Looking Beyond Just Numerical Church Growth

Lakewood1There is no doubt about it that most American churches have felt the effects of the church growth movement, the pressure to expand the kingdom by filling the pews with more people through sociological and quantitative methods. While I can commend the Great Commission fervor of the church growth movement, I do wonder if this passion for the numerical expansion of the church has limited and reduced the perspective of church growth to the sphere of measurable statistics within the ‘here and now’? In other words, is church growth merely measured by numerical width or could there be another dimension to church growth that may have been overlooked or depreciated? I believe there is another dimension that is worth our attention.

Several weeks ago I was out for coffee with a couple from my local church, I will call them John and Susan. As we sipped on our coffee together, Susan shared with me the joy that she and John were experiencing in visiting with their son over rich theological subjects such as, baptism and the theology of the cross. This was extremely special to John and Susan because they never had the opportunity to visit about theology and the scriptures with their parents when they were young. These family conversations were something new, something that had not happened within their family heritage before. Otherwise stated, the Word was definitely invading the family lineage. In this example of John and Susan we do not see a lot of numerical width. Furthermore, their story is not necessarily a profound story of numerical growth that can be measured or statistically analyzed; however, it is an example of a different dimension of growth. It is an example of generational growth.

781px-Waldburg_AhnentafelWhile numerical church growth generally measures growth in the realm of increased attendance in the here and now (i.e., width), generational growth is typically unmeasurable and often unseen. This generational growth is unmeasurable and often unseen because it is about growth that extends beyond the here and now, it is growth that comes to fruition in future generations (i.e., depth).

In thinking back to John and Susan’s conversations and catechesis of their son, what makes this set of circumstances so powerful is the generational growth that will continue with their descendants. Think about this, literally hundreds of individuals! John and Susan’s future daughter-in-law, their grandchildren, their grandchildren’s families, their great-grandchildren, and so forth will be baptismally regenerated, converted, shaped, and/or formed by the theological truths (i.e. gospel) gifted to their son.

While we can rejoice in the numerical addition of converts to the Christian faith, we can also rejoice in the sometimes unseen and unnoticed work of pastors, parents and churches who are laying the foundations of the Christian faith for the future growth of the church. Clearly church growth is not restricted and limited to just numerical width, but there is another dimension of growth that is found in the catechesis of individuals—catechesis that will carry forth and impact many future generations in the years to come.

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To learn more about generational growth and Christian catechesis please obtain a copy of the Small Catechism by CLICKING HERE.

About Pastor Matt Richard

Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard is the pastor at Zion Lutheran Church of Gwinner, ND. He was previously a Senior Pastor in Sidney, Montana, an Associate Pastor of Spiritual Care and Youth Ministries in Williston, North Dakota, and an Associate Pastor of Children and Youth in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He received his undergraduate degree from Minot State University, ND and his M.Div. from Lutheran Brethren Seminary, MN. His doctor of ministry thesis, from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, was on exploring the journey of American Evangelicals into Confessional Lutheran thought. Pastor Richard is married to Serenity and they have two children. He enjoys fishing, pheasant hunting, watching movies, blogging, golfing, spending time with his family and a good book with a warm latte! To check out more articles by Pastor Matt you can visit his personal blog at: www.pastormattrichard.com.

Comments

Looking Beyond Just Numerical Church Growth — 44 Comments

  1. “While I can commend the Great Commission fervor of the church growth movement, I do wonder if this passion for the numerical expansion of the church has limited and reduced the perspective of church growth to the sphere of measurable statistics within the ‘here and now’? In other words, is church growth merely measured by numerical width or could there be another dimension to church growth that may have been overlooked or depreciated?”
    You hit the nail on the head with this comment. The primary focus in evangelicalism is “Bringing in the sheaves,” and as many as possible. It really equates numerical growth with 1.) God’s blessing and 2.) real spirituality. The assumption behind it is that, if a church is small, remains even in numbers (or shrinks), isn’t cranking out the tunes with a full praise band, and shoving emotionalism coupled with shallow theology down the throats of its congregations, then it “needs the Holy Spirit.”

    Lutherans need to be very careful about what they intend to glean from their evangelical neighbors.

  2. “Another dimension to church growth?”

    “The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the Church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them.” CHS.

    “Each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized (or “strange”) fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. ” Leviticus 10:1 (ESV).

    Our “growth” will be in our faith and trust of Christ’s sacrifice for us!

    The Church Growth movement has promoted “entertainment” with “Strange Fire” that the LORD “had not commanded!” We need more Law and Gospel and less innovations of man!

