Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Musing on Church Growth Strategies

I keep wondering what would happen if the flyer (see "Church Flyer," posted 9/28) advertised Jesus in the same way it advertised the pastor. What would it say?


I'm not advocating this as an effective method for getting people in your door for church. If anything, I think the new church in town will get more people in the door with the football angle. Althought I doubt they will be a very desperate demographic and it seems like, in the Bible anyway, the desperate people were the ones who got healed the most. Not that Jesus isn't madly in love with the football fans.

I was talking to a pastor recently about different church growth strategies. His friend has a church where people get healed all the time. You'd think that would be an effective church growth strategy--cancer cured in a church service?? But he says his friend's church is not "seeker friendly." The pastor of that church readily admits people walk in and walk out because, along with the healings are all these other odd-looking things happenign in the church, like bodies splayed out along the aisles in worship before the service even starts, and, I imagine, people whooping and hollering.

Still, I can't help but believe that the power of the Gospel could speak for itself. Wouldn't healings at the mall, at Wal-Mart, at the park be sufficient introduction to Jesus? Wouldn't that be better than door prizes and gimmicky slogans for getting people into church?

Is the only reason we're working so hard on church growth strategies because we've lost the power of the gospel? Whatever power those first century church Christians had we've seen only glimpses of. But wherever the glimpses are in the world, those are the places church programs and slogans become irrelevant because the Gospel is speaking for itself.

The other thing is the Church is currently operating on such a top-down model: get people to church, then introduce them to Jesus. In the old days, people met Jesus and then they were the church.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Gender and Design

Have you ever experienced God in spite of stupid preaching?

I visited a "prayer center" over the weekend that I'd heard a lot about. Apparently, in the year it's been running, they've seen forty-some miracles--healings, I presume. The prayer center wasn't an actual church, but a place staffed by multiple denominations where prayer and worship take place 24/7. On Saturday nights, they have a service, sort of. This is what I went to. I was not disappointed. I could feel God's presence during the music time, felt like I could almost go to sleep--not from boredom, but from this sweet feeling that God was very close, almost like I was wearing him as a jacket zipped snug across my chest. When the music ended I wanted to lay myself out on the floor and just sit with that feeling I was having.

I tried to keep my eyes open, though, for the guy who was speaking that night. His topic was somethign about beign dependent on God and how our culture fosters independence, which seems, in a sense, counterintuitive to the idea of following Christ and trusting him to meet our needs. I don't think this dude was in any way advocating blowing all your rent money on an LCD screen TV because Jesus can take care of the rent. Rather, his focus was on the way our attitudes are shaped toward independence, without acknowledgement of God's ability to care for us. We were designed for dependence, he said.

Then he tried to give an illustration to show how badly things go when we are not fitting our intended design. He said he hopes his daughters will continue to live with him until the day they are married. Because God designed for their husbands to meet all their needs. What's the point of them moving out and learning all this independence they'll "have to undo" once they get married? Wouldn't that be counterintuitive to send them out in the world to be somethign they're not designed to be?

What did he even mean? Here are the things I can think of that you learn when you live on your own: balancing a checkbook, grocery shopping, taking out trash, doing laundry, cooking.

Are these things he means will be good for a woman to unlearn when she gets married? As far as I know, with the exception of balancing the checkbook and taking out trash, these are all the stereotypical roles a woman will take on during marriage--domestic work, regardless of whether she has a job outside the home as well.

Not that I am in any way advocating these stereotypes, but does he expect them to sit on their asses and eat bon bons or something? These chivalrous metaphors of marriage people subscribe to seem to run away from them at times. The metaphor might serve some need to make romantic sense of the world, but when they start talking about what it looks like practically (laundry, trash, groceries) it doesn't make any sense. It doesn't serve them even in the way they think it does.

"Do you guys get me?" He asked

I shook my head no.

The guy a few rows in front of me nodded his head vehemently yes.

With some relief, what I concluded after my visit was: God is truly alive and well in the Midwest. Hence, the miracles, his sweet presence, and the peace I felt.

Additionally, I concluded: Dear God, he is in THE MIDWEST, working his way through in spite of stupid stupid cultural paradigms.


My friend Kate and I were talking about the flyer today.

She said she thinks there's this move away from Jesus-centered evangelism toward a more Tony Robbins/Deepak Chopra rules-to-live-by approach that may be based on biblical principles.

For example, she said, there's this new guy who's writing all sorts of books. She hadn't read them, but none of them appeared to be overtly Jesus-centered.

I knew exactly who she meant. I saw him on TBN (yes, I'm guilty of watching, only because I want to know what's going on in Christian-TV land) last week for the very first time. I've heard tons about this guy. He's got a mega church in the south, a friendly drawl and a wide-mouthed smile that doesn't go away when he talks. When I saw him he was preaching to what appeared to be a stadium full of happy-looking couples. He was talking about relationships.

He said it's important to get to know the people in our lives. What makes them tick? What makes them upset, angry? What do they need in order to live a peaceful existence? And what can we do to help them achieve that?

For instance, I told Kate, he said 'men,' [wink wink], 'you know that a certain time of the month for our wives...is sensitive. That's not the time to be making big decisions....' not the time to have conversations about important issues, etc etc."

("Because we don't have a brain?" Kate asked.)

Mr. Smiley Preacher was full of more examples of how we can get along and have peace with the people in our lives. His own life is a virutal handbook of fallenness and redemption. 1) He used to sort of ignore his kids when they'd come in his office while he works. Now he knows how important it is to give him his full attention for two minutes, to let them know he cares. 2)Because he works at home, his wife loves to join him for lunch. But on those days when he was working on his sermons, he'd be so engrossed that he could hardly engage with her in conversation. He'd nod, say 'yeah yeah' but not get too involved. One day he had an epiphany that that wasn't "fair" to his wife. He apologized. And now, **drumroll please** she doesn't eat lunch with him on those days he's working on the sermon. He never asked her not to. She just stopped coming in because she understands and respects him. And we can show respect to our own spouses in similar ways. When your spouse comes home from a long day at work, that's not the proper time to tell them that the toilet broke today or the hamster died or whatever.

We should also pay attention to the fact that what our SPOUSE needs to unwind is not what we need to unwind. "Sometimes i just tell V. to take a little trip to the mall. And when she comes back, she's a new person!"

To be fair, I only heard about half an hour of this, but it all seems reasonably Jesus-free, not to mention some of it midly co-dependent.