Soup dude is not just about butts in seats.

  7. That’s good….the Americanized Christian culture in general has become far too concerned with the methods rather than the subject. I think if we turn our focus back on God alone, it will solve at least half of our problems….

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > That’s good….the Americanized Christian culture i

      Search-n-Replace “Christian” with “Protestant”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I think if we turn our focus back on God alone, it will solve at least half of our problems….

      Wasn’t that the stated motivation for Luther, Calvin, American Evangelicals, etc?

  8. Although I’m no longer evangelical, the majority of my friends are. We have lots of conversations regarding worship trends within their respective churches. I find myself often wondering once the newness and shininess of the next great thing wears off, what’s next? Where will all this ultimately end up?

    Of course I’m told I’m stuck in the past. Or I’m not being sensitive to today’s generation. Lives are being impacted. We are making disciples. And so on. Yet as I said to one pastor, perhaps, but what would happen to your legion of disciples if you took away all their toys? And why isn’t the gospel message enough?

    Mules link to Father Stephen’s site speaks volumes. Have we really become such a consuming culture that we have completely lost focus of the one thing necessary?

    For some reason ‘the lost parable – the sugar of the earth” comes to mind……

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Or I’m not being sensitive to today’s generation ,,,

      The scandalous truth which they will not admit is – a heavy majority of “today’s generation” does not care about them at all, their worship style is completely irrelevant to them.

      • True, about 30-35% of today’s youth are not interested in religious institutions. But then what about the other 65-70%?

        What do they want? And how much an adherent do they want to be? Church attendance sits at around 20% of self-identified Catholics right now (not sure about others). Religion is a market in a way in that everyone chooses their faith and church and frequency of attendance. So that 65-70% that is interested in a religious institution is in the driver’s seat as far as what they’ll choose. And if they all choose Catholicism and frequent attendance then it will grow and prosper and if they all choose to be Mennonites with frequent attendance then it will prosper and grow.

        In that regards, I don’t think the original document under review was that bad. The religious faiths operate in a marketplace of ideals. Now one doesn’t have to compete via flash, one can compete with deep ideas, high ideals, sacrificial love, etc. but compete one must. Especially if one is running a church plant, which needs people quickly. But even in established churches, the need to keep the lights on and the Diocese appeal fed can cause churches to more aggressively compete for what is, in fact, a smaller piece of the pie as the church going elder generations progress and a less institutional minded generation arises.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > marketplace of ideal

          No, I do not buy it. This is a fallacy of conflation. A “marketplace of ideals” is not equivalent to “the [economic] marketplace”. It is not, this is apples and oranges.

          It is not equivalent because I do not “compete”. Concerning my ideals I care if they are an approximation of true and right. I do not “complete” because I am not concerned with “winning”, I can “win” [whatever that means] in a manner that requires nothing of anyone else. There is no supply-and-demand, there is no limited resource to dicate value.

          The metaphor of marketplace works as a place of exchange and interaction, but ideals are not purchased and sold or exchanged *for value*. It is more of a Library. If no one checks out a book, it remains on the shelf, unread.

          Some institutions may grow or fail. But again, that does not motivate me. Ultimately I do not care. And clearly many organizations are willing to “fail” [cease] rather than changing – as that happens. I find that fact encouraging, not discouraging, and it overrides the metaphor of the marketplace. Often an ideal “wins” [demographically speaking] when the organizations built around it fade, as they cease to be necessary.

        • “Now one doesn’t have to compete via flash, one can compete with deep ideas, high ideals, sacrificial love, etc. but compete one must. Especially if one is running a church plant, which needs people quickly. But even in established churches, the need to keep the lights on and the Diocese appeal fed can cause churches to more aggressively compete for what is, in fact, a smaller piece of the pie as the church going elder generations progress and a less institutional minded generation arises.”

          I’m not sure why it became this way, or why anyone simply needs to resign themselves to a church landscape that operates like a simulacrum of the free market.

          Did the apostles see the various churches in a given city as “competitors?”

