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What We Don’t Want to Admit To Ourselves

August 28th, 2007
Marketing Advertising Blog — VuManhThang.Com

New church plants! Contemporary worship! One requires the other, right? Ah, well…perhaps not. A "contemporary/relevant worship" guru has second thoughts.

For all the money, time, and effort
we’ve spent on cultural relevance—
and that includes culturally relevant
worship—it seems we came through
the last 15 years with a significant
net loss in churchgoers, proliferation
of megachurches and all.

You need to read this article.

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  1. Mike Baker
    August 29th, 2007 at 09:25 | #1

    Many of these realizations echo my own personal experience.
    While slightly off topic, one of the key insights that is expressed in this article is very important for all Christians–regardless of style and church affiliation:
    “I certainly had never meant to make worship some slick formula for outreach, let alone the one formula.”
    There is a very seductive temptation that follows almost every corporate initiative in the church and many laymen fall for it. It feeds our sinful desire to allow ourselves to be isolated from the responsibility of actual face-to-face proclamation of the Gospel. It extends to all of our attempts at outreach and poisons many corporate initatives to reach lost people for Christ.
    In many cases, we shoot ourselves in the foot. We initaite an outreach program, and our laity relaxes their efforts because the church has the situation handled. We give money to a missionary project, and our laity becomes less giving to the people that they meet. Just like in the article, we cannot allow the church to be our excuse for not taking the neccesary steps to love our neighbors.
    Anything the church does is not meant to be the ONE formula. We must always guard against letting the church handle outreach for us.

  2. Rev. Al Bergstrazer
    August 29th, 2007 at 13:36 | #2

    Before all the liturgical purists high five over this story, look at where Sally Morgenthaller’s journey through church growth/contemporary worship has led her; to the emergent church movement. That is, she is making the transition from Mega church to Micro church, but is still mired in the same subjectivity wherein the standards are feelings and results.
    She does reveal the two dirty little secrets about church growth that most of us in small congregations have known for years. First, Mega churches often grow by feeding off the flocks of smaller congregations (the ‘star performers’ as she calls them became so by becoming masters of at what the churched wanted). Second, church growth methodology is sold as a magic bullet that will solve the problems of a declining church, “where was the formula? Where was the pep talk for all those who were convinced that trading in their traditional service for a contemporary upgrade would be the answer?” (page 52)
    Years ago I had the privilege of hearing W. Edwards Deming speak about problem solving. He pointed out that experience was not the best teacher. Experience that is not guided and measured by a sound theory was useless in his opinion. Further, that sound governing theory must be ‘external’ it must come from somewhere other than the experience itself.
    Church growth/contemporary worship doesn’t have an external guiding theory, that is, it is not guided and normed by Biblical doctrine. It is governed by experiential pragmatism; the standard is numbers-if lots of people are here, we must be doing something right; regardless of where increasing the numbers leads. As Morgenthaller writes on page 50; “Contemporary church plants that hadn’t reached critical mass (300-400) by the end of the 90’s were in deep trouble.’ And:“These mega survivors were invariably congregations with visionary, talented leaders and the determination to do whatever it took to grow.”
    It beggars the imagination to explain why a congregation would be in deep trouble for the sole reason it had not grown beyond 300-400 members in a handful of years. “Determined to do whatever it took to grow?” This where experience as the only guide leads. It leads to the worship that Sally describes as “all about us,’ and ‘worship for the perfect, the already arrived, the good looking inoffensive and nice.”(pg 52). It also leads to evangelism being defined as “if you build it they will come.” Twenty years of experience with no doctrine has left Sally Morgenthaller still no closer to what worship is, unfortunately the course she has chosen is to reinvent worship yet one more time.
    Church growth makes a fundamental error; the problem with the unbeliever is not the packaging of the gospel, but the unbeliever himself, sin, a heard heart, wickedness and hatred of God are at fault, not the gospel.
    The presumption is that the problem with the unchurched, the problem with the unbeliever is that they’re ‘religiously allergic,’ to all the trappings of religion. But in this experiential methodology (if there is such a thing) the end result is not the Law being proclaimed with all its terror, and Gospel being proclaimed in all its sweetness, but the law being ignored altogether and gospel being distrusted and obscured. Though I doubt that Ms. Morgenthaller, or her former church growth colleagues would ever say that the Gospel was insufficient and needed our help, in practice that is what they were preaching. This pseudo-synergism comes in the form of re-packaging the gospel until the gospel is obscured. Somehow the Holy Spirit needs a little help from us; the good news needs to be sweetened so that the hard hearted unbeliever will finally take a bite of the church growth apple. Having failed that, they settled for pandering to the churched, and in so doing led them away from their first love.
    I feel sympathy for Sally Morgenthaller, she seems to be sincerely looking for the truth, I pray in her journey she comes in contact with someone who can teach her the meaning of that wonderful old German word “Gottesdienst.” Therein she shall find gospel freedom, grace and mercy, truth in all its beauty as God serves us.