    In the Lamb

  3. Here I was working on a proposal for bringing more people to know the love of God and all that includes; using the growing LCMS churches as a pattern.
    However, J.Dean’s comment implies that a growing church is doing something evangelical and/or un-Lutheran! So, we cannot use their successful model.

    Dr. Spraker does not want to change anything; yet, the LCMS is shrinking. His model is not working. So, let us look at what does work in LCMS congregations.

    It is possible to bring more people to the knowledge of Jesus Christ AND focus on what the Bible says!

  4. Indeed, growth toward Christian maturity is important:
    “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” Colossians 1:28

    And the size of the harvest is important:
    “Then [Jesus] said to his disciples, “’The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’” Matthew 9:37-38

  5. @Jim Davis #3

    However, J.Dean’s comment implies that a growing church is doing something evangelical and/or un-Lutheran! So, we cannot use their successful model.

    I would agree. We are told that the true marks of the church are word and sacrament. But if the church is truly confessional then the above description must be amended to “Word, Sacrament, and a shrinking membership roster.”

  6. #4 Kitty :
    @Jim Davis #3

    However, J.Dean’s comment implies that a growing church is doing something evangelical and/or un-Lutheran! So, we cannot use their successful model.

    I would agree. We are told that the true marks of the church are word and sacrament. But if the church is truly confessional then the above description must be amended to “Word, Sacrament, and a shrinking membership roster.”

    That is NOT what I said. I did not say numerical growth was intrinsically bad or “un-Lutheran.” What I said was that numerical growth 1.) does not mean that the growing church is using Biblical means and 2.) does not mean that a church is healthy or sound.

    My point was that, just because a church is growing, doesn’t mean it’s doing the right thing in the process. And seeing as how I spent quite some time in the evangelical church and saw firsthand how these things operate, how pragmatism supersedes doctrine and practice in the bid for bigger numbers. I’m not exactly speaking from ignorance.

    If your church is solidly Lutheran, solidly doctrine, and is growing, then praise God! More power to it, and may God bless you a hundredfold! But Jim, I don’t think you and Kitty realize that a great many of these large megachurches and church growth experts in the evangelical movement call on fledgling churches to set aside good things for the sake of numbers. They will take a pragmatic approach for the sake of the “numbers.” They put the congregation (read: audience) first, over and above sound doctrine, over and above truth. By their standards, Jesus would have failed as a church growth pastor when he send away crowds and offended his own disciples (see John 6).

    Don’t confuse numbers with health or sound doctrine. Remember Matthew 7:13

  7. I appreciate what you gentlemen have said, inasmuch as you did bring out a lot of things. But I’m quite disappointed–having taught church growth here for ten years–quite disappointed that no one basically got to the things that we’re arguing about in the Synod today. There was no talk about spiritual gifts. There was no talk about ethnic churches. There was nothing about the Charismatic influence. And perhaps we will get to those. Maybe this was just a nice gentleman’s way of starting. Fine. But we have to reach the issues. I’m practical. I spent many years in the parish. I’ve taught here many years. And we have to get down to the nub of those things. And, fine, let’s do that later.

    But now to my two respected colleagues an invitation. Not so much a question. I hope you will respond. Also to any other professor here–and, please students, you’re invited. I teach the course here. I won’t debate anybody on that course because I can go to Aristotle, I can go to Cicero, so can you. We’ll both come out looking fine. We’ll all have our little followings. I don’t want that.

    But I invite anybody. Please, come here. The only one who has, so far, outside of my students, is Dr. Robert Preus. Come and see everything I teach. Take me, ask me, dialogue with me, because I want to be teaching what I think I am: a Lutheran church growth.

    Briefly it’s this: I do teach the basic concepts of church growth, but in an orthodox Lutheran way. There is no Arminianism. There is no Reformed theology at all.

    Now I would disagree with Peter Wagner and Kent Hunter on some purist things because I’m not a Church Growth purist. We know that. I’ve said it. And this point Kent knows and I want to say it. Kent had some fine expertise. Eugene Bunkowski, Waldo Werning, and I did use you in our church growth institutes. We can’t anymore until one thing is settled. And I think Kent knows that. We cannot have you teach with us in that institute, because we think you’re opening up the Church Growth movement–and the students–to the Charismatic movement. But Kent, we miss you’re expertise and you and I can discuss that.

    So I teach basic concepts. There is no Reformed theology. I teach no purist things. I teach my Lutheran theology, my Lutheran Confessions, and I teach my own experience as almost twenty five years as a parish minister and the blessing and conversions that God brought to my church. These things I teach. And all I want, out of love and out of respect for this course that’s taught here, is that the scarecrows of fear are removed. Come to me. Dialogue with me. And then together brothers, then together we can fight those errors in the Church Growth movement that are wrong and are Reformed and are dangerous. But together we can move and uphold and teach those things in the Church Growth movement that very definitely have a great concern and a blessing as we reach for lost souls.

