Monday, January 05, 2004

Natural Selection & Church Growth...

Richard John Neuhaus, in First Things November 2003, brings up the issue of church growth in the Protestant arena (he's Catholic). He makes an interesting connection between the idea of Natural Selection (survival of the fittest) with the many variations and adaptations we see in church growth programs. "It must be twenty years ago that the “church growth movement” was the big new thing in American Protestantism. It’s not so new anymore, but it goes on and on. Writing in Nicotine Theological Journal... Brian Pieters takes note of current evangelical books claiming that “the age of the Church is over.” The message is that Semper Reformanda, understood as perpetual change, is the imperative for survival-oriented spiritualities devoted to becoming rather than being, and so forth. The Protestant Church as we have known it is doomed to the fate of the dinosaur. Pieters writes: “Reading these words prompts one to wonder: whoever claimed that evangelicals don’t believe in evolution? These people are the veriest of Darwinists, only they have cut it out of their biology texts and pasted it into their church growth books. Really, it’s all there: dinosaurs, a hostile environment, muting genes, and natural selection (i.e., seekers). Indeed there seems no more firmly held and shared conviction about the Church today than the theory of evolution. Pick up any church growth manual today, and if you are sturdy enough to wade through some bizarre neologisms, you are bound eventually to wind up with this impassioned plea: Change or die! ”" Have we, in our shortsightedness, become so concerned with numbers, as in quantity of people sitting in church, that we have forgotten the foundation of the Church? If your church has seating for 1,000 people but only gets 50 each Sunday... is that a bad thing? Should you change your marketing strategy (and, let's be honest here, church growth strategies are marketing strategies)? What would you rather have between these two options: 1) 1,000 people marginally committed to Christ or, 2) 50 people with a genuine heart for God? These are questions I ponder as I survey the Seeker-centered mentality within Evangelical circles. We seem to be so concerned with making church a comfortable, safe place for the non-churched person to show up at, that we've washed away any remaining substance to the message. In our efforts to make church a non-boring environment for our short-attention-span culture are we indeed following the concept of Natural Selection? Are we truly adapting to survive? Where is that concept presented in the Bible?

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