Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A refreshing church growth strategy: Get smaller and die

One of our readers kindly referred us to this stimulating article in the Huffington Post from a few months back.

From the article, If pressed about my church's growth strategy, I usually say it is to get smaller and die; to continually decrease the amount of time, resources and energy we spend trying to have the ultimate church experience, and to spend more time actually being faithful. Nowadays, faithfulness —not success— is our only metric. Success is about "doing." Faithfulness is about "being," and it's really hard to measure.

While many Lutheran churches spend themselves trying to bribe connect with the world in order to fill the stadium seats, some Evangelicals are beginning to discover the truth that Lutheranism has largely abandoned: The church is not supposed to grow. The church is supposed to be faithful. And faithfulness to the message of the cross usually means the opposite of what the world would consider to be a “successful ministry.”

All you CGM fanatics out there, don’t even try to build a straw man out of this by suggesting that we’re promoting laziness or lovelessness. On the contrary, we are promoting zeal for the Gospel and tireless love for the neighbor. But this does not mean marketing or targeting or removing “obstacles.” It does not mean vision-casting or leader-building or church-changing. It doesn’t mean finding “new ways” to reach the lost. It means pastors preaching the Gospel just as it has been preached for nearly two millennia, and administering the Sacraments as they have been administered for just as long. It means laity gathering weekly to receive God’s gifts of forgiveness of sins and life in the Divine Service and then scattering into their vocations to lead pious, Christian lives of service to their neighbor. It means trusting the Holy Spirit to do whatever he wants to do through the preached Word, and not trying to change or enhance the results by means of our own machinations and innovations.

So, God save us from the successful church. Give us churches who shun sentimentality and pragmatism and aren't afraid to face the inevitable shrinkage which comes as a result of following Jesus. God save us from church leadership strategies. After all, it takes zero faith to follow a strategy, but incredible faith to pursue the kingdom of God and leave the rest in God's hands. If I've learned anything as a pastor, it is this: faithfulness flies in the face of sentimentality and pragmatism, and if you pursue it you have to expect small numbers.


Anonymous said...

Again, I have to ask, because it is vital to know: where does this leave those who sit in front of a pulpit?

Pax Christi,
Heidi Gray Stoeberl

Anonymous said...

I'm usually more a critic than a fan of Huffington Post religious articles. But this is pretty good. An antidote to "Grow or Die"; it's called "faith". What a novel idea. Brings to mind the verse from Isaiah “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.'


Anonymous said...

I know I'm a broken record on this, but it's worth repeating. The Constitution of the church I serve has this line built into one of its unalterable and irrepealable articles. I'm guessing it's true for many of the readers here, too:

"For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel" - Augsburg Confession, Article V.

And this:

"The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered." - Augsburg Confession, Article VII.

You get that right, then you're OK with God, no matter what the statistical report you submit to synod headquarters says.

- Rev. James Schulz

Anonymous said...

Hello, I am sure you have your motive for writing as you have done so today. I certainly understand frustration that some type of "strategy" would be promoted over the clear presentation of law and gospel through faithful preaching and teaching. However, I cannnot support the idea that we should not be doing "other things" to help create awareness and promote what a church or ministry does. An example is that many churches budget less than $500.00 for outreach purposes. Yet, they wonder why people are unaware of their christian day school?

You are correct if a church or pastor or synod has lost their focus on scripture. However, there are tools to help spread awareness for ministry and the joy of sharing the Gospel. Luther used a printing press. We should use tools as well.

Michael Klatt

Anonymous said...


The church I serve is on a street where an average of 13,000 cars pass by every day. The year before we closed our day school the church spent $10,000 on an 8-week long billboard advertisement on a busy divided highway in a desperate attempt to draw attention to the "hidden jewel" that was our day school. We eventually closed the school because of many factors, but it wasn't because people didn't know where we were. People weren't looking to "buy" what we were "selling."

The best advertising is word of mouth and the results are up to God.

- Rev. James Schulz

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