    William G. Houser (CTS faculty, 1975-93)

    I also appreciate very much what colleague Houser has said. I’ve never had any doubts as to his orthodoxy. And I’m very pleased that he brought up the points that I have tried to raise, but to which I’ve received no reply: the Arminianism and the Charismatic movement. Dr. Houser is absolutely right. The issue of the gifts is absolutely crucial here. We cannot hold to a view which thinks that today the gift of apostleship is still given. There’s an impossible position. All these other gifts that come right out of the Charismatic movement. So thank you Dr. Houser. I want to make it quite clear that my points are not addressed to his class. He’s a colleague and quite orthodox.

    Kurt E. Marquart, (CTS faculty, 1975-2006)

    “Church Growth Panel Discussion with Professors Stephen Carter, Kurt Marquart, & Dean Wenthe”
    Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana
    February 18, 1986

  8. Sorry, but I am only a poor beggar Evangelical of a Willowed-Saddle sore type and not even “Lutheran” yet! I see this site promoting Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide! I want to know Christ and Him crucified!

  9. Where Professor Houser and Kurt Marquart (a hero of mine – I studied under him for my doctorate at Ft. Wayne) are misleading in the quote above, is the equivocation on the term “Church Growth.” If by “church growth” you mean common sesne things like having clean restrooms and an adequate parking lot then fine. But, no one today uses the term in that manner and by the time I got to the parish (the year after this panel dsicussion) “church growth” was coming to mean what it now means unequivocally, the manipulation or at the very least the enhancement of the means of grace with methobapticostal emotionalism, reasoned rejection of the mysterious union with God in the sacraments, etc.

  10. Exactly Dr. Ralph.

    As to having been beaten with the Willow branch and your Saddle sores from riding the bucking bronco of courageous and purposeful life, take two “Bondages of the Will” and call me in the morning.

  11. Pastor Richard, may I copy and share your post in our congregation’s bulletin/newsletter? We are a small, struggling congregation who needs to hear this.

    Deb

  12. In all my hearing of stories this church and that church worshipping so many people on a Sunday, no one looks at a church and says, do we do the best job teaching and preaching to the people we have. All adverting and market research companies agree that how much people care about a product is important, but no mega-church leader will have statistics saying how much people care about a subject.

  13. Visit your people. Talk to them. We have a Calvary Temple here in Fort Wayne that’s off limits to most of us because it’s Pentecostal, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t assign one of my students to go over there and write an MDiv paper on why that man is successful. And I don’t like his doctrine, I don’t like a lot of things, and he probably feels that way about me. But nevertheless, this man does things that are great. And in this MDiv paper he says, “I spend of this extra time that I have–and I make extra time–I spend two thirds of it taking my people to lunch and the other third who can’t, I take them to breakfast; personal contact knowing them. My preaching is relevant.” Amen, brother. It is. I have heard it. You take the time for those individuals.

    A lot of people don’t need that much time. And we’re always quick and ready when they need us in emergencies. But you will have the love and they will tell it to others. “You’re new. You’re visiting. I want to tell you one thing about our preacher. He cares for you, he’ll take his time.” And you may get gray and may get tired and you may get weary, but you’ll have a successful church when they know you’re doing what the Lord does for us.

    I cut this little headline out of the paper just this Sunday, because I think it helps to help us to help them meet their needs. The extension agent who works with 4-H kids is a success. And they said, “Why are you a success with these kids?” And the answer was, “You have to like kids. You have to like people. And you have to be people oriented. And you’ll help them.”
    .
    William G. Houser (CTS faculty, 1975-93)
    Church Growth Institute
    “The Church Church Growth Pastor”
    Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana
    1979

  14. Interesting quote. It makes my point in comment #9.

    Being nice to people and spending time with them is common sense. Walther makes that point in his Pastoral Theology over 100 years before Houser.

    Church Growth theory actually tells the pastor that he does not have time for the people. Carl George’s Chruch Growth theory in the 90’s told pastors to recruit Leaders of 100 and Leaders of 12 (small groups) to spend the time with the people so that their church would grow. Maxwell’s Church Growth theory of the last decade also told pastors that they did not need to spend time with the people because they are to be leaders. They need to spend their time with a handful of the congregation working on making them leaders as well.

    This is not church growth theory. Whatever you want to call it, it is not Church Growth theory.

    BTW – the seeds of the errors of real Church Growth theory are present in Houser’s quote. Notice that he is enamored with meeting people’s needs and how that grows the church. Notice too that by going to study the Pentecostal pastor to find out why his church is growing, the answer that came back was “because he spends time with them and because he meets their needs.”

