Church Growth: Andy Rowell Summarizes the Studies, Part 7 (Intimacy and choice, Minister and reputation)

churchgrowthl.jpgChurches that offer “intimacy and choice”

Scott Thumma argues that “niche” house churches and megachurches both are offering individuals a product they are interested in. “In certain ways, the megachurch is the complete opposite of the house church, but with hundreds of ministries, programs, and fellowship groups, it offers intimacy and choice in one package.”[19]

[19] Scott Thumma, “The Shape of Things to Come,” in Faith in America: Changes, Challenges, New Directions (ed. Charles H. Lippy; Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2006), 194.

THe house church movement is growing rapidly in this country. It’s hard to measure because house churches aren’t listed in the phone book or any denominational directory, but it’s big. Why? In part because we live in a society desperate for real community.

But the megachurch movement continues to pick up steam as well, because people like having great children’s and teen programs, lots of places to plug in, and things done right. We are busy, and we prefer to join up with folks that know what they’re doing.

The big churches create intimacy through small groups, which are very much like house churches, except they are overseen by the church leadership and can tap into the vast resources of the sponsoring congregation.

As noted in an earlier post in this series, “The churches that declined the most were those with a weekly attendance between 100 and 299.” Why? Well, because they offer neither intimacy nor choice. Most churches this size see no need for small groups. They all know each other! But churches this size struggle to have many programs because they just don’t have the staff and money and volunteers to do but so much.

When possible, as I suggested earlier, such churches need to merge, but only if they have leadership willing to read the literature and get the help they need to transition to a church of 500 or 600 — because once you grow past 300, things are radically different. The biggest difference is that you no longer know everyone in church. And some members will hate this. Some will leave to join a smaller church just so they don’t feel lost in such a large congregation.

But if you take the trouble to learn what to do, and better yet, develop a network of preachers and elders in other churches who can advise you as you work through the merger, it’ll be a great advantage to the kingdom.

Attractive worship style, senior pastor, and church reputation

The worship style, senior pastor and reputation of the church were most strongly influential in initially bringing people into the megachurches. . . Clearly, most people coming to a megachurch need a direct personal contact with someone they know but it is the public image and their first impression of the church (shaped by the worship style, the personality and quality of the senior pastor and the church’s reputation) that potential, permanent participants find most appealing . . . those characteristics that are most influential for keeping the largest percentage of attenders are indeed the same three items that initially attracted them to the church – the senior pastor, worship style and church reputation.[20]

[20] Scott Thumma and Warren Bird, “Not Who You Think They Are: The Real Story of People Who Attend America’s Megachurches” The National Survey of Megachurch Attenders report (June 2009), Hartford Institute for Religious Research website, n.p. [cited 16 June 2009], 15. Online: http://hirr.hartsem.edu/megachurch/National%20Survey%20of%20Megachurch%20Attenders%20-final.pdf

For a while, it was fashionable for the church growth books to say that the preacher didn’t matter that much. That was Rick Warren or Bill Hybels being modest. The reality is that the better the preacher, the more likely you are to grow. It’s not enough, but a churches can’t grow beyond its pulpit.

Just as important is the ability of the preacher to work with a larger staff and to work with the elders to find the church’s vision and to lead the church to fulfill that vision. And so, it takes a rare man — capable preacher and capable leader — to fill that pulpit slot. A very large church can hire two men — a pulpit guy and a man to run the church’s programs, but a church of 450 has to find it in one person.

I wonder whether our colleges see the need to train future preachers not only in Bible but in leadership? I rather suspect they don’t. You see, the independent Christian Churches have grown much more than we have, despite having (on the whole) weaker preachers and Bible colleges (I heard this from leaders within the Christian Churches at a lectureship. I have no independent knowledge). And yet they grow — because their preachers know how to lead a church, and their elders know how to oversee a leader. We don’t train elders at all, and we don’t train preachers in leadership — or, at least, we didn’t use to. It was a colossal mistake.

We’ve already addressed worship style, but we do need to consider church reputation. How does your church gain a favorable reputation in the community? Here are some practical suggestions —

* Never, ever criticize another church from the pulpit.

* Never, ever criticize another denomination from the pulpit. Teach the truth as you see it, but you weren’t hired to judge the other churches in town.

* Open your building to the community — for civic group meetings, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, for teacher training, for graduations, for baccalaureates, for anything that doesn’t conflict with God’s message. And charge as little as possible.

* Have your small groups work with local service organizations — senior citizen groups, homeless shelters, homes for battered women. Don’t let them pass out tracts. Rather, insist they be there to help because they love the people being served. And make sure they keep their commitments (church groups have a reputation for not honoring their commitments to such groups).

* Get involved in the local association of pastors. They’ll be so surprised that a Church of Christ minister joined, they’ll talk — building your reputation. And get involved. Host events at your building. Volunteer to lead some of the programs.

* Stay away from politics.

* Meet with your minority members and ask them how you can gain greater membership from within the minority community. They’ll be delighted that you cared enough to ask. And you may be surprised at what you hear.

* Participate in cooperative community events where many nonprofits get together for common causes, such as to fix up local schools.

You get the idea.

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4 Responses

  1. The independent Christian Church has weaker preachers and colleges? As a life-long independent I would have to agree. We pretty much had to start from scratch in the early to mid 20th Century with colleges. Clearly, the COC has the best Gospel preachers I hear today. I can’t explain that but would acknowledge that it is true.

  2. Clearly, the COC has the best Gospel preachers I hear today. I can’t explain that but would acknowledge that it is true.

    That is your opinion Dave not everyones. There are many people today who have heard different preachers including the coc denominaton preachers who go to other churches and bring other people who need the gospel to these other churches because of how well the gospel message is preached.

  3. “The churches that declined the most were those with a weekly attendance between 100 and 299.” Why? Well, because they offer neither intimacy nor choice.

    It’s reallly not about church size, but church culture. You can have choice and intimacy in a church of 200.

    I wonder whether our colleges see the need to train future preachers not only in Bible but in leadership?

    All other things being equal, I think it’s easier to take a natural leader and turn him into a preacher than the other way around. But that’s not what our colleges typically do. How many of our natural-born leaders actually aspire to the ministry?

  4. I should have included “in my opinion”. Thanks anonymous for correcting me.

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