          I don’t think so. Like much of contemporary evangelical ecclesiology, it’s a bunch of syncretism. I even look at my own church, which is a church plant committed to doing things without gimmicks and attractionalism, and notice that we basically attract “re-churched” people. Folks who have been going to churches for years, then discover ours and think “Oh neat, I think I might like to try out this type of thing now.” If that’s the mainstay of our attendance, exactly what good is that, in the long run, doing the church or the individuals? Or the neighborhood, for that matter? I’m not pushing a “do more evangelism” agenda, I’m saying there’s a fundamental crisis of identity going on, if all churches do is basically shuffle churchgoers around every few years (a noted trend among megachurches).

          The church is one. The churches in a region are one. Any “competition” that develops is a result of free market ideology, not New Testament ecclesiology. The activity of a local church is not for the increase of membership, and certainly not for existing Christians to employ buffet-style religion strategies to enhances their feelings of personal belonging or security. I wish these things didn’t still need to be said.

          • Dirty little secret of the church growth movement. They are not growing christianity as much as they are growing their own congregation to the expense of other congregations.
            Adam is correct that the christianity isn’t something we can market or purchase as an item in the free market. But….Adam, many churches are in the business of attracting butts in the seats, those butts are the goal. Those butts bring in money. What I am saying is for many churches the size is a sign of success, just like a business.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            But….Adam, many churches are in the business of attracting butts in the seats, those butts are the goal. Those butts bring in money.

            And “butts in seats” was also the goal of all the angles cataloged here:
            http://www.wrestlecrap.com/category/inductions/classicinduction/

  9. “[Thom] now devotes much of his time to innovating breakthrough ways to connect regular people to God.”

    Umm, who are the ‘regular’ people?

    Great post–again, a reminder of what is ‘of first importance’ ! (i Cor 15:3,4)

  10. Vega Magnus says:

    You know what sucks? Being pandered to. Especially by a church. We are not consumers of faith. We live through faith. Big difference.

  11. I think I’d rather have a church with 50 who want to grow in Christ than 500 who want to grow the church.

    • This is spot-on!

    • I think Rick Warren was spot-on when he said that we should focus on healthy churches, not growing churches. Healthy churches have a way of attracting participation, but churches hell bent on growth have a way of burning people.

  12. David Cornwell says:

    This affliction, spoken of here in terms of the evangelical context, also finds itself buried deep into the body of mainline Protestantism also. It may not be referred to in such vulgar capitalist terms, but, nevertheless, the symptoms are real.

    A constant irritant to the United Methodist Church, Stanley Hauerwas pinpoints part of the problem in his book “Approaching the End: Eschatological Reflections on Church, Politics, and Life.” In this immediate context he is speaking in the context of war, however the malady he speaks of also has a more universal application. He has been speaking here specifically of the UMC, but to one extent or another it applies to other mainline denominations. He is speaking of the lack of moral authority exercised by modern bishops, when he says:

    “Bishops have no authority because they now understand their office primarily in terms of being a CEO of a dysfunctional company. As a result, the Protestant denominations of America have simply not had anything useful to say…”…

    And a few pages later: “The church s a far too accommodated institution to be any kind of alternative.”

    I know from experience, and from somewhat following the continued struggle of the UMC to once again become something other than a decaying shell of its former self, that this is true. I read some of the statements of the local bishop (a man that I do respect in many ways) and his focus is that of a CEO fixed on a method of turning the church around. The index of success meaning attendance and membership. The sad thing it is the same basic focus they had in 1980.

    Let’s make the old Kodachrome a little brighter, and add some glitter, and see if this might help.

  13. In the example cited, canned curriculum is more of a problem than a solution.

    w

  14. Thom says some things that I can readily say yes to… and then ends with this:

    “. And we have an additional resource on our side–God. He’s not giving up on his church. He’s already moving into the future. We need to muster the courage to move with him.”

    May be nitpicky on my part, but, GOD as a resource …??? This smells bad, I wouldn’t eat it. Noticed there was not (perhaps predictably) a lot of pushback on the post in their comment stream, though some dude named Bruce or Bryan gave some good comments saying the post could work as a parable, not so much as a case study, because the church and a business are two different classes of thing. Touche… to that.