    Reader beware: it is the Gospel that grows the church.

  15. See, here’s the question: what happens when you consult a church growth “expert” and the first thing he says to you is “If you want more people, you need to jettison the divine service”?

    What happens when he tells you “People don’t do creeds anymore, get rid of them; they just want Jesus-talk (meaning as little doctrine as possible and a whole lot of good works preaching that sprinkles Christ in as a good moral example for us to follow)”?

    How do you respond when he says “Tone your talk down about the sacraments; you need to be more big-tent about it”?

    Will you give in when he believes “Hymns are old and stodgy; get out the drums, guitar, and half dozen praise leaders who are basically glorified pop singers, and put them front and center. Start rockin’ the house and work people’s emotions up”?

    Do you subscribe to his proposal when he offers “Have the preacher lose the robe and scarf and have him dress like Joel Osteen or Joseph Prince”?

    You want more people in the church; to the extent that you mean you want more people brought in to the Lutheran faith, that’s commendable. But when you start denying who you are in Christ for the sake of filling your pews, you have taken the first step to exalting pragmatism over the gospel.

    Read about the history of the broader church. Read about the downfall of evangelicalism when they started adapting revivalism through Charles Finney and his “new measures”: oh, it brought in numbers alright, but it spiritually killed people as well. Read about the softening of Christians to unscriptural theology, and how pastors and theologians downplayed serious doctrinal differences in order to look more appealing and “big tent” to the world and to doctrinally erroneous Christians. When numerical growth becomes more important than doctrinal fidelity, the church will become something she is not for the sake of drawing in those who never truly loved who she really is, and in the process she will forsake her First Love.

    Also, where in Scripture are we called to worry about numbers? The call is to preach the gospel; it is God who handles the results of that preaching and “adds those being saved ” (Acts ch 2). From how I understand Scripture, numerical growth is a by-product of Christianity, not a central focus. You don’t see anywhere in Scripture where the church is commanded to have “X” number of people in by Sunday, or they would lose the blessing of God. Instead, the church was faithful, and God regenerated hearts.

    God bless those Lutherans with high attendance. But give me a church of fifteen faithful rather than fifteen hundred nominal any day.

  16. Pastor Tim Rossow :
    Interesting quote. It makes my point in comment #9.
    Being nice to people and spending time with them is common sense. Walther makes that point in his Pastoral Theology over 100 years before Houser.
    Church Growth theory actually tells the pastor that he does not have time for the people. Carl George’s Chruch Growth theory in the 90?s told pastors to recruit Leaders of 100 and Leaders of 12 (small groups) to spend the time with the people so that their church would grow. Maxwell’s Church Growth theory of the last decade also told pastors that they did not need to spend time with the people because they are to be leaders. They need to spend their time with a handful of the congregation working on making them leaders as well.
    This is not church growth theory. Whatever you want to call it, it is not Church Growth theory.
    BTW – the seeds of the errors of real Church Growth theory are present in Houser’s quote. Notice that he is enamored with meeting people’s needs and how that grows the church. Notice too that by going to study the Pentecostal pastor to find out why his church is growing, the answer that came back was “because he spends time with them and because he meets their needs.”
    Reader beware: it is the Gospel that grows the church.

    Something else that’s often ignored about the church growth movement and the related “megachurches” is that a good portion of this church “growth” is 1.) people coming in from other churches just because the growing church has something more “attractive” (often a non-doctrinal attraction) and 2.) these churches have a membership lifespan of anywhere from 3-5 years on average, with a fairly high turnover rate. I saw this myself in my former Nazarene megachurch: within about six or seven years, I honestly couldn’t say that I knew half the people there.

  17. Your Christianity has to be real. It has to be enthusiastic. You’ll get the respect because you’ll be a minister. You’ll get the respect because you’re a man of God. You get the respect because you’ll go into the pulpit, you’ll preach His Word. But get the respect, too, because you’re Christianity is alive and vital and enthused! And that’s what you want it to be. You want your church to have a friendliness about it and shake hands. And you want your people to sing well.

    Boy, there are some songs in that hymn book — and I suppose if Dan Reuning is here I’ve made an enemy — at least in my churches, there are songs in that hymn book I could never use. I couldn’t teach it to them because I didn’t know how, I suppose. But the thing is we sang songs that they could sing. And they sung with vibrance. It was real to them.

