The first time I saw Jurassic World I didn’t go to gain any kind of revelation—I simply went to see a movie. I know people are a bit split on this prehistoric thriller, but it has been one of my favorite movies released this year. So after having snagged it off of iTunes, I gave it another watch and walked away with a few thoughts pertaining to the church.
Bigger and Louder
“Our DNA excavators discover new species every year. But consumers want them bigger, louder, more teeth.”
If you haven’t seen the movie, the plot is pretty simple: scientists make their own dinosaur and it doesn’t work out too well for them. In order to keep their park financially afloat, they need new attractions that will continue to bring people in. In this fictional tale (note: fictional), people are quite familiar with dinosaurs and so they’re not attending the park as much as they used to. If consumers are really going to pay the money to make the trip to this dino-zoo, there had better be something more thrilling than a T-rex.
Enter the church. One day we realized that we weren’t communicating with modern culture much at all anymore. Our services were old and our numbers were declining. So in response we revolutionized our services. It started slow for the most part. We introduced drums and the electric guitar to our congregations (a few decades late I might add) and began to experiment with some new ideas.
But those new ideas evolved too quickly for us. Within a short amount of time we became all about entertainment. “If we are going to reach the lost with the message of Jesus, we are going to have to keep them coming,” we say. “So grab a few more secular songs that have a little bit of a spiritual tone to them. Also, let’s plot out this song to the metronome so we play it for exactly 3 minutes and 18 seconds before our 34 second prayer into the next song that’s 4 minutes and 32 seconds long. While we’re doing that let’s make sure we get an artist on the left side of the stage and a dancer on the right. Then let’s cut to a skit right before we head into the message. Do we have stage design done? Good. Pastor, you have 28 minutes and 12 seconds to get through your speech, then let’s hit them hard with a theme-matching song that will bring them to their knees. Oh, and band, you better have your hands in the air at that point. You’re leaders, dang it—so lead!”
Bigger and better often equals more teeth.
We hit a home run one week and then attempt to hit another home run the next that goes just a bit further than the last. And then the next week, we want to hit another one just a bit further than that. We literally burn ourselves out trying to impress and entertain people, all the while fueling our pride.
A life full of home runs is artificial and often there’s illegality involved to get there. In real life, sometimes you only made it to first base. Sometimes you bunt. Heck, sometimes you just get hit in the chest with a curveball and other times you straight-up strike out.
Church is not meant to be artificial. It’s not meant to be crack. It’s not meant to be bigger and better every week. And often when we go to these lengths, we add a few genetic modifications into what the church really is and suck the colostrum right out of milk we need to feed those entering into new life.
A youth group culture geared toward entertainment is not working. Face it: We cannot out-entertain the world. If discipleship programs hinge on amusement, they’ll come now but won’t stay later. Why would they? Believe it or not, kids crave depth. They want to grapple with theology. They’re malnourished from too much spiritual soda pop and they want wine. By attempting to attract them with cultural relevance the church accidentally became irrelevant. (Jen Hatmaker in For the Love, pg 101)
While this quote comes from a chapter aimed at children, many of us grown-ups are saying an amen because of our own experiences with the mega-church mentality that we tried out for a time. We’re tired of entertainment. We just want whatever church really is, no matter how difficult the real thing might be. We want to get away from this monster we’ve created.
People Are Not Numbers
“These are living, breathing animals, not numbers on a spreadsheet”
I’ve never been good at math and numbers. And I hate how they fit into church half the time. I mean, I get it—stats are stats, and in order to do ministry, they’re good to take a look at. But numbers are calculations, not people. And because our culture worships numbers for some reason, the church gets super confused about what it’s actually supposed to be doing.
My heart in pastoring has much been aimed at discipleship, and discipleship is an incredibly slow process that can’t really be charted. It relies completely on people, and seeing as how everyone is unique, there isn’t exactly a method in place that is comprehensive enough to fit every person. You figure out where people are at and you work with them from there.
Watching people grow is a joy to me and that’s why it internally ticks me off when I talk with just about anyone outside of our church.
“Oh, you’re a pastor? How many you running?”
“Probably around 60 during the school year.”
“Oh, I see. How long you guys been around?”
“About 4 years.”
“Oh. Well keep at it.”
I just had this conversation this past weekend. Twice. In one day. One person tried hard to disfigure their face and give me one of those, “We’ll be praying for you,” type responses.
Wait. Did you think I thought that 60 was bad or something? Because in my thinking I’m almost half-way to full capacity. I have no desire to ever go to two services. That’s just two different churches that are just going to segregate by age, race, and other cliques and preferences, only ever meeting up to awkwardly greet each other at quarterly events.
How many people can make up a healthy church community before it’s time to plant another church? How many people can a few pastors serve before they’ve stretched themselves way thinner than they should have? Maybe about 150 or so based on your neighborhood? That seems about right to me. At that point, perhaps it’s time to send some of your discipled congregation to start a new church in another strategic part of your area.
People are people, not numbers. They have real problems that don’t calculate. They have real growth that can’t be charted. They have real life that is demeaned when turned into math trophy for a pastor to carry.
Yes, of course there are healthy churches and sick churches and numbers can reflect that. But I guarantee you that numbers are not the determining factor. Yes, my church is smaller than most I’ve been a part of, but you know what? It’s also the healthiest church I’ve ever been a part of.
If the church continues to hail this mighty idol, expect our methods to come with more teeth as well.
Numbers are not the goal. If you make numbers the goal, you will do ungodly things to get there. (Dr. Ben Sigman, Free Methodist General Conference 2015)*
*To balance Dr. Signman’s quote, please note that he said this after speaking well of numbers, and stated it to balance out any extremist ideas.