  15. I think you can still be an Evangelical without going to Orthodoxy or RC to avoid this kind of mindset.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      It depends. My definition of “Evangelical” is one who applies this mindset to religion; so for me, you cannot. Hyped Mass-market Christianity, very often as a thin mask for right-wing politics.

      I’d wager most of those who live in communities with a strong Evangelical presence share my view – listening to their frenetic rhetoric and experiencing the sensation of being stalked-for-Jesus.

      • Christiane says:

        ” Hyped Mass-market Christianity, very often as a thin mask for right-wing politics.”

        well said . . .
        the strangest feature of right-wing evangelicalism is its ‘exclusivity’ where if you don’t adhere to right-wing political AND economic philosophy, you are believing in a ‘false’ gospel . . .

        the paradox is that right-wing evangelism says it wishes to bring others to Christ, yet it has circled its wagons against ‘the world’ and every year, there are fewer wagons in the circle to be counted . . .

        so now, the remainder in those wagons have begun to speak of themselves as a ‘remnant’ of the ‘saved’ in a hostile world

        What astonishes me as a Catholic is how such thinking can be both sincerely wanting to be ‘missionary’ and yet have fallen so far into isolationism behind the high walls of political ‘right-thinking’ (pardon the pun)

        give me the Nuns on the Bus any day for going out into the world to make a case for what is ‘of Christ’ among those who are in the margins of our land

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > such thinking can be both sincerely wanting to be ‘missionary’ and yet
          > have fallen so far into isolationism

          It is inscrutable. What is said one momeent, and then the next moment; it often sounds like a verbal collision of two trains that somehow just keep colliding.

          The simplest way to cope intellectually is to doubt the sincerity of the missionary impulse. Is the desire to meet Others or to somewhere discover more Like-Me? I am very cynical of the missionary impulse after years of `sending` missionaries and various youth oriented activities. Meh; I think it is smearing frosting on a fortress and calling it a cake.

          > give me the Nuns on the Bus any day for going out into the world to make a
          > case for what is ‘of Christ’ among those who are in the margins of our land

          +1

        • To be fair…

          1) There is a fairly large contingency of right wing Catholics who behave similarly, sans the more overt/direct “bring others to Christ” evangelizing.

          2) There are many Evangelicals who give generously with both their time and money for ” those who are in the margins of our land.”

          • Christiane says:

            I can readily agree with point 2 . . .
            but for point 1, I’ll be honest about what I see:
            when I look at ‘right-wing’ conservative Catholics, I am seeing ‘right-wing conservatives’ clearly . . . but the ‘solidarity with the poor and marginalized’ that is so very Catholic in its ethos is not observed, no.
            Somewhere along the line, ‘social justice’ got dumped by these Catholics as a part of the liberal bias, and they do not realize that their Church HAS a ‘social justice’ doctrine that is very well defined and has its roots deep in sacred Scripture, this:
            http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/justpeace/documents/rc_pc_justpeace_doc_20060526_compendio-dott-soc_en.html

            The Catholic bishops in the US went so far as to speak of the Ryan Budget Plan as ‘immoral’ in its impact on the poor. As to the 2012 vote, likely it was the abortion issue that influenced the 49% Republican Catholic vote; but it was not lost on the politicians that 51% of Catholics voted for Obama, and I credit the Church’s speaking out FOR the sake of the poor and marginalized for turning many Catholic votes against the economic plans touted by the Republican Party who played heavily to their ‘base’ during the campaign.

          • The thing is, Roman Catholicism has a governance structure of priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and finally a pope, who can say, “the buck stops here.” Consequently, the governance of the Roman Catholic Church has spoke persons who can emphatically state the Church’s position on various and sundry matters.

            By contrast Evangelicalism is a loose (to put it mildly) body of churches, some affiliated with a larger organization (e.g., Southern Baptist Convention) but mostly independent. Consequently, even the National Association of Evangelicals, which acts more as a lobbying or sort of trade group, is not a spokesperson for Evangelicals.

            Bottom line is that Evangelicals cannot be compared to Roman Catholics except om an individual church basis.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            > The thing is, Roman Catholicism has a governance structure
            > …
            > By contrast Evangelicalism is a loose (to put it mildly) body
            > …
            > Bottom line is that Evangelicals cannot be compared to Roman Catholics

            Yes, exactly. We agree.