    And we would streamline that liturgy and read Epistles and Gospel that had meaning if the one for the day was sixteen thousand verses long and nobody understood it. I would substitute something that had meaning and life. Otherwise I know what my people would have done. My members walked out on me. I’m preaching the Word. I’m preaching the Word. They may think it’s the Word, but the way I do it and the way I live it may turn them off. And when you turn them off, they’ll go where they can find an experience, where they can find an emotion.

    I don’t think we ought to delve into emotionalism. And that I’m not. But you give me the emotion of the cross and the blood and Thomas who knelt before his Savior and said, “My Lord and my God,” that’s emotion. But so is the whole Bible. But emotionalism, that’s a different thing.

    William G. Houser (CTS faculty, 1975-93)
    “Pastoral Handling of a Charismatic”
    Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana
    1979

  18. Worship styles have adapted to the culture over the centuries.

    God’s Word was originally preached to a Jewish audience. As it spread, we find that Hellenists (Greek speaking) people are being added. The question arose: must non-Jews conform to Jewish cultural and ceremonial traditions? To the Greeks, some Jewish customs, like circumcision, were repulsive. The final answer was “NO, the ceremonial customs are not necessary”. A change in the church customs was allowed. Of course, those who wished to follow the Jewish ceremonial laws still could.

    In the middle ages, we have stained glass windows in cathedrals to communicate the Biblical scenes. These people were almost all illiterate, and very few even knew Latin (the language of the Vulgate translation.) Stain glass was the best way to communicate the message to the people.

    Martin Luther made some changes in the service. He translated the Bible and the worship service into German (the language of the people); he introduced the organ into the worship service. The organ was popular in the beer halls of the time; so he brought something familiar to the people into the worship service. In all of these things, Luther changed the format and delivery of the message without changing the Law and Gospel message itself.

    Today, we have witnessed a change in our culture. Much of our communication has gone “on line”, like this message. Our style of music has changed; the style popular in Luther’s time dictated his song writing. The music we use in services today should reflect the culture that we live in. If we are going to attract unchurched people of the younger generation, we cannot expect them to conform to our cultural norms, we need to conform to their cultural norms. Just like the Christian Jews had to conform to Greek culture, we need to conform to our culture. Of course, we can still have the Lutheran Service Book services; many people (including myself) are comfortable in that format. But we need a format that is comfortable for the younger generation if we expect to engage them with God.

    My church has people of all ages; it is thriving and growing.Our services are broadcast each Sunday at 915 am and 1100 am Central time via the internet. See http://www.stjstl.net and click on “MEDIA / LIVE STREAM” to select the live broadcast. If that time is inconvenient, you may be able to persuade your browser to record the live broadcast for later viewing. If you get it started, it should be in “internet files” for later use. Entire services are not archived for later viewing, but the sermons are archived and available for listening at your convenience. Sermons are audio only, no picture. See “MEDIA / Messages” for the available sermons.

    I especially encourage church leaders to listen to this week’s sermon (January 20, 2013 at 9:15 am). Listen to what Pastor Hower says in the first six minutes: http://www.stjstl.net/media/messages/do-i-have-to-believe-everything-in-the-bible

    KFUO radio broadcasts services from the Lutheran Service Book at 8am and 1030 am (or 1045 am). See kfuoam.org Apps for various listening options. Various Lutheran churches from the St. Louis area broadcast at 800 am and 1030 am each Sunday.

  19. @jim davis #20
    What makes the Bible credible? It’s written by sinful men over hundreds of years!

    This is the lede for your “six minutes”. I don’t think I really need to listen, if that is really its premise. (Nothing else you have written here leads me to doubt that is the case.)

    About your whole article: if you are going to teach “history” a few citations would not be amiss.

    Just like the Christian Jews had to conform to Greek culture, we need to conform to our culture.

    They didn’t. Read St. Paul about some of the ways they didn’t. And we don’t, for the same excellent reasons. Our present “culture” is as debased as theirs was.

    Christians are instructed to be in the world but not “of” the world. If you are of the world, you can run another entertainment venue, but how can you teach Christianity?

    All the “evangelicals” you are aping are shrinking even faster or hadn’t you noticed? LCMess “progressives” are always 20 years behind the curve. 🙁

  20. Pastor Tim,

    Great advice! My will is in Bondage to Our Savior! He has called me out by His wonderful grace! Otherwise, I would be awfully tired!

    “God is never found in what you do. God is found in what Jesus has done for you with His birth, His life, His suffering and death, with His glorious resurrection and ascension, and with the current preaching of who He is and what He has done. That is what those verbally inspired holy apostles really want you to get out of their inerrant letters and Gospels.”

    Fisk, Jonathan M. (2012-12-05). Broken – Seven “Christian” Rules That Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible (Kindle Locations 1075-1078). Concordia Publishing House. Kindle Edition.

