Thursday, May 04, 2006

Less is More

Still thinking quite a lot about the Church, and the church, and the church. Give me your reactions to this idea:

George Barna says it's 20 million strong, anecdotal evidence suggests it's pretty strong, and my own current hunch is that it is very strong—this movement among committed Christians away from church as we've known it and in search of something more—no, strike that—something less.

The old saw I'm hearing locally, and reading in reviews of Barna's Revolution nationally, is that our problem is American Individualism and Consumerism. We're not committed Christians. We're self-serving church shoppers. We want our options open, and we're always looking for more. We want our spiritual needs met, but we also want more convenience, more comfort, more programs tailored to our needs and more attractive venues. And so, we tend not to commit ourselves to any one local church, and we shop around.

My premise, whether it applies to Barna's 20 million, or just to me and a few of you, is the opposite. If we're shopping, we're actually shopping for less. In a nutshell, less corporate-style management and marketing, less emphasis on programs and strategies, less hierarchy and focus on human leadership, and probably less expense. What is essential and must remain after the excesses are pared away is even more important, but we'll hammer that out later.

C.S. Lewis (who else?) nailed our dilemma in the first chapter of Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer where, in commenting on the church's tendency to innovate and wander, he gently goads human leadership: "The shepherds go off, 'every one to his own way,' and vanish over diverse points of the horizon. If the sheep huddle patiently together and go on bleating, might they finally recall the shepherds? (Haven't English victories sometimes been won by the rank and file in spite of the generals?)"

I'll start the list, you correct it, comment on it or add to it—the list of things without which, the church might be more attractive to some of us weary, huddled sheep.

I'll bet we can do without:

1. Banners
2. 5 Year Strategies
3. Acronyms
4. Colorful Brochures (unless contracted with TDDesign)
5. Growth Projections
6. Mission Statements
7. Consultants
8. Emerging Generation Emphasis
9. Really Cool, Expensive Buildings
10. Leadership Retreats and Seminars
11. 10 Year Strategies
12. Corporate Management Models
13. Vision Casting
14. Pastor and Leader Workshops in S. California or Orlando (where else?)
15. The Willow Creek Association
16. Any Other Association
17. Hype
18. Career Paths Within Church Structure
19. Multiple Venues
20. Facility Needs Analysis Task Forces
21. Any Other Task Forces
22. State-Of-The-Art Media Technologies
23. Choreographed Banner Waving
24. Nepotism
25. John Maxwell Book Studies
26. Reminders by Leaders of How Much Leaders Love Each Other
27. 20 Year Growth Strategies
28. Anything Serendipity (maybe that stuff has already disappeared)
29. Carefully Managed Church News
30. Mentoring Programs
31. Symbolic, Token Community Involvement
33. Congregational "Input" When Decisions Have Already Been Made
34. Biblical Focus on Stewardship During Fundraising Efforts
35. Church Management Team Workshops in S. California or Orlando (my guess is that's
where attendees learn how to pull off #33 and others)

Any church even 50% free of these features starts looking attractive, doesn't it? I'm really not quite this cynical and sour, just trying to get the "conversation" going! Have fun...


Mike said...


Thank you for your thoughts. I have to admit that I agree with you for the most part, especially relating to the "church's" desire to appeal to the culture around them. I mean, some people have $6.5 million houses and Ferrari's...should I spend my time and efforts to get myself one of each of those (as the minimum to "appeal" to that demographic) in order to proclaim the salvation in Christ? It seems a bit odd that the church (as in the American church, not a particular local congregation....although there may be some consistencies with a particular local one) has such a desire to "reach" these people, that they find "excuses" to clothe themselves in similar selfishness(perhaps too strong) or structures as the unsaved society.

It's been a while since I read Barna's "Revolution," but as I recall, there was much discussion about para-church organizations which are actively seeking to fill the role of the Biblical church - healing the sick, feeding the poor, showing love to God's creation, and most importantly, sharing the Good News of Christ. The big word that comes to mind for me here is being "Genuine."

I'd venture to say that some of the things in your list are important(like #13 and #30), however, a cookie-cutter effort to make sure it fits for everyone the exact same is hardly what is best. To treat everyone in a congregation, or in a body of believers as exactly the same (except for those in #18), turns easily into a practice, and stuff like #31 and #33 come into play.

I too am looking for less, but you are right in saying that less is more. Just as Jesus came to do less for himself and more for others, we are drawn to a selflessness that shows genuine love and concern for the individual....structure isn't good at that, and proves to hinder that more than anything.

MamaD said...

Mike, I picked up on the word "genuine" in your comment and think that summarizes the list. I think a lot of us are looking for a "real" church where people of all ages, backgrounds, interests, and gifts are committed to Jesus and in doing so become more united in purpose...making Jesus known.

Nikki said...

I'm really late in the game in responding to this! Sorry. :) That's a great list. I've seen all of them! It's not that those are all bad things in and of themselves, but when the "hype" starts drowning out what really matters, there's trouble, and I fear that's where we're at. I think it's time for the Church to do some major "spring cleaning", sorting through all the programs and philosophies, throwing out that which is hindering, to get back down to what matters.

Steve said...

Well put! I don't suspect your list is conclusive, but it's a great start. I tend to think that our churches function like you described partly due to not following Romans 12:2. "...and do not be conformed to THIS WORLD'S WAY OF THINKING"(Philips). Check through the list and see how many of these were FIRST seen in the "world" in various forms and then encorporated into the church structure.

I, too, read Barna's "Revolution" a while ago and like many of his conclusions.

Jeremy said...

#36: Those STUPID Brittany Spears style mics that are supposed to be "invisible" that every pastor within 50 miles wears. Vent session complete.