Stanley Hauerwas is no stranger to these pages. He is a wonderful scholar and commentator with interesting positions on many things. I thought this quote was stunning. I have been thinking about the deep dive many are taking into mission work and revitalizing congregations and church planting and church growing and I came across this quote. Anyway our church has tried all kinds of things to “grow” and yet we are told that all churches in the US are declining. So what is going on?
There are a multiplicity of ways that have come down to us to do mission work, or to ignite a gospel movement, or to, in more crass terms, grow a church. Just to name a few there is the old “gospel touches” effort. This is basically keeping a list of the people that you talked to about Jesus. Then there is the united prayer effort, where you keep a list of the people you talked about to Jesus. I like that one because it at least shows some deference to the fact that is the Holy Spirit who converts people “when and where he wills”. Then there is the old “each one reach one” concept which I also liked. It is so popular it is now called “Everyone His Witness”. The problem is it was, and is no guarantee of growing your church, but the real possibility is that your members conversation with someone may have triggered an interest in hearing more about Jesus in another church that you might not particularly care for. There are big, mass event types of evangelism, in which communities put aside their theological differences in order to hold some big, intense, mega event. It might be the showing of a movie, or the importation of an important speaker, but the idea is that it will motivate people to go to church, and the community churches hope folks will be fairly divided up number wise among those who supported the event. There was the Kennedy style of evangelism which we were taught and forced to participate in in a small town in Missouri. I remember my seminary class almost revolting they were so furious. The big objection was the question asked when you banged on someone’s door; “if you were to die tonight why would God let you in the heaven.”
I remember talking about it in class and said “if one of you came to my door and asked me that question I’d say it’s none of your damn business and shut the door in your face.” This method required lots of volunteers; lots of training; and a lot of running around neighborhoods banging on doors, and in my consideration, harassing people who were trying to enjoy their evening meal or a television program.
All of these efforts had good points and bad points. My issue with all of them is a question of the heart. Are you trying to bring people to Jesus, or get them into a church? Your church. Is the motivation disqualifying or do we remember that the Holy Spirit converts and brings to faith “those He will, when and where He will”. Is there something wrong with growing your church? If leaders can tell us that Lutheran Missions should result in Lutheran Congregations is a crass concept then why should we listen to them when they produce any kind of church growth strategy?