How to grow a contemporary church

Posted on July 5, 2011

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Lately I’ve been reading and re-reading Alan Hirsch’s book, The Forgotten Ways. In his critique of Christendom & the modern church growth movement, he provided a stinging analysis of what he calls the “ministry mix” for growing churches:

God’s gracious involvement aside, if you wish to grow a contemporary church following good church growth principles, there are several things you must do and constantly improve upon:

  • Expand the building to allow for growth
  • Ensure excellent preaching in contemporary style dealing with subjects that relate to the life of the hearers
  • Develop an inspiring worship experience (here limited to “praise & worship”) by having an excellent band and positive worship leaders
  • Make certain you have excellent parking facilities, with car park attendants, to ensure minimum inconvenience in finding a parking space
  • Ensure excellent programs in the critical area of children’s and youth ministry. Do so and people will put up with less elsewhere in the mix.
  • Develop a good program of cell groups built around a Christian education model to ensure pastoral care and a sense of community.
  • Make sure that next week is better than last week, to keep the people coming.

This is what church-growth practitioners call the “ministry mix.” Improvement in one area benefits the whole, and constant attention to the elements of the mix will ensure growth and maximize impact. The problem is that it caters right into consumerism. And the church with the best programs and the “sexiest” appeal tends to get more customers.

Let’s test this: What do you think will happen if elements of the mix deteriorate or another new church with better programming locates itself within your region? Statistics right across the Western world where this model holds sway indicate that the vast majority of the church’s growth comes from “switchers” – people who move from one church to another based on the perception and experience of the programming. There is precious little conversion growth. No one rally gets to see the problem, because it “feels so right” and it “works for me.” In fact, the church is one the decline right across the Western world, and we have had at least forty years of church-growth principles and practice…We plainly cannot consume our way into discipleship…Consumption is detrimental to discipleship.

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