__ General Editing.
__ Where are these each discussed. Homework?
– Mainline Decline and Third World Cell Church Growth
– First Systemic Problem: Not Making Disciples
– E. Changes in compensation costs. F.
– NCD Potential.
Mainline Decline and Third World Cell Church Growth
There is a problem in the Church of Jesus Christ in the United States of America. Scientific pollster George Gallup stated that “North America is the only continent where Christianity is not growing.” John and Sylvia Ronsvalle discovered clear trends from 1968-1993 in giving and membership data in twenty-nine mainline denominations; if nothing changes, giving will entirely cease by 2032 and church membership “will fall to zero percent of the U.S. population in less than one hundred years.” United Methodist church growth expert George Hunter, III, considered America in 1998 to be the fourth largest mission field in the world. There is no county within the United States where the percentage of church attendance is higher than ten years ago. Some growth in American churches is deceptive, as between 70-90% of new members are received from other churches. This is not church growth, but the accelerated decline of other churches to the benefit of the receptor church. The basic problem facing the United Methodist Church today, as well as many historically influential denominations, is a failure of the majority of churches to thrive; a systemic homeostasis of not making disciples has become normative within the traditional church. Chapter 1 will examine the ministry context of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference and thoroughly identify four systemic problems in historical and contemporary context.
First Systemic Problem: Not Making Disciples
Counting creates accountability. An active factory making a product generates inventory that can be counted in the warehouse. A healthy herd of sheep generates lambs that can be counted in the sheepfold. A healthy denomination making disciples generates converts that can be counted in each congregation. When the numbers are not there, the activity is not happening. The numbers indicate that what is being done in the churches does not result in sufficient numbers of countable converts to create positive growth. It is our goal that we make disciples; it is our current reality that we do not make disciples. One wonders why this is so.
There are many answers. There will always be a gap between desired reality and current reality; this gap creates tension. One way for systems to ease tension and maintain homeostasis is to speak loudly in favor of change while doing nothing that would result in change. Hypocrisy is always a comfortable temptation in the face of creative tension. Announcing that our mission is to make disciples does not mean that disciples are being made.
It is also possible that we do not know how to make disciples. The general response of clergy to the question of how one makes disciples is that “if people come to worship they eventually become disciples.” This view indicates disciple-making as an event, an accidental result due to unknown causes, a mysterious act of God, rather than an intentional process. Churches are busy with many activities that may be very spiritually satisfying but do not make disciples that can be counted; these religious activities rarely interest and involve non-Christians. Based on what churches actually do, the common belief in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference is that proclamation makes disciples, that church buildings make disciples, that worship makes disciples, that advertising and church bulletins make disciples, that a busy church program makes disciples, that church committees make disciples and that acts of mercy, justice and community service make disciples. The numbers indicate that these practices do not make disciples in this ministry context.
All of these church activities are based on an attraction paradigm: if a denomination can make church participation desirable to the lost, they will come to the church; if they stay there long enough, eventually the magical mystery moment will occur when they become disciples. It is therefore necessary to remove anything offensive and all barriers to make entry into the church as easy as possible. When this approach consistently fails, the system responds by pushing the trend as if working harder at what does not work would bring success. The attraction paradigm creates a “come structure” that is not effective in current reality.
Evangelical churches seek a salvation event while liturgical churches proclaim a sacramental event. Both are a part of the United Methodist heritage. Jesus and John Wesley also practiced a salvation process of intentional disciple-making, with carefully structured activity by their followers that enhanced the work of God in stages of prevenient grace, justifying grace and sanctifying grace. Each step of the maturational cycle is necessary to develop disciples who make disciples who make disciples; in creation, only the mature fruit can reproduce. Relational disciple-making as taught by Jesus produces generation after generation of disciples making disciples (2 Timothy 2:2). This follows the creation pattern; as children grow up, diverse gifts lead them into diverse careers, but they also naturally form committed partnerships to bear and raise children to maturity. This cyclical process of disciple-making is delineated in the New Testament and summarized in the Great Commission. It is clearly demonstrated in rapidly growing third world cell churches that have developed an environmental system which supports multiple generations of disciples who make disciples who make disciples.
E. Changes in compensation costs have increased the minimum size necessary to afford a full time and fully credentialed pastor from forty-five in 1930 to seventy-five in 1950 to 125 in 2003; less than 25% of United Methodist churches today are that size or larger. The motivation for church growth is more often economic than spiritual.
F. It is a major cultural change to grow beyond the Two Hundred Barrier to become a Program Base Design (PBD) church. Many small churches are unwilling to do this.
E: Lyle Schaller, “What Should Be The Norm?” Circuit Rider, September/October 2003, 16.
F: For information on competency limit of the Rule of 150, see Kevin Martin, The Myth of the 200 Barrier: How to Lead through Transitional Growth (Nashville: Cokesbury, 2005), 39-42.
G. Are small churches doomed? Institutions perceive smaller churches as near the end of their “life cycle” and too small to compete in the new reality of a changing marketplace. Small churches represent more than a third of church attenders in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference.
The results of the Natural Church Development (NCD) research, however, indicate that the third strongest negative factor to church growth is church size:
The growth rate of churches decreased with increasing size. This fact in and of itself came as no great surprise, because in large churches the percentages represent many more people. But when we converted the percentages into raw numbers, we were dumbfounded. Churches in the smallest size category (under 100 in attendance) had won an average of 32 new people over the past five years; churches with 100-200 in worship also won 32; churches between 200-300 average 39 new individuals; churches between 300-400 won 25. So a ‘small’ church wins just as many people for Christ as a ‘large’ one, and what’s more, two churches with 200 in worship on Sunday will win twice as many new people as one church with 400 in attendance.
H. Schwarz found that the average growth rate in smaller churches was 13% (over five years), whereas in larger churches it was a mere 3%. A small church in the NCD sample with an average attendance of fifty-one typically converted thirty-two persons in five years; megachurches in the NCD sample averaged 2,856 in attendance but converted only 112 new persons in five years. The same number of persons participating in fifty-six small churches averaging fifty-one in attendance would have produced 1,792 converts in five years. A small improvement in small church disciple making capability will have a huge growth outcome due to the number of small churches.
G: Christian A. Schwarz, Natural Church Development: A Guide to Eight Essential Qualities of Healthy Churches (St. Charles, IL: ChurchSmart Resources, 1996), 46. The higher negative factors are liberal theology and traditionalism. Cf. Schwarz, Natural Church Development, 28-29.
H: Ibid., 46-48.
“For where two or three are gathered in
my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
Something unique happens when we become partners in faith with one to three other people. We learn more, and we enjoy it more. Jesus says, literally, that He is present in a unique way when two or three people gather.
You can grow spiritually through your own private prayers, but your growth can be doubled if you meet with another, and tripled if you and your partner invest yourselves in a third and fourth person.
Spiritual partners meet together once a week at a convenient time for about an hour or less. During that time you answer the Questions honestly.
Here are some tips for choosing a spiritual partner:
1. Partners should be of the same sex – men with men and women with women.
2. A partnership of two will open up to include a third and fourth person, and then open further into 2 groups of 2 persons.
3. Partnerships are not forever – these spiritual friendships of two to four persons are very flexible, forming and reforming as seems to be meaningful. This allows meaningful spiritual friendships to develop with a variety of people and builds a spiritual network within the church.
If no one comes to mind as a partner for you, let me know and I will help you find one!
Pastor David Logan
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