I was reading a recent blog by Al Mohler called “Why Conservative Churches Are Growing: David Brooks and the Limits of Sociology.” It’s a fascinating look at what differentiates a growing church from a declining one and a stronger faith from from a weaker one.
A particularly interesting reference is a book by Dean M. Kelley called “Why Conservative Churches are Growing: A Study in Sociology of Religion.” Kelley found that churches that were growing most were the ones who made serious demands on their members in terms of both belief and behavior. This is contrary to how churches thought (and many still think!) about how to “succeed.”
Churches sought to be viewed in a positive light, maintain “a good image in the world,” and draw people in. They believed they needed to “be reasonable, rational, courteous, responsible, restrained, and receptive to the outside criticism.” What Kelley found though, was that this strategy is “a recipe for the failure of the religious enterprise, and arises from a mistaken view of what success in religion is and how it should be fostered and measured.”
Another more recent look at this phenomena was by David Brooks who said that rigorous theology “provides believers with a map of reality,” “allows believers to examine the world intellectually as well as emotionally,” “helps people avoid mindless conformity,“ and “delves into mysteries in ways that are beyond most of us.”
All this runs contrary to how we think, which is: if we make things easier and more flexible more people will be jump on board; if we make things harder and more stringent people will be less likely to participate and engage.
Here’s our wake-up call - this is not so!
Why does this matter? Because we need to ask ourselves, how are WE, ministries and extensions of the church, interacting with people to transform them by and through their involvement in our cause?
Are we afraid to make rigorous demands on those who join up, be it through giving or volunteering, because we think they’ll turn away as fast as they came? Do we fear we’ll turn people off, or offend, or be seen as intrusive if we suggest a mutual commitment to learning, experiencing and knowing the cause at a level that can’t help but change our heart, mind and soul?
Truth is, you WILL scare some people off by doing these things, but those are people who don’t like to stick around long anyway! As an arm of the church, it isn’t about just getting the gift, or that one-time volunteer when you’re in a pickle, it’s about calling Christians to put away their old self and put on their new man; calling our champions to look outward, putting the interests of others first. It’s about training Christians to ultimately own a cause that is central to God’s purposes as outlined in scripture.
This kind of spiritual maturity and growth of the body doesn’t come without a struggle! But, oh is it worth it! If we really start to think about how to develop hard-core champions who will fight for the cause, own the cause, and grow in their faith walk through the cause, then we will stop fearing that we are a “burden” to our champions and approach the rigors of learning and transformation in a way that, well, actually transforms someone.