We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Monday, December 23, 2013

Apples & Churches ("Decline & Renewal" IX)

In recent postings, I have been exploring a series of editorials on the theme of church decline and renewal that were posted earlier this year in Jason Locke's Blog, which comes out of the Churches of Christ tradition.  The series raises important questions from perspectives outside of the mainline, ones that can help mainline churches better wrestle with the shared issues of decline and renewal.

The fifteenth posting in the series is entitled, "The View From Rick Gibson," by Rick Gibson.  Gibson presents a graphic (below) comparing Apple Inc., one of America's most successful corporations, to the Churches of Christ on the West Coast.  Based on Apple's success, he then raises a series of questions: "...Can declining West Coast Churches of Christ find a compelling story that excites and motivates the communities they serve? What do great brands [do]? How can we learn from them? Can we reshape our identity so that the world can see Christ more clearly when it enters communities of faith called Churches of Christ?

I have in my office a shelf devoted to books telling all of the secrets of corporate America (and Japan) and filled with a wealth of how-to advice.  Their value for those of us in the church is that they raise questions and encourage us to look more realistically at ourselves.  We Protestants in particular tend to focus on issues of ideological purity and live in the normative world of should and ought to, which can blind us to spiritual as well as cultural realities.  Examining the ways in which successful businesses deal with reality can expose hidden assumptions, bad habits, and unhelpful attitudes as well as point out directions for possible change.

Yet, the one program for local renewal that I know of that "really works," Unbinding the Gospel, took a very different approach in its program development.  Martha Grace Reese, the author of the UTG process, went to pastors and churches that are growing both spiritually and statistically and studied the reasons for their success, and she then devised a simple program that can be used with relative ease in any church of any size.  It uses small groups and encourages faith sharing and spiritual growth.  It is not what works in corporate America that holds the keys to churches' futures.  It is, instead, what is already working in churches that holds the keys to those futures.

Source: Jason Locke's Blog
This is not to say that Gibson's graphic is useless.  The value for the church of corporate America's success stories is the questions that success raises.  How do we create "deep communities" and great experiences?  How do we move churches from a commitment to the status quo to a commitment to change?  How do we empower people?  How do we become a fun people?  The thing is that some of us are already answering these questions.  More of us need to learn how from the experiences and examples of those who already are.