  21. @jim davis #20

    Jim, what do you mean by the following phrase? “We need a format that is comfortable for the younger generation if we expect to engage them with God.”

    Also, from my understanding the organ was first introduced into the church in the 8th-9th century. I am by no means an expert at historical worship, but my understanding of the organ is that it was introduced into the church because it was/is ideally suited to accompany singing human voices.

  22. What makes the Bible credible? It’s written by sinful men over hundreds of years!

    Please listen to the sermon, Helen. It refutes this premise.

    @helen #21

  23. @Pastor Matt Richard #24
    Man I am biting my tongue right now. If you don’t know, Jim’s church, St. Johns in MO, is the church that one Sunday when I visited sang, “The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News as part of their worship. The church that the pastor altered the Words of Institution to omit the whole body and blood thing. The church that practices open communion. This is a taste of the “format” that “engages” the younger generation with God. If you want to see what a “Lutheran” church looks like when they fully embrace CoWo, Baptist practices and the church growth movement, St. Johns is it. Just don’t expect to find any “Lutheran” left in that mix.

  24. @Pastor Tim Rossow #16

    That church growth theory is an all out assault on the office of the ministry by a stream of thought that is non-sacramental. When the Pastor becomes a leader to manage an army of little lay leaders to do the work in missional communities or small groups, he is no longer a shepherd of the flock, but rather something akin to a trendy, informed, hip internet company CEO. Further, when the value and efficacy of the Sacraments are denied, they can be easily dismissed and separated from the teaching office (heresy two step). Baptisms soon become something that are done in a lake where large numbers come forward, get soaked, get a t-shirt and a membership in a small group, and someone makes a promotional video out of it to show how the church is growing. And anyone can drink wine and break bread in a little missional community or small group, you can get those things anywhere. They are just something you do to be like the early church. Who needs a Pastor anyway? Pretty soon you won’t even need a church either.

    To your final point, AMEN. The Gospel, given in Word and Sacrament ministry by a duly called and ordained servant of the Word to sinners gathered around BOTH, grows the church. How? That is a mystery (although Pr. Matt Richards is on to something here), and we hate not knowing the answers. Something we have to recognize too is that when the Gospel is preached in all its purity and the sacraments delivered according to Christ’s institution, that people will rebel, reject the gifts given to us, and move on. The Word is a double edged sword that cuts to the heart — it will set people against each other. People reject the good gifts of Christ because they hate Him or displace Him with an idol of their own making. And our churches dwindle in size as a result. The church growth folks go so far as to tell people to move on and get out if they do not accept the vision of the leader — they acknowledge acceptable losses. There is no such thing as an acceptable loss in the church, but neither are dwindling numbers and loss of members valid reasons for jettisoning Word and Sacrament ministry in favor of the latest measures.

  25. @jim davis #20

    “Our style of music has changed; the style popular in Luther’s time dictated his song writing. The music we use in services today should reflect the culture that we live in. If we are going to attract unchurched people of the younger generation, we cannot expect them to conform to our cultural norms, we need to conform to their cultural norms. Just like the Christian Jews had to conform to Greek culture, we need to conform to our culture.”

    The premise you set forth seems to be a bit of the tail wagging the dog. Your premise is built on the implied assumption that the purpose of the church is to “transform the culture” and “transform lives.” What follows from this premise then is the conclusion that we need to become like the culture in which our children live in order touch them — the church needs to change to meet the needs of people where they are. We do this by becoming like the world. If these assumptions are correct and the purpose of the church is transformational — transforming lives, transforming culture, transforming the world, impacting our community — then the church is really about something we need to do in the here and now. It is about our speaking, our loving our doing, and we are not speaking or doing the right things or in the right way. Right?! Otherwise we would not need to change what we are doing to conform to this dead world. It is kind of like those insider movements in Hinduism, Islam, etc., we need to become Muslim in order to witness to a Muslim. We need to adopt their worship practices in order to be able to speak to them. So in a secular society like ours, we need to become completely secular in the church in order to be able to speak to people for Christ. We need to look like them, walk like them, talk like them, be them. We are no longer aliens or strangers in a strange land. We are home. Here we live, and here we will die.

    So, whatever happened to the church being heaven on earth? What about being called out of this world which is passing away into the Kingdom of God which is present on this earth in the church? How can lives be transformed if what people receive from the church looks, smells, and walks exactly like what they get at the movie theater? the concert hall? the stadium? the boardroom? the beach? the Apple store? Times they change; cultures change; people change. Christ and His Word do not change. Why doesn’t the Word and practice handed down to us over 2000 years of Christian history work anymore? Why can’t people of today conform to the 10 commandments? the Creeds? the teaching of the church?

