This blog records my transition from the Churches of Christ to Eastern Orthodoxy.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

If You Build It, They Will Come (Part 3)

If all these new marketing strategies for church growth end up working and saving even just one person, shouldn't we use them?

Here's a second response:

Consider dating again. Suppose you're friend is asking you for advice. She wants to find a date and an eventual spouse. And she wants that person to love her for her--who she really is. But she feels doubtful anyone would really love her for who she really is. So she asks you: "So shouldn't i try to pretend to be someone i'm not (someone more attractive) in hopes of someone showing up and then eventually learning to love me for me as i gradually show them who i really am?" What would you tell her? Would you tell her she's right and she should fake it?

First, isn't this trickery? Isn't she supposing she should trick a guy into liking her, get him good and emotionally attached, and then pull the old bait-and-switch on him? If you were that guy, would you feel like you had been treated fairly or lovingly? This seems rather underhanded and manipulative on her part, doesn't it?

Second, what about her value as a person? i mean, should she even need to pretend to be anything at all? Shouldn't she rather just be herself and expect that to be good enough for the right person? Why should she have to change anything about who she really is in order to catch someone's eye? Should she need to manipulate her way into a loving relationship? There's an important sense in which by doing this, she's "sold herself out." She's compromised her own integrity.

Third, it's not impossible that it should work; she just might snag a guy who does eventually love her for who she really is. But is it likely? How likely is her plan to work? Is her plan more likely to attract the wrong guy or the right guy? It seems arguable that her plan will more likely attract the wrong guy.

Now in the case of a church trying to grow, it may or may not be exactly like the case of your friend-seeking-a-date. But it could be similar to a greater or lesser degree. But suppose given a certain church's plans and situation it is similar: First, is it right to 'trick' people into joining a church by giving them the impression that we're an entertainment outlet or a country-club-alternative and then later taking off our mask, show them what tough discipleship is about, and expect them to still love us? Second, should we have to pretend to be something we're not just to get the attention of unbelievers? Shouldn't we rather expect the right people to join (love) us for who we really are? And third, even if it's possible that it should work, is it a plan that is more likely to produce real, devout disciples or consumers warming our pews and expecting more of our charade?

Again, i realize it's not as cut-and-dried as this. i'm not trying to sound as though i assume that any new method of church growth automatically makes us hypocritical if we adopt it. i am saying, though, that it doesn't appear to me that we often question carefully whether or not those methods accurately represent who we really are.

And more scarily, it's a matter of not just being ourselves, but it's also about who we ought to be. Sadly, what if bad methods do accurately represent who a congregation really is? Maybe a congregation really is full of materialistic, self-interested consumers looking for a country-club alternative with something extra to salve their consciences. Okay, that's not fair, is it? Typically, churches aren't just out-and-out snobby, right? Well, then what if a congregation is full of people who are somewhat struggling with materialism and consumerism and don't even realize it? By using church-growth methods that express those values, they've arguably made it less likely that they'll see those character flaws for what they are and correct them.

Bottom line: To whatever degree our situation is similar to the spouse-seeking-friend, we should not pretend to be something we're not for the sake of growth because that mistreats prospects and compromises our integrity; that approach will more likely produce undesirable results rather than desirable ones; and we shouldn't do anything that will hurt us from becoming who we need to be.

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