Christianity Today Editor Suggests "Church Shrink" Conferences ~ Praxis Habitus - On Race Religion & Culture

Monday, April 27, 2009

Christianity Today Editor Suggests "Church Shrink" Conferences

A senior managing editor of Christianity Today, suggests evangelical churches need to become more demanding and that conferences on "How to Shrink Your Church" should be promoted.

Mark Galli says, "I'm not kidding."

What churches need to do is "introduce the harder edges of the gospel" and preach in such a way that attenders actually leave "because they see, finally, what Jesus is asking of them."

That necessitates creating new church conferences to show leaders how to manage decline as pastors demand more from their members.

Yes, welcome to the Church Shrink Conference with special workshops on "Exit Ministries" and answering the question "My Church is Growing, What Did I Do Wrong?"

For Galli, evangelicals may appear successful, but actually they have "succumbed" to "an emotionally and spiritually shallow culture."

He finds his evidence in a new book Holy Mavericks: Evangelical Innovators and the Spiritual Marketplace.

Co-authors Shayne Lee and Phillip Luke Sinitiere argue that the growing ministries profiled in their book are not strict in doctrine or strict in behavior. Instead, their ministry growth is the result of crafting slick marketing, sympathizing with felt-needs, and appealing to local culture.

Galli is not convinced such growth is the kind of "growth" Christianity needs.

Citing older -- and highly controversial -- research found in Dean Kelly's 1972 Why Conservative Churches are Growing and Laurence R. Iannaccone's influential 1994 essay, "Why Strict Churches Are Strong," Galli claims much of evangelicalism's past success has been due to the demands of doctrine and behavior placed by these churches on their attenders.

The underlying argument of this research is that strict churches draw people into greater participation in their churches, greater solidarity with other believers, and a greater sense of purpose in living to a harder-edged gospel -- especially in comparison with liberal, mainline churches.

Jesus Army Baptism ~ NorthamptonshireImage by cromacom via Flickr


Strict churches, therefore, grow more and faster than looser, low-commitment congregations.

Galli admits (I'm sure reluctantly) that "Many churches are growing because they preach a God of second and third and fourth chances, and a faith that gives palpable hope, joy, and acceptance. What's not to like?" 

He concedes that the "gracious aspects of the faith" are attractive.

Yet, Galli goes against the strict church research to argue that strict Christian groups are small. "The more strictly you adhere to the teachings of Jesus, the smaller the church will 'grow.'" 

What is his core belief? Galli believes that theologically better churches with strict moral standards may be numerically small, but they are spiritually superior despite less attendance. "These theologically conservative and morally strict communities are not winning converts by the tens of thousands." 

Of course, Galli is conveniently ignoring that most morally "non-strict" communities aren't growing either.  Galli is also dismissing that 1) few churches are large (like 1,000+ attenders), and 2) the "accommodation to culture" has been happening even among "strict" evangelicals since they began. 

(See my recent posts on the ministry of Charles Finney.) 

Never mind all that.  There is a clear vision in Galli's mind of what churches should be like, and this new book really irks conservatives like him who hope that the future of American religion does not follow any of these various developments.

Instead, Galli believers pastors and leaders in "superficially successful" churches need to introduce the difficult demands of the gospel. And this introduces us to the tricky notion of how to measure any congregation's "success."

Ukrainian Pastor Sunday Adelaja (in 2007)Image via Wikipedia

Perhaps Galli would object less to the ministries of Mosaic or Oasis as I describe them. While these are certainly not conservative churches in his mold, they do call people to high standards while simultaneously accommodating to a changing culture. I don't quite know.

I'm confident strict churches will survive well into the 21st Century, but I am not so sure that the development of evangelicalism as a whole will follow this path ignoring an accommodation to the life circumstances of people's contemporary situations.

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