            My main point is that Evangelicalism itself represents a *failure* to come to terms with, accept, or understand [or all the above] with basic principles of organization behavior and the politics [not partisan party/state party politics, but capital-P politics] of human communities.

            A powerful curent in Evangelicalism is the desire to create anti-institutional institutions; the failure is to accept that one either, eventually, must win or loose the ‘revolution’ and settle down to creating something. If the revolution [they like the term “reform”, whatever, they do not actually talk like reformers] goes on and on and on and on… something is deeply wrong. Go back to the failure to accept, understand or grapple with the fundamental truths about human communities. If you do not stablize them – you give power over to the unstable. That is the Unavoidable Consequence, however noble your intentions.

    • You can.

      I know some. They are kind of an intriguing “Protestantism for Grown-Ups” segment. No “contemporary” services, strong on preaching and doctrine. Vanishingly small, though.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        Some Lutheran congregations fit this description [in a way Lutheranism seems sometimes like an odd evolutionary branch – the link between the elder traditions and full Protestantism]. They seem to have avoided, so far, becoming trapped either in the politicization of religion by right-wing operatives or the meandering headlessness of the othe ‘mainstream’ groups.

        In a true nerd-geek moment I once described Luthernaism as like a Star Trek transporter that can preserve an object indefinitely by constantly recycling its buffers. Is it grace or is it law? Is it law or is it grace? Spinning that query at a trillion revoutions per second Luthernism has managed to create a time-lock, rendering itself impervious to [and in many way inpenetrable by] the flow of normal time. That got me a glazed stare. 🙂

        • Brianthedad says:

          I get your Trek reference, having seen that episode with the older Scotty on TNG. I like.

          Unfortunately, there is a contingent of Lutherans desperately trying to be ‘relevant’, especially here in the Deep South. And messing up, IMHO. It feels ad-hoc, since the thinking is Spirit-filled=spontaneous. It’s tiring. Funny thing is, the contemporary service that was presumably going to be attractional to the younger singles and family crowd has 2-3 families with kids. It’s mostly older people who dig the time slot. The young families and millenials (and the much larger crowd, 3-4x larger) are all at the traditional service with divine service, organ, hand bells, and chancel choir in the balcony. Go figure, right?

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            I was on the council of a Lutheran church in southern California in the 1990s. We were given copies of a book on church growth: my introduction to the movement. The gist of the book was that the church was to hide its identity and stick to banalities. My reaction at the time was that there were innumerable choices of churches that were not Lutheran. I saw no possible purpose to our becoming yet another not-Lutheran church. I stand by this opinion. What is the point of becoming just like that big church down the block? It presumably is already serving the needs of its members. We should serve the needs of ours while welcoming visitors who might find that they need what we offer. Abandoning our members in the hope that we might attract some of those people from down the block is simply vandalism.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          “in a way Lutheranism seems sometimes like an odd evolutionary branch – the link between the elder traditions and full Protestantism”

          This is American parochialism, defining the Reformed tradition as “full Protestantism.” Here is the canned lecture: The Reformation produced three broad branches: “Reformed” (aka, though not entirely accurately, “Calvinism”) “Evangelical” (aka “Lutheranism”) and Anabaptist. The Anabaptist category is something of an “everything else” grab bag, and they with rare exceptions operated apart from civil authority, and thus often ended up being run out of the country. By far the largest group in America are the Mennonites, of which (strictly speaking) the Amish and the Hutterites are subsets. The Reformed and Evangelical traditions were entirely happy–eager, even–to work with the civil authorities, so you can draw a map of Europe dividing the various states into Catholic. Evangelical, and Reformed. For reasons that are not entirely clear–at least to me–the Reformed tradition tended to head westward from Germany, while the Evangelical tended to head north and east. This is why the Scandinavian countries ended up Lutheran, while the French Huguenots, for example, were Reformed. Of particular interest to this discussion is that the Reformed tradition was very influential in Britain. Now fast forward several centuries and look at the various Protestant traditions in America. Most derive from the Church of England, though in many cases pretty indirectly and after going pretty far afield. The Lutherans in America were, until quite recently, regarded as an ethnic denomination, and the Anabaptists even more so. As a result, when people think “Protestant” they often are actually thinking “Reformed tradition of Protestantism.”