    It seems to me that heaven is such an unimaginable, otherworldy experience/place, that it looks nothing like this world we live in. And when we step into the church, we step into another world, another Kingdom. It is a Kingdom that is timeless, perfect, and unchangeable. So why would we want to make it indistinguishable from the world? The challenge of every age is to bring Christ and His person and work, His Story into this present age. The one place where He really and truly promises to be and is present with us in Word and Sacrament is the church. We should not so easily cast off the dust of centuries of life under the cross in an effort to “appeal” to the sensibilities of this present age at the risk of offending them with the Cross and the blood of Christ.

  26. @John Rixe #25
    Please listen to the sermon, Helen. It refutes this premise.

    The lede is a “bait & switch”? [Not aimed at me, then]

    Pr. McCall’s description doesn’t sound too encouraging! 🙁

  27. Church growth successful pastors believe in change. You must believe in change. Some people are too rigid. You have to be flexible. You must believe in change.

    My wife likes to go — as your wife does if you’re married — likes to go to the stores. And I said to her the other night when I went in to that store where they have dresses and things that you try to avoid, but I had to go in it and I said “There’s something different here.” She said, “Sure. Don’t you know that every so often, periodically, even like the drug store, even like the grocery store, like Penny’s and Sears, what do they do? They change all the merchandise around.” Psychologists know that we like variety and we like change.

    I hope you enjoy Waldo Werning for an hour. I hope you enjoy Kent Hunter. I hope you enjoy Houser. I hope you enjoy Jerry Nichols. But you wouldn’t want any of us all day long, because we like change and we like variety. That’s the way we are. And if we come in with a rigid set on the Word — hey, I am so rigid it’s unbelievable, but then, after all, that’s what God intends. We won’t change any of it. No way. And if I were talking to students, and I’m not, I would tell them something you know. Don’t let anybody intimidate you in the Word. And don’t be, as I mentioned yesterday, like Satan and have your chip on your shoulder and say, “I’m from Fort Wayne seminary and just try and change me.” You walk in there and you be a Christian and you be a friend, but you let them you that this is what God says and you’re just not about to change it. You’re just not about to change it because you can’t!

    But in other things — and sometimes this hits us more than others — we can be so bound to its got to be done this way; it’s got to be done that way; it’s got to be liturgically done this way; I can’t make a change; I won’t make a change. And you are going to turn people off that come in to your church. I’m not for revival. But I’ll have to admit some of the most effective sermons I’ve ever preached were in a suit at a funeral home. No altar. No liturgy. Just the Word. And their eyes on the casket and their ears on what I was saying. I had learned to streamline. I had learned to modify.

    If you’re acquainted with the State of Washington, I had a young man come over from Bremerton — forty five minutes on the ferry — to my church. He was very frank as young people are. He said, “I came here because I heard you’re the only one in this area that still uses page 5.” I said, “Yeah. And I use page 15, too, if it’s Communion Sunday.” “But,” I said, “don’t walk out. Stick around because you’re going to see something. You’re going to see there are changes and there are many changes, but when you leave you are going say, ‘They’re Lutheran. They’re still Lutheran. Houser is still Lutheran.'” And it worked where I was at. And, again, there are so many things about that that we don’t take time for now. But flexible programs. Forget about being rigid because change is normal and people expect it. Streamline. Modify.

    I would write this down if I were sitting out there, but you don’t have to. If methods aren’t working change them.

    William G. Houser (CTS faculty, 1975-93)
    Church Growth Institute
    “The Church Growth Pastor”
    Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana
    1979

  28. @jim davis #20
    Martin Luther made some changes in the service. He translated the Bible and the worship service into German (the language of the people); he introduced the organ into the worship service. The organ was popular in the beer halls of the time; so he brought something familiar to the people into the worship service. In all of these things, Luther changed the format and delivery of the message without changing the Law and Gospel message itself.

    The statement above is as false as the common accusation (by people who know nothing about music) that Luther used “bar tunes”.In ignorance, a system of musical notation (the now familiar “bars”, i.e., vertical lines between measures) is equated with a “beer hall”.

    The Kantor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Ft Wayne, comments:
    “In Luther’s time and before, the organ was not an instrument found in the beer halls, but was well established in the church.
    Luther preserved the historic liturgy in Latin with a couple churchly vernacular insertions that had no association whatsoever with the beer halls or anything secular.
    Hence, the format of the Liturgy remained essentially the same, as well as it’s delivery, which were deemed the most appropriate means to proclaim Law and Gospel. The reading of Luther’s Works, American Edition, Volume 53, will confirm the above.”

