Church Growth: Andy Rowell Summarizes the Studies, Part 1 (Witnessing, Strictness)

churchgrowthl.jpgAndy Rowell, a Doctor of Theology (Th.D.) student at Duke Divinity School, maintains a blog called Church Leadership Conversations. (I just subscribed.) He recently summarized the conclusions of 7 separate studies on what drives church growth —

(1) witnessing,

(2) strictness,

(3) high fertility rates,

(4) caring for children and youth,

(5) high involvement,

(6) welcoming new people,

(7) leadership,

(8) prayer,

(9) being a church of 1000+ attendees or under 50 attendees,

(10) being located in rural counties,

(11) being in rapidly growing zip codes,

(12) being in a tradition that is altering worship practices slightly but not too much,

(13) churches that offer “intimacy and choice” and

(14) attractive worship style, senior pastor, and church reputation.

Well, there you have it. Go out and grow! Okay. Maybe we need to study on these a bit more. I mean, some of these seem to contradict each other.

Witnessing

Of course, in the Churches of Christ, we say “personal evangelism.” But there’s a difference. When you “witness,” you tell someone what God means to you, how God has affected your life. Witnessing is personal. Evangelism, as we teach it, is abstract: what do these verses really mean? And I think witnessing would be a major step forward.

The solution to living in a Postmodern world is not a Wednesday night summer series on the evils of Postmodern philosophy; it’s learning to evangelize in terms that appeal to your friends and neighbors. And to the Postmodern mind, the subjective experience of truth is more important than the intellectual content of truth. That is, most Postmoderns are pretty jaded. They don’t trust logical arguments — not because they distrust logic so much as they distrust people who argue that way. They’ve been misled too many times already. Therefore, the real assurance of the argument is — have you lived this? When you lived it, did it change you, help you, make you a better person?

And, to be quite honest, it’s an entirely legitimate way of beginning the conversation. Why should I read your tract if you’re not willing to live the way the tract says? Why should I go to church with you if church makes you miserable? Why should I believe your words if your actions say you’re a liar?

The buzzword for this is “authenticity.” People want authentic spirituality, that is, a spirituality taught by people who actually live it and show the benefits of it in their lives. And they are entitled to exactly that.

Go witness!

Strictness

Rowe quotes Stark,

For many observers of the American religious scene, especially Europeans, the real mystery is why the strict churches—those who demand the most of their members—are the ones that are flourishing, while the more permissive and accommodating churches are falling by the wayside . . . The findings in this chapter can be summed up in a sentence: strict churches are strong because groups that ask more from their members get more from them, which provides them with the resources to provide a more satisfying religious ‘product.’

Rodney Stark, What Americans Really Believe: New Findings from the Baylor Surveys of Religion (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2008), 29.

This is true, I think, but it’s been grossly abused in the Churches of Christ. Some argue that because the stricter churches grow more, then the very strictest churches should grow the most. No, from such reasoning come cults. And the reality is that the conservative Churches of Christ, on the whole, are losing members while the progressive Churches of Christ, on the whole, are gaining members.

There’s a certain kind of “strictness” that works, which is a doctrine that requires members to actually walk the walk, that is, to live morally, to serve one another, to seek and save the lost, and to care for the hungry, thirsty, etc.

Churches the teach a cheap grace and so don’t insist that their members do any more than warm the pews and fill the collection plate are dying. They may grow briefly, but over time, they lose their children, age, and die.

Nor will legalism grow a church. The churches that are growing are grace filled and Spirit empowered. And they consider Jesus as not only a great teacher, but a great example of how to live.

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2 Responses

  1. Bill Hybels, Pastor st Willow Creek Community Church wrote a book titled “Just Walk Across the Room”. It is a great guide to outreach. Be a friend, let the holy Spirit guide your speech and tell your friend about Jesus.

    He admonishes groups of converstional comfort to break up for a short time and bring people intp your circle of friendship.

    It is a great guide for good outreach. It is not a program, they always fail, but a way to discipline one to be a friend to the lost. Most long time Chistians do not have many, if any, non christian friends.

    It works. We have tried it.

    Grace to you all

  2. I’d use a different word rather than “strictness.” Other writers have called it a “vivid other-worldliness.” The more the church becomes like the surrounding culture, the more irrelevant it becomes. The contrast between the church and the world is essential to the health and growth of the church. But being starkly different from the world has a cost, and not everyone will be willing to pay that cost.

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