          The other half of the discussion is that during the Reformation period there was a lot of discussion over how to respond to existing religious traditions. As an oversimplified rule of thumb, the Evangelical tradition rejected that which it considered contrary to scripture, but retained that which it considered consistent with scripture, even if not mandated. The Reformed tradition tended to reject everything it did not consider mandated. This is why Lutheranism retains elements that some consider Popish. (The Church of England was a unique case, retaining many old practices while adopting Reformed theology.) (This is why when American Lutherans began worshiping in English they were able comfortably to engage in wholesale theft from the Book of Common Prayer.)

          This is why Lutheranism looks to you like an intermediate state between Catholicism and Protestantism. It is not. It is a different strand of Protestantism that has retained some, but by no means all, outward forms of Catholicism.

          • Favorite analogy re: Reformed vs. Lutheran:
            Lutherans looked at the sock drawer of the church and only took out those socks they believed conflicted with Scripture. Everything else they left in.
            The Reformers took out the sock drawer, dumped it out and only put back in those socks they believed conformed with Scripture.

      • Evangelicalism is by nature less structured–way less structured–than other traditions, especially Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, and consequently more susceptible to applying successful business models in hopes that they increase the customer base. And we know that it doesn’t work that way.

        But our aim should be to encourage and support changes within Evangelicalism wherever possible (i.e., the pastor, governing board and congregation are open to it) and not just write them (us) off as hopeless cases.

    • +1

      Poor Thom put this on a tee for the Imonks. Maybe instead we should try to correct Thom in love as a brother rather than throwing him under the bus for the sake of making a point.

      • I’m not sure Thom was thrown under the bus here. I thought the article was very respectfully written, that CM was just highlighting why he didn’t agree with Thom.

      • I don’t know Thom. “Correction” is something you to do friends. Disagreeing, even passionately so, is something you do to opinions expressed in a public forum. There is nothing cruel or un-loving about disagreeing rather strongly with a teaching that is harmful and destructive. Silence is much more unloving.

      • Fellas I share some of the same frustrations with “evangelicalism”. And I realize this is a website to air those grievances (like the festivus pole). My hope is that we, despite not seeing eye to eye on some things, can remember we are one under Christ, that we can have a more loving discourse so the world will know us by our love. I’m all for correction and need much myself. I would hope that we can learn to correct each like God corrects us… without guilt, shame, or fear.

    • You absolutely can, and it isa bit more pervasive than Mule gives it credit for. However, it is truly an uphill battle that most Evangelicals are unable to win in their own local context.

  16. “Kodak is a business. The church is not.
    Kodak sells products. The church does not.
    Kodak competes with other businesses in a realm of technology and in a commercial marketplace that is constantly changing, demanding innovation in order for the business to make profits. The church does not.”

    An inherent problem with living in a prosperous society is that it makes us think that business models which prove effective in meeting corporate goals can be applied, in principle at least, to churches. I would add the same is largely true in academia.

  17. The extreme irony of Thom Schultz’s article is that he does the very thing he condemns. His “radical, reinvent the wheel and finally get it right” super pietism is nothing other than the old guard screaming louder and trying the same thing over and over again when it is beginning to become obvious how little their pragmatic methods really even work. He seems to actually think that the reason the church is dying is because people have NOT listened to his advice and followed his teaching and methods for the last 40 years. And all I find is Christians everywhere who are so damn sick of it and giving up on faith because they can’t even find a local congregation that is immune to this malarky. Yet this kind of “leadership” continues to plug their ears to even the most constructive of criticisms and insist that their way is right, and in the more Charismatic circles, to resist is to oppose the Holy Spirit. In less Charismatic circles, resisting the “revolution” is painted as legalistic traditionalism. Either way, this philosophy does the very thing it condemns. The church does not die because she gets the formula wrong: Our life is not in our methods, it’s in the Words and blood of Christ. Removal of these from the center of the Church’s life does nothing other than strangle her. Schultz’s methods attempt to manufacture life in spiritually strangled congregations by increasing participation. Some of the busiest activity centers can be the most spiritually dead. Some of the most empty, inactive, and only visible on Sunday morning congregations are the most full of life, because the life of Christ dwells there through Word and Sacrament.