  29. @John Rixe #30

    I’ll listen, John, if you’ll read #32. I don’t know if jim davis is ignorant, or deliberately misleading about Luther (which wouldn’t be new.) but the paragraph of his which I quoted is error-filled.
    But don’t take my word; check the mentioned volume of Luther’s works.

  30. Regarding post #20, remove my remarks about the organ. I grew up hearing this, but I must have been wrong.
    My point is that the “packaging” changes throughout the centuries, but the Message of the Gospel does NOT change. One style of packaging will not attract all people to hear God’s Word. Let us use a variety of packages to reach a variety of people with the same message.

  31. LCMS Quotes: When you say stuff like “No altar. No liturgy. Just the Word,” it makes me wonder if you know what the Altar and the liturgy actually are. o_O

    I’m a Millennial who grew up in evangelicalism. It gets boring, old, and dated. Eventually young people realize they’re being manipulated. Eventually they get embarrassed at the way they worshiped 10 years ago. Eventually the gig is up; they can’t handle various waves of fads, sensationalism, embarrassing attempts of the Boomers to be “relevant,” and the unpredictability. I have very young children and I want STABILITY. I want something historic and meaningful, not just touchy-feely and dated. In the church year, in the readings and hymns and seasons and propers, I get plenty of change. Give my generation some credit already. We can survive for an hour a week without being entertained if you give us something worthwhile.

  32. @“LC-MS Quotes” #31
    They change all the merchandise around.” Psychologists know that we like variety and we like change.

    Psychologists can stuff it. Nothing irritates me more than running into the grocery store for one or two things and not being able to find them!

  33. @Jim Davis #35
    Let us use a variety of packages to reach a variety of people with the same message.

    And if the idea of their sin and Christ’s crucifixion for it “turns them off”, do we all imitate Joel Osteen and concentrate on the “good life now”?
    Or do we keep them so deep in “packaging” that they never get to God’s gift of salvation?

    @Pastor Ted Crandall #39

    Anything you want to call them, Pr. Crandall! 🙂

  34. Helen #40:

    Packaging is how you say the Word, not what you say.
    Focusing on our sin and Christ’s redemption is critical.

    Packaging is whether you use an organ, violin, or no music.
    Packaging is using LSB, TLH (which I grew up, feel comfortable with, and appreciate) or a format that young people can relate to.

    If the packaging is so foreign to your experience, the message contained will get lost.
    Helen, you may get lost in any contemporary service and miss the message; is so, avoid those churches and stay with LSB, or listen to messages separated from the service.
    Contemporary services are not for everyone; LSB is not for everyone.

    I go to church for the message, not the packaging. Messages from my congregation are archived and audio available without any packaging, see my earliest post.

  35. Jim,

    What you may be missing is that LSB and TLH are very similar. They both stand in the 2,000 year tradition of the liturgy. Contemporary Worship (Cowo) moves outside of that 2,000 year tradition. The question is why?

    You call it packaging. The creators of the TLH and the LSB never thought they were packaging and they weren’t. They made some minor adjustments to the 2,000 year old tradition for the sake of parochial concerns and for temporal reasons (i.e. the liturgy does evolve over time but very slowly).

    The more accurate term for your “packaging” is “marketing.” Once planners of worship ask the question, how can I best market worship, the healthy, slow-moving, tradition of the church is replaced with satisfying the whims of a fast paced and trite American pop culture and the truth of the Gospel is now wrongly thought to need cultural helps to make it effective. The Gospel is essentially lost once that threshold is crossed. It is not lost immediately, but the path is now blazed for that loss.

  36. @jim davis #41

    Jim,

    I totally hear your rationale and it makes good sense. However, in my humble opinion, I don’t believe it is as simple as a difference in packaging. If it was as simple as ‘packaging’ we would then simply use time tested songs and apply them to guitar or contemporary instruments. But this is not what is happening or what is present in most contemporary worship settings. Therefore, we need to examine the message of contemporary songs in light of the Biblical Meta-narrative.

    I am concerned with contemporary songs, not because of supposed new packaging, but I believe that there are problems/concerns with the message itself. For example, “In the 81 most frequently used CCM songs in the LCMS, none of the following words is used even once: ‘Trinity,’ ‘Triune,’ ‘begotten,’ ‘incarnate,’ ‘Mary,’ ‘virgin,’ and ‘ascend.’ Not even the word ‘Christ’ is used often, only fifteen times, while ‘I’ is used 248 times.” –Christopher Jackson “United in Reverence” Touchstone magazine, Sept/Oct. 2012

    Something to consider my friend.

  37. Thank you, Pastors, for your replies.
    I will look for that article.
    It looks like this thread will fall off very soon.
    May God continue to bless you.

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