Friday, May 04, 2012

Maybe Competition Isn't Healthy In The Chuch?

As always the "Houses of Worship" column in the Friday Wall Street Journal is interesting. This essay is especially fascinating to me, Pastors Call a Truce on 'Sheep-Stealing' . With a title like that you know I am reading it! Naomi Schaefer Riley writes about an effort by 40+ local churches in in Charlotte, NC to move beyond competing with one another to reach the demographically crucial young adult population. They have formed a group called Charlotte ONE that sponsors stuff like concerts and other attractional events to reach this demographic of 20-somethings. Speaking of a recent concert full of young adults, Riley writes:

Rather, the mostly single professionals and students were brought here by Charlotte ONE, a collaboration of 40 or so area churches trying to reach this demographic. Such regular and extensive cooperation of mainline and evangelical Protestant churches from every major denomination is not a typical feature of American religious life. They are more likely to be competing for each other's members. But desperate times call for desperate measures.

Many of the more than 700 churches in this area (and all over the country, for that matter) have tried to run so-called young-adult ministries—but with little success. James Michael Smith, a co-founder of Charlotte ONE, tells me that a common problem is the return on investment: "Young adults are the least reliable, the most mobile and they don't give financially either." In order even to get them in the door, he adds, churches have to offer "the wow factor."

That is just chock full of good blogging fodder! On the one hand I think we see the results of local churches competing with one another and it isn't healthy at all (even though Riley cites a Baylor professor, Rodney Stark, who thinks that competition is healthy. I need to look up his writings.) Young adults have been marketed to all of their lives and they know a sales pitch when they see it which makes stuff like this of dubious value. I am skeptical of trying to draw people who may, or more likely may not, be regenerate with "Christian rock concerts". What happens once the novelty wears off and the reality of traditional church life sets in? Either they will just leave again or the local churches will have to keep ramping up the entertainment factor to stave off boredom. The attractional model only works until people get bored or something better comes along (and the attractional model can include deep theology, expository preaching and liturgical services just as easily as it includes rock concerts and coffee bars). The church is rarely very good at it except in rare cases and being good at attracting and entertaining fickle consumers is incredibly expensive in terms of staff and technology. Oh yeah, it also has no Biblical basis. The gathering of the church is not designed to be a place of evangelism, it is a gathering to equip believers to evangelize. That is an important distinction. A gathering of Christians is by nature going to be limited in terms of how many people it reaches at a particular time and place but 20, 30 or more Christians equipped to go minister and evangelize all over their community has enormous potential.

On the other hand, there is a glimmer of hope here. As church attendance plummets and the ready number of church attenders who fund local churches diminishes, I think we will see more cooperation between churches and the breaking down of barriers. Without the divisive influence of money coupled with an increasingly unfriendly culture, the reasons for division in the church seem less compelling and mere survival will take priority. One of the major problem with our local church system is that it adds an unbiblical layer to evangelism. It is not merely sufficient to evangelize someone and see them come to Christ, we also want them to come to "our church". That makes evangelism more akin to marketing and this approach has been largely responsible for the divided state of the church today with thousand of churches competing with one another and drawing in unbelievers to "win them to Christ" and have them fund the church while winning them.

Is this sort of cooperative event the beginning of something new and positive? I don't know, it certainly sounds a lot like so many other fads that come and go. I think our best bet is to try to, hold on to your socks, get back to the Bible and get away from the competitive local church model. Evangelism should be something that happens all the time, one Christian at a time. Big public events like Pentecost and other examples of the apostles preaching to large crowds certainly happened but they didn't happen in the context of church gatherings. They happened when Christians went out from the gathered church and into the world with the message of Christ. They preached Christ and Him crucified, not my local church and its awesome ministry opportunities. Check out the article, it is an interesting look at the desperate measures the church is finding itself taking in a world that is changing faster than the church realizes.

1 comment:

dle said...

Regarding attractional ministry, Leonard Ravenhill provides the money quote: "You never have to advertise a fire."

If churches do no understand that the Holy Spirit draws people without any help from dog and pony shows, then we will get nowhere.

IF churches revive, then the inner fire of the Holy Spirit operating within them will draw people. End of story.

That we don't want to trust the Spirit to make this happen is one of the plagues of modern evangelicalism.