  18. Various research groups report that on any given Sunday in America only 17% of the population is attending church, and the majority of those people have gray hair. This troubling trend applies to all denominations and no one group seems to be exempt. Undoubtedly this fuels the perceived need to attract people to church with any means possible.

    I believe there is a reason that the younger generation is not interested in church. Could it be that the American mind and culture is not friendly to the means that Christ ordained to proclaim His message? I understand that the world has never been friendly to Christ, but I am speaking of minds that are shaped by a continual barrage of music, movies, television, gaming and web-surfing. In a world that communicates primarily through spectacular images and thrilling entertainment, what chance does something as simple as word and sacrament have of getting through?

    Neil Postman’s 1985 classic “Amusing Ourselves to Death”, eloquently argues for the premise that when image oriented communication is dominant in society, the ability to understand word oriented communication, spoken or written, is severely curtailed. Word-only communication requires patient listening and thoughtful consideration. American farmers in 1850’s could follow a debate between Lincoln and Douglas for six hours because they were used to reading. In contrast, the American public today can barely tolerate a two hour long debate between Presidential candidates exchanging sound bytes; if it gets boring, we click to another channel.

    As this relates to church, the reading of Scripture, the pastor’s homily, prayer, bread and wine, are not just boring to Americans in general, but this medium of communication is increasingly incomprehensible to each new generation. These are the means that our Lord ordained . . . I am at a loss to know how to get this culture to plug in to them.

    Perhaps fasting and prayer?

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Various research groups report that on any given Sunday in America
      > only 17% of the population is attending church, and the majority of
      > those people have gray hair.

      As a point of the data – I’m active in several *secular* utterly non-relogious advocacy organizations… they are gray too. In many respects the younger demographic in America is, in itself, ghettoized. Good, bad, or indifferent; this cannot be laid entirely at the feet of the church. There are other forces at play here too.

      > …when image oriented communication is dominant in society,,,,

      Yea, I’ve read and heard some of that kind of thing. I just don’t buy it. The Electrical Engineer and the Physicians Assistant have diminished ability to “understand word oriented communication”. Nah.

      I believe a primary culprite is just Social Media, which lends itself to the creation of individualized ghettos of information to an extreme degree a dictator of previous centuries could only dream about. But people create them for themselves. How often in conversation I talk about something that happened locally and recently and I get a suprised “Oh, really?! Wow.” And this is the most ‘connected’ generation in human history.

      > Perhaps fasting and prayer?

      Always.

      One can also actually be relevent, so you know, you meet people.

    • David Cornwell says:

      One question that troubles me: Do we as Christians reflect back to the population in general anything that is different? Or are just a slightly different flavor of the prevailing culture? Or the prevailing culture with a more negative tone? What’s different about us in a positive way?

      I have a feeling that it is us that is the problem, not the church service necessarily.

      Fasting and prayer: Yes.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        My perception is that to most of the greater culture that is not religious – religion is completely irrelevant. It is an odd thing; one most Evangelicals totally miss – the depth of the disinterest. Many religious people want – often *demand* – non-religious people have a “God shaped hole” or some such thing. But they don’t. Really, seriously, they don’t. Secretly they *most* have some deep longing… but they don’t. Sure, some do. But I just don’t see it many cases. There are probably inumerable reasons for the disinterest – most notably might be that the loudest religious people never say much that is interesting. Even to the religious those loud religious people can be exhausting; imagine how they sound to people even further down the spectrum.

        • Adam, I totally agree with your take on this. Other than the loud and active “new” atheists who, IMHO, protesteth far too much, most Americans simply do not care about God, His Church, or anything to do with the concept of “Someone Bigger than Me Being in CHARGE!”