  3. David Charlton
    August 29th, 2007 at 19:26 | #3

    That pretty much sums up my experience as a mission developer. There was a mission church with contemporary worship at every school, warehouse, and rental hall within a 10 square mile area. They also came and went over night. But none of them ever took off. The handful of mega churches that were already estabished still drew most of the crowds, along with booming Roman Catholic parishes.

  4. wcwirla
    August 30th, 2007 at 08:32 | #4

    The article is terribly sad. The author is a boat adrift without an anchor. Here is proof once again that without a lex credendi there is no genuine lex orandi.
    McCain: How true, and as an article a number of years ago written by Tom Winger pointed out, the original way that phrase was put was “lex credendi, lex orandi!” Much to ponder there.

  5. Jeff
    August 30th, 2007 at 08:58 | #5

    My former communion the United Methodist Church, at least in my area, has since the late 1990s thrown their hat into the contemporary worship/church growth movement. It has not stemmed the tide of serious membership decline. Along with contemporary worship/church growth techniques, comes poor theology and shoddy eccesial practice. I saw my fair share of infant “dedications” instead of baptisms, and “pepsi and chips” communions. All in the name of being culturally relevent. While contemporary worship/church growth has been seen in the Lutheran tradition, I think it is fair to say that it is not congruant with the Lutheran tradition. I give thanks for being a member of a local church that celebrates Word and Sacrament weekly. I give thanks for an orthodox pastor who preaches law/gospel weekly. I love being a Lutheran.

  6. August 30th, 2007 at 18:34 | #6

    “Legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi.” Check out the cases. “The law of praying establishes the law of believing.” Prosper of Aquitaine was trying to argue on the basis of the constancy of the liturgy that Augustine was right and the Pelagians were wrong.
    The argument doesn’t work when you make up a new liturgy every Saturday night.
    McCain: Here is where you can find a citation of that article I’ve referred to a couple of times on this blog in recent weeks. Pull up this PDF then search on “Winger.” There is a simpler overview by Winger in LOGIA, IV, I believe.

  7. RevJCOlson
    September 1st, 2007 at 00:11 | #7

    I saw the comparison chart at the end of the article that compared institutional churches to missional churches.
    I have also heard the comparison between maintainance ministry and missional ministry.
    What are these labels about and what are the pitfalls of such types of labeling?
    If I am not mistaken the author of the article sounds very much like she is involved in the emergent church movement. If so, I believe that this is where the ideas concerning missional and maintanence ministries are finding their way into the LCMS. Your thoughts?

  8. September 1st, 2007 at 10:46 | #8

    Thanks much – two great references (Morgenthaler and Jesson) in one blog stream. I have pretty much ignored a study of liturgy because I have depended on others to study for me. That’s laziness.
    Although Ms Morgenthaler now sees that her ideas didn’t work, she doesn’t seem to see that the worship is a holy communion. See stills seems to see it as a man made construction to accomplish man’s purpose in worship. The focus is still on what can she do to accomplish the task – do worship. Paul’s advice is very apt for her:
    1 Corinthians 2:1-5 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
    A liturgy that does not look only to “Jesus Christ and him crucified” is operating in another domain, and is not worship.
    As I said, I really am not familiar with all this worship as evangelism approach and this information has opened my eyes. It is troubling.

  9. wcwirla
    September 1st, 2007 at 19:28 | #9

    I think we need a moratorium on the non-word “missional.”

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