Church Growth: Andy Rowell Summarizes the Studies, Part 6 (High growth location, Changing worship)

churchgrowthl.jpgBeing in rapidly growing zip codes

Only one [other] external factor was significant in the growth or decline of the church—the change in the population of its zip code. Fast-growing churches—those that increased by more than 20 percent in attendance—were more likely to be located in zip codes where the population growth was higher than the national average. If a church declined or was stable, it was more likely located in a low-growth zip code where population growth was lower than the national average.[14]

Olson, American Church in Crisis, 132-133.

Some churches deal with this by packing up and moving to the high growth part of town. Most don’t have that option.

The sad part of this is (a) it’s true and (b) it means not many are growing through evangelism. I mean, every town, no matter how small, has enough unchurched people that your church can grow dramatically if you just convert enough new members from among the lost, rather than attracting your fair share from people moving into town. It’s a harder way to grow, but it’s the way that matters the most.

Being in a tradition that is altering worship practices slightly but not too much

For Churches of Christ, this one gets to the heart of the matter —

Chaves hypothesizes the development of denominational traditions through “an ecological interpretation of denominational variation.”[15] He argues that denominations have developed from one another in terms of worship practices. New religious traditions (like the Pentecostal tradition) “position themselves relative to already existing groups such that their worship is different, but not too different, from prevailing worship practice.”[16] Chaves is just doing descriptive work but it is hard not to make the connections between this movement and the charts about denominational winners and losers in other books. He also tacitly acknowledges this, “It is remarkable that newer religious traditions tend to appear . . . less ceremonial and more enthusiastic . . . than older religious traditions. No major religious movement has successfully moved” the other direction.[17] It seems that this type of gradual variation “change that occurs through relatively small alterations in existing practice” toward more enthusiasm and less ceremony is a factor in growth.[18]

[15] Chaves, Congregations, 155.

[16] Chaves, Congregations, 152.

[17] Chaves, Congregations, 157.

[18] Chaves, Congregations, 156.

Let me put this in Church of Christ terms —

* No one has ever grown by moving from instrumental music to a cappella music. Ever.

* The most successful church planting movement in the country is within the independent Christian Churches — and they all have contemporary, instrumental music in their worship.

* The largest churches in the country have all moved toward contemporary Christian music — even those that 10 years ago had traditional choirs, organ, or a cappella worship.

You see, the point isn’t to be instrumental. It’s to have music that speaks to the people in the pews. You see, my own church remains a cappella, and it has some of the best worship services in town, or so I’m told, even considering the instrumental services offered elsewhere. But our a cappella is contemporary. We do traditional music, too, but only if it’s really good music that speaks to the sensibilities of the contemporary church goer.

If you’re going to be a cappella, there are two absolute rules —

* Do it so well that no one notices that you don’t have a guitar. Lousy music is lousy music regardless of your theology, and you can’t grow with lousy music. Here’s how to do it right.

* Do not permit your members to think that you believe instrumental music is a sin. Why not? Because (a) it’s not a sin and (b) if they think you worry about such things, you’ll come across as narrow-minded, legalistic, and inauthentic. And, worse yet, at some point when you really need to go instrumental, you won’t be able to because you’ve not bothered to teach your congregation the truth of the matter. (You can’t teach grace and damn over the instrument. It’s not possible.)


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