This past week I attended a church conference in North Carolina (with my associate Tom) keynoted by Pastor Perry Noble. Perry is pastor of one of the fastest growing churches in the country so obviously he knows something about church growth and health. Perry has some strong opinions about the problems which are inhibiting church growth and health (you can read his list on his blog, Perry Noble.com). After listening to him, here are a few (some of them his) I’d like to share…this is in no way a complete list (or even close) and it comes in no particular order.
1) We’re answering questions that no one is asking.
In churchworld we endlessly debate theology and law and, above all, liturgy. Nobody cares. The people in your pews this weekend are not coming to learn about the kenosis of Christ. And nobody who’s not coming cares about the new Roman Missal. They’re asking “Why is my life falling apart?” “How do I get through another week as a single Mom with three kids?” “Am I going to lose my job?” “Do I really have cancer?”
God’s word can speak to all these issues, but if we’re caught up in our questions, instead of our communities’ questions, they’ll never know it. And church will continue to be irrelevant to their lives.
2) We call laziness “authenticity.”
The Church is the Body of Christ and it is the hope of the world. Our message and our work are more important than anything. There is more at stake here than Disney and Apple and Facebook put together.
So why is churchworld so widely perceived as boring and bad? Why are so many of our efforts poorly planned, our services amateurish, our facilities unkempt and dirty? Lazy efforts on behalf of God’s Church dishonor God, and his people. And just because you’re canonically correct or liturgically correct or “authentic” to our Tradition, it doesn’t excuse you.
3) We call failure “faithfulness.”
Same with the inaction and lack of courage that masquerades as “faithfulness” or orthodoxy. Sorry, just because your parish is dying doesn’t mean you’re any more faithful than the parish that’s bursting at the seems. Our growth and success at Nativity is not an indicator of our skirting the rules and getting away with murder (as we have been accused by our detractors), it is the fruit of faithfulness.
4) We use “discipleship” as an excuse to not do “evangelization.”
Many, many people in churchworld, Catholic and Protestant alike, are only concerned with the people already in the pews (an exercise they would call discipleship or pastoral ministry or whatever).
The people in the community who aren’t in their pews don’t exist for them. Only problem is, Jesus told us they’re his priority.
Disciples make disciples, so if the people in your pew aren’t involved in evangelization, they’re not really acting like disciples. In the New Testament the disciples did not form a holy huddle and hang together discussing the color of the new carpet in the sanctuary. They went out to the whole world to share the good news. That’s authentic discipleship.
5) Parishes don’t know their “core” business.
I know, I know, the Church isn’t a business. But we have a job to do, there is work to be done and if we don’t do it, no one else will. Think about it. Others will educate, others will provide health care and social renewal…I’m not saying that churches shouldn’t, I’m just saying that others do, too. Who is going to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the world if we don’t? No one, that’s who. And yet parishes can get so caught up in everything else but. We need to know our core purpose and get focused on it.
Stay tuned and I’ll add to the list. Meanwhile, comment if you want to. What are the problems you see that inhibit church health and growth?