lost1I came across a post tonight on the web site “Church Marketing Sucks,” which has as its raison d’etre the task of helping churches communicate effectively in our technological age. As I was reading their site, I came across a post entitled Grow your church by asking people to leave. This title sounded more than a little disconcerting to me, so I read on to see if I could find something useful behind it. What I read raised some of the issues I’ve discussed before about the way we Christians evangelize and (in)form our faith.

Here’s a selection of the post in question (and I encourage folks to read it in its entirety as well as the comments):

Craig gives an example where he preached on the church’s vision trying to get everybody on board. If people weren’t on board with the vision, he asked them to find another church. He even offered brochures from 10 other churches he knew and recommended. It was a serious challenge and 500 people ended up leaving. Most people would freak out at that thought. Not Craig:

The next week, we had about 500 new seats for people who could get excited about the vision. Within a short period of time, God filled those seats with passionate people. Many of those who left our church found great, biblical churches where they could worship and use their gifts.

Everybody won!

That’s why I sometimes say, “You can grow your church by asking people to leave.”

Craig focuses on making leaving a church a graceful option and a positive thing and not the bitter experience it often is.

While I applaud the fact that Livechurch.tv doesn’t seem beset by that paralyzer of ministry, the fear of “sheep stealing” and is in fact a church that is willing to recognize the movement of the spirit in other congregations, as well as the fact that some places of worship will better equip some people than theirs will–while I think that part of the attitude is great–I can’t get beyond the notion of asking people to leave based upon whether or not they are “on board” with the “vision” of the church. I understand that some people may think I’m standing on thin ice as the Episcopal Priest in charge of a small church plant–where do I get off criticizing anything a large and successful ministry like Lifechurch.tv, with its multiple campuses fast becoming a mini-denomination within a denomination (Lifechurch is part of the Evangelical Covenant Church), is doing? Well, first and foremost I’m a fellow Christian who sees some things within this philosophy of ministry that could be harmful.

Certainly one of the roles–even primary roles–of a Pastor or Priest as a Shepherd is to protect the flock, even when such threats come from within. There may be times when individuals and groups with a congregation are creating a situation of such dissention and division that the only healthy thing to do is to help them see, in a loving way, that their spiritual health as well as that of the congregation would be best served if they found another church home. But something tells me that I would disagree with Pastor Groeschel about when exactly that needs to be done. I certainly can think of very few cases–none of them involving anything short of public and unrepentant actions that cause distress to the community–where I would feel compelled to address the issue from the pulpit rather than in a one on one conversation.

The first thing that bothers me about Pastor Groechel’s statement is that the “vision” of a given congregation is not the Gospel itself, and that if anything is going to drive people away it is the clear presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ–and that Gospel is also the only message that will be life-giving to those who stay, regardless of what supplemental direction the congregation wants to go. The primary task of the Church is to evangelize and make disciples… one of the problems I have with the contemporary church in America–across the board, and not just with either the “contemporary” free church traditions or with the old-line traditional bodies–is that we do a horrible job in actually making people disciples. On the one hand many seeker-sensitive churches seem to have forgotten that Sunday worship is primarily for the believer and is not meant as the primary means of outreach.

I know, I know, this goes against many church growth schemes. But that doesn’t make it less true. While it is true that the most likely a time a newcomer is to visit your congregation is Sunday morning, it is also true that most seekers expect to hear what we as Christians believe–not some watered down, candy coated version blasted through a $100,000 sound system. On the other hand, many historical traditions seem to have forgotten what outreach is in addition to fumbling around big-time with how to actually inculcate the faith.

I’m also concerned–perhaps as a residual effect of Donald Miller’s lecture Free market Jesus, as well as my reading of Dr. Michael Budde’s Christianity Incorporated: How Big Business is buying the Church.–that the influence of a corporate mentality has begun to overshadow the Gospel–when we start talking about telling people that they need to get out of our churches because they aren’t 100% on board with our extra-biblical mission strategy, then we have lost something very important and have begun to treat the Body of Christ like a corporation where members can be hired and fired at will for disagreeing with the direction the leadership wants to take–can you say recipe for egotistical pastors? The only reasons any Church would have for asking anyone to leave would have to be based on scripture, not adherence to a marketing plan–that sounds suspiciously like adding to the Gospel.

It definitely inspires the sort of market-centered mentality among other Christians that another mega Church pastor, Steven Furtick was complaining about recently. I mean, isn’t Groeschel just expressing the ecclesial version of this attitude:

The other day, a lady said something to my wife that made me sick to my stomach upon hearing about it. Literally.

She was talking about how she visited Elevation with her family over the summer.
So far, so good…

In fact, she continued, they have visited “just about every church in Charlotte, looking for the church that’s perfect for us.”

Uh oh…
My wife doesn’t have much tolerance for church hopping Southerners.
Neither do I.

Then the woman made one of the most absurd comments I’ve ever heard from a churchgoer, even here in the Bible belt. That’s saying a lot.

“I wanted to let you know that there’s one praise song, I can’t remember the name of it, that ya’ll do better than all of the dozens of churches we’ve been to in our church shopping quest.”

Ma’am, if you’re reading:

Doesn’t what Groeschel seems to advocate–and I freely admit that this is from a shred of a quote taken from a site that’s not affiliated with his ministries, so it could be completely misconstrued–seem a whole lot like Churches going people shopping?

The final thing that bothers me–and the most important–is that 500 people left his church. 500. Did they find other churches where they “fit in” better? Possibly, but what a condemnation of a congregation that it had no welcome for them. And how many never found another congregation to welcome them, another place to praise the name of Jesus. For how many, possibly wounded by less than Christ-like Christians in the past, was this the last straw, the last brick in the wall separating them from a loving community of Christ-followers?

Makes me think of something our Lord said:

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:5-6).

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