Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations that do not know you will hasten to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor.” Isa 55:5
This new experiment in doing church is rooted, I am confident, as the desire, even the passion, to see the Church grow. What has not been grasped however, is that in the modern world, the means that are available for this task are so effective that we need very little truth in order to have success. Marketing the faith works. At least, it works to the extent that churches can be filled very quickly if the mix between humor, fun, friendliness, music, entertainment and inspiration is right. David F. Wells
History always repeats itself. In every age there have been those within the Church who feared for its survival when faced with hostile forces and changing times. Adapting and the making of concessions were often seen as a pragmatic necessity if the Church was to survive. What the Church was offering and what was needed was seen as two different things was the argument. Consequently, according to this theory, the reason the church was in danger was that it was out of step with the times.
This argument was used in the 19th century in Europe when Protestant liberalism feared that the modern world made the Christian faith obsolete. It was that same thought that G. Gresham confronted in early 20th century America. The liberal church of his day determined that it was a matter of survival for them to soften their theological affirmations so that they would not offend the scientific mindset of their day.
Today, we are seeing a similar fear. The Church seems completely out of step with our secularized, pluralistic, post-modern culture. Traditional religion has been replaced with personal spirituality. Doctrines, creeds, and beliefs have been replaced with feelings, experiences and “felt” needs. The focus upon morals has shifted to an emphasis upon the psychological. In the end, the goal of modern man is not so much to be “right” as to be happy.
In response to these significant changes, many church leaders have adjusted the way they do church. In doing so, they insist that their innovations have nothing to do with the message but are only concerned with a change in methods. To be relevant, the Church must adapt to its marketplace. It is a highly competitive world out there, so the Church must spruce up its product so that the “seekers” of today are attracted to her services.
The operating model is Disney World. To attract its modern day “guests,” it fashions an experience that is Disneyish– “clean, bright, optimistic and fun.” [David F. Wells] Because today “brand loyalty” has been replaced by “what have you done for me lately?” Each week’s program must be crammed with exciting and inviting options, lest the “guest” be enticed by a more attractive option down the street. In effect, I would argue, what has happened is that the expectation of the “consumer,” the “target,” the “guest,” has become the driving force in the operation of many, if not most, of the churches today.
This has been done, by many who have simply followed the lead of the so-called Church growth experts without thinking through the theological implications of what they were doing. It is my conviction that how we do church cannot be separated from why we do Church. In the words of Marshall McLuhan, “the medium is the message.” In other words, the methods we use to convey the Gospel are NOT neutral! They reflect our belief in God and our confidence in the power of His Gospel. Let me try to illustrate what I mean by that.
In my travels this summer, I was disappointed but not surprised to find that most of the church services I attended were light, fluffy and permeated with a low view of God. One church had a Sunday morning service which featured a children’s program that was cute and fun, with a lot of “yahoos” from the audience. The announcements encouraged us to be back the following week because five comedians would lead us into a time of riotous laughter. In another church, the sermon was punctuated by a lot of immature antics and tasteless humor by the pastor, an attempt I would surmise, to keep the congregation’s attention.
I know I sound like an old grouch who is out of step and has lost his sense of humor, but hear me out. In Isaiah 55, God is calling Israel back to Him, the only One who can satisfy their deepest longings.  Too often we spend our resources for that which is not bread and labor for that which does not satisfy.  But it is hearing the Word of the Lord that gives us good food, that which delights the soul and gives us true life. [2-3] We have been chosen out of the world and have been given an everlasting covenant of love. Like David, He has made us witnesses and leaders to our generation.  So unique and attractive is our new status that Isaiah says we will summon nations we know not and nations that know us not will hasten to us.
The secret to our uniqueness and attractiveness is that the Lord, our God, the Holy One of Israel, has endowed us with splendor. Think about that! The Church, the Israel of God, has been given a brilliance and a magnificence unmatched in all of the offerings of this world. The glory of God lives in us. Jesus Christ, the most beautiful and attractive Being in all the universe dwells in the gathering of His people!
How far down has our view of Jesus Christ and His attractiveness fallen when we feel we have to attract by providing experiences and choices that imitate the methodologies of the world? There is only one Fountain that is glorious enough to satisfy the thirsty soul and that is Jesus, the Lord. Humor and fun are not bad in themselves but they fall far short of hearing God’s Truth and seeing God’s beauty.
I once sat in a church growth committee with a man who had one of the largest churches in our denomination. In the meeting he boldly asserted that he could build a church in any place. And, he was probably right. Eventually, he had to leave the church he was in because of immorality and went to another place and built another large church. But, the question that must be asked is this: Was the Lord glorified in that growth or the man who had church growth figured out?
Methods and strategies are not evil in themselves, but when they are relied upon, when they are seen as the means to save sinners and grow the Church, Christ is not honored nor is that church built by God, for, “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain.” [Ps 127:1]. It is not methods and strategies that draw sinners to Christ but the Lord, high and lifted up, brilliant in the worship of His people. We have been endowed with splendor unmatched by anything that the world can produce. If only our church leaders would rediscover His glory and lift the people high into his presence, the thirsty would come; nations we do not know would hasten to us; lives would be transformed; the Church would grow; and the magnificent splendor that is ours in Jesus would bring glory to our awesome God.
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