What can be done about declining church numbers?
Since 1971 the percentage of Christians has halved, but we are priests so we are all responsible for turning things around. So what can churches do to bring people back to Christ and what can individuals do?
A guide book would be useful. New people coming to church are no longer coming from a church background so knowledge that might have been taken for granted is not there. So churches can't take for granted that a new comer will know what to do, how to dress, how much to give. A booklet that explains everything that is happening in the service, what to do and why we do it would be so helpful. At the end of the booklet will be instructions on how to get involved: pray groups, bible studies, committees, choirs, become one of the readers, any function that is open to the congregation.
How should a church help a new comer?
- Have some people from the congregation be a buddy to new comers. Sit with them for the first service and be with them during tea afterwards.
- Have a booklet that explains the service, what to do and how to do it. In the back would be how to get involved in the various activities.
- Every church should have forums where church goers can see what is happening in the various aspects of the church. The choir, the committee, etc but most importantly where the next services' topic: readings and sermon are discussed. This will be a place that the new comer, Mary, can start interacting both with bible and with members of the congregation. Having exchanged ideas with Paul through the forum Mary is no longer a total stranger to Paul. If the buddy is observant then the next service they will be sure to introduce Mary to Paul.
- After the service the buddy will introduce Mary to the minister. The minister will be sure to prioritise this time and when the buddy approaches the minister will know to pause what ever conversation they are having with a regular and engage Mary.
- Before Mary leaves make sure that they are shown the forums and how to sign up. The church will also have the email address now which the Minister can use to send a quick email welcoming Mary to the church.
Like any service, Religion needs to advertise. And I have been experimenting. The result of the first was annoying, not that it wasn't successful, it failed to convince anyone to join but that it attracted atheists that wanted to argue and a muslim that wanted to condemn Christianity. Hiding the comments seemed to have the effect of stopping the negativity. As mum said "just ignore them and they will go away." The ad and the responses I turned into an article "When you create a Facebook ad".
I was watching a YouTube on advertising and their advice was to imagine the audiences' before and after state and then when on to talk about the types of ad and their impact on the audience.
Lowest level is the "have" which is features and benefits so before is "what do you need" and after "this is what we have". My first ad fell into this with a statement of what we do.
Next level is "feel" where we move the audiences emotion from negative to positive. I guess the ad is saying "we can make you feel better." My next ad on reflection is probably this, though I was aiming higher. The ad is:
"I like to explore ideas surrounding Christianity and found some other people that were also looking for an outlet for our curiosity. So Lord's Path was started. So if you are Christian or are interested in Christianity I invite you to join the forum at lordspath.org and every three weeks get together to discuss. We are based in Melbourne." The feeling is curiosity and we provide the outlet. I was trying for the next which is story but I don't think that comes across.
Next is "Average day", a story that results in a happy ending. A personal story that the audience can relate too.
"Status", a story that leads to an improved self. This and the last level is where we aim to pitch to our audience and which actually directly concerns religion.
"Good vs Evil" a story of good and evil where good prevails. Should be our bread and butter. The example given is the "1984 Apple Macintosh ad".
So before I rush out and try a new ad we might like to discuss how it should read, incorporating either or both "Status" or "Good vs Evil".
Read a great quote when it comes to reviving churches, "It is easier to give birth than raise the dead". I guess that is why there seems to be a focus on church plantings. Start a church from the beginning and there is no baggage from the past.
George Barna surveyed churches across America, looking for an adequate number of "turnaround churches" to include in his study. To his amazement, he failed to find a sufficient number of successfully transformed churches to make his research statistically valid. His conclusions point out that it is rare for a church in decline to turn around. In the turnaround churches examined, Barna found that change occurred with the arrival of a new pastor who brought new vision to the church. Such turnabouts required great sacrifice on the part of the pastor, who worked an average of 80 hours per week during the transition. Barna concluded that it takes so much energy for the pastor to accomplish the turnaround that only younger pastors should attempt it, and that only once in a pastor's lifetime! Can dying churches be resuscitated?
This article goes on to refer to other Barna studies showing how congregations get comfortable in their churches and their beliefs move from the orthodox to dismiss parts of the bible that they find uncomfortable. The church has a second great quote, "A country club of saints". The "root of any turnaround strategy among churches should be a plan to reignite the spirituality of the members of the church." Justin Welby may be right that creating disciples is more important than creating churches where a disciple incorporates the teaching of the bible to shape their everyday lives, incorporating the comfortable with the uncomfortable, a return to orthodoxy. The importance of orthodoxy returns again and again. Which churches are growing or at least maintaining their numbers the orthodox churches. Which are shrinking, the progressive, comfortable churches. Instead of trying to interpret away uncomfortable or inconvenient bible passages, instead the path that Christ has set out for us asks that we pick up our crosses and bare our discomfort. "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth." Revelations 3:15-16. We are asked to take a position, as the rest of chapter goes on to say that the comfortable are wretched while the uncomfortable and repent are saved.
"One reason that a church gets stuck on a plateau is the fact that when it was planted, it inevitably took on the characteristics of the generation that birthed it. As time continued and that generation moved on or slowly passed from the scene, few people continued to passionately subscribe to the core values held by the original generation. It is during this period of ageing that the church becomes irrelevant to the new societal challenges in which it finds itself and that it is a part of. Thus, fewer people join the church, and it heads into decline. This is why the average life of a church is about the same as that of the average human: 70 years. The only way to extend the life of a church beyond the usual threescore years and ten is to keep it young by continually redefining the dream and making the church relevant to the society it must now reach. This does not mean that the church should redefine its doctrinal beliefs, but it must reconsider how it relates those beliefs to the surrounding culture." You can see this in the church congregations and the churches that they built. Churches designed and made to the ascetic of the 60's and the 70's or the modern evangelical churches made to resemble a concert arena. Each is made to the ascetic of the time like bell bottom trousers and like any other fashion is quickly out of date. Interestingly within the Roman Catholic church it is the traditional Latin mass, the extraordinary form or tridentine mass, that is attracting the congregations and the youth. People drive long distances to find a church that provides the Latin mass, they are getting dressed up for it and young women are covering their heads in veils. There is a yearning for tradition and beauty that the modern mass, novas ordo, is not providing. So when the article says we should "relate those beliefs to the surrounding culture" the church should be showing us how to live the timeless, unchanging beliefs of the bible in the transient modern world.
The last bit of the article loses me. Churches need to start with their mission, now I am new to this but isn't the mission the same. Teach the word or God, follow in the words of God. If a church follows these two things they seem to do alright, if the don't then they don't. Pretty simple really.