September 07, 2007

Guest post: Praise God from whom all economies of scale flow 2

supermarkettrolley.jpg My post praising God from whom all economies of scale flow has caused a flurry of comment and interaction on and off-blog. Here is a guest post from a keen eyed watcher of world and church, wanting to be known simply as "the consultant"

One key issue facing Christian Church(es) in the modern environment seems to be the whole question "cooperation versus competition". In other words, are
the different churches competing with each other, as opposed to working for
the 'common good'. For example, if a church says that it is involved in
"church-planting" on a polytech or university campus, what does that
actually mean? Prima facie, everyone assumes this means that the church is
attracting new people, who would not otherwise be involved in a church;
(evangelising, to use the old term). However, my impression is that, in
practice, what tends to regularly happen is that the new church mainly
attracts people away from their existing churches to something that is
currently new and exciting - at least, it's new and exciting for a few
months. You could rather bluntly, call it "congregation stealing". The net
gain, across the overall Christian community however, may be quite small,
and instead we've just shifted existing people from one place to another.

Now, I don't pretend to be able to second-guess what the intentions of any
church-planting people are, and I don't doubt that they do this with the
best of evangelical intentions. Presumably they want to see church growth,
with something new and vibrant happening. But, I do wonder if there is a
risk of confusing our own personal church's growth with the wider growth of
the Christian community. It's that tendency to be somewhat myopic, seeing
what's close to us and important to us, but not quite noticing the bigger
picture of what's happening for others.

In a sense, denominational lines seem to have died in the late 1970s, and
since then people have often gone to whatever seems good, wherever that is.
The obvious victims of this are the older mainline churches; Anglican,
Presbyterians, Methodist etc. Call it "economies of scale", or whatever,
the principle is that people have gone to what satisfies their needs, as
part of a consumer-like approach, rather than loyalty. Therefore the blog
"Praise God from whom all economies of scale flow" seems to be making a very
valid point .

At what point do we perhaps take the risk of saying, let's put aside each of
our own personal interests here, and cooperatively work together? That might
mean that a new church planting group would get alongside the existing
churches, and work together on new ventures to make meaningful links with
the local student community. Or, it might mean that if we have some great
"secret" tactic that we are using to attract people, that we would share
this widely with other churches. The list goes on, if you really start to
tease out the implications of this. A person such as Steve Taylor
personally shares a lot of his own insights, strategies and tactics - and
deserves much respect for what he does in that regard - but how many others
do the same?

Perhaps a true test of whether we are focused on our own interests, or those
of the wider Christian community (and the people we are working with), would
be if we were prepared to create new links with (evangelise) people - but
then, be prepared to let those people go to other churches. I somehow
suspect that this is the approach that the "great people" of the past like
Wesley would have taken.

Looking forward to the pushback from all students and blog readers involved in church planters and those involved in student ministry.

Posted by steve at September 7, 2007 03:37 PM

Interesting thoughts here eh. Is competition rather than collaboration a legacy of our Western free market mode of operating. As a tertiary campus chaplain my role is to encourage students to find contexts of spirituality relevant to their needs. I am sponsored by a collaboration of Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, and the institution itself. None expect "bums on seats" as a return for investment except maybe the education institution itself. Wellbeing of students is beneficial to the community at large. There are hopeful stories.

Posted by: helen at September 7, 2007 03:52 PM
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