          I thinks this fits with the surge of Christian faith in 3rd world countries…..when your life is miserable enough, you are willing to accept that #1: There is a reason for all of this, somehow, and #2: That this is not the only life we are given. I am NOT promoting the old “pie in the sky by and by” sort of milk-toast Christianity, but merely pointing out that it is easier to hear God’s voice and contemplate Him when there are fewer shiny baubles around to distract us. And as a hospice nurse for over a decade, I can say that these questions demand an answer of some sort as this life winds down…..but only a handful of us are blessed by God Himself with the faith to recognize Him before we are staring at the obvious end of our lives.

  19. “As a point of the data – I’m active in several *secular* utterly non-relogious advocacy organizations… they are gray too.”

    Well said. I’m 63 and one of the younger members of my Rotary Club. And in spite of all the good Rotary does (along with many other service organizations) membership is dropping (as it is in many other service organizations).

  20. The basic issue here is whether “the Church” (read: various Protestant churches) need to evolve beyond the traditional church service model in order to survive. This raises several questions:

    (1) What are the basic goals of the church in question? For example, if priority is assigned to holding a traditional church service (as is the case with Catholicism), then the church could hardly contemplate giving this up in favor of something with more mainstream popularity. On the other hand, some possible goals (such as evangelism) might be met without holding meetings at all.

    (2) As a matter of empirical fact, are traditional church services actually declining in popularity? While you and I might find them dull, a lot of people are still attending them, who may or may not be willing to switch to the “New Coke” version. This raises the further question of what counts as a “traditional” church service. Is it absolutely necessary to sing? To have clergy? Sunday morning meetings…? etc. Obviously different denominational lineages will have their own notions of what is “traditional” for them. Mega-churches often make cosmetic changes, e.g. in the style of music or speech presentation.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > (1) …. some possible goals (such as evangelism) might be met without holding meetings at all.

      Nope, a church is most essentially a community. If the church never assembles, it most certainly is not a church.

      > (2) As a matter of empirical fact, are traditional church services actually
      > declining in popularity?

      I don’t see anything compelling indicating that they are.

      > While you and I might find them dull, a lot of people are still attending them,

      Yep. But then, I do not find them dull.

      > This raises the further question of what counts as a “traditional” church service.

      Very true.

      > Is it absolutely necessary to sing?

      No. But it seems important to a lot of people. But the bloody &@^@&**(@ &*@#^@#& music does not have to be a big to-do requiring monsterous and obsessive amounts of focus. Ugh, in my Evangelical years Music was The Monster which consumed everything else. If I never have to endure another debate about church music until they bury or burn me – I will have one wish granted.

      > To have clergy?

      Yes. It is just a pragmatic thing, having a guy to do it works. And it keeps things on the rails.

      > Sunday morning meetings…? etc.

      No. Services are pretty frequent at a variety of types of churches, at least around here.

  21. Great post! Loved this paragraph:

    “The church is about Jesus. The church is about life. The church is about people. The church is about the grace of God flowing into human lives and making us more human (not more ‘effective’). As human beings made new in Jesus, we live among our neighbors with faith, hope, and love. Like Jesus, we lay down our lives so that others might live.”

  22. Vega Magnus says:

    I’m a twenty-something who does not attend a church. It is partly because of not liking my parents’ church much and partly because of bad prior experiences with churches, but a big reason is that I feel that reading discussions on places like iMonk works for me better than listening to the pastor of my parents church go over a basic Bible story for twenty minutes. I have nothing against the standard church service. It is more a matter of taste and depth of theological discussion.

  23. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    > but a big reason is that I feel that reading discussions on places like
    > iMonk works for me better than

    I totally get this feeling, I felt that way for some time.

    But I do not believe this is a substitute for communal worship, or being part of a community. The meditative role of a church service is a valuable thing; it is paradoxical but plays a roll in avoided an overly intellectualized faith.

    > listening to the pastor of my parents church go over a basic Bible story for twenty minutes.

    Yeah, but not all church services focus on that. I completely agree that the Bible story thing is lame, and most of the time does not go anywhere. My favorite services are Saturday afternoon/evening Catholic services; they move along, get to the point, and place one in the scruptures amoung a community of believers.