Monday, October 22, 2012

Decade of Church Growth (1980s): Black and Drury

Only one chapter again today from Bob Black and Keith Drury's, The Story of the Wesleyan ChurchSo far it's been:

Chaps 1-2  About Wesley and the origins of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in abolitionism
Chaps 3-4  About its activist early days that were low church, pro-women (and anti- some other things)
Chaps 5-6  The post-Civil War let down, when the best and brightest returned to the Methodists
Chaps 7-8  Birth of Pilgrim Holiness Church
Chapter 9   Multiple Ministries
Chapters 10-11 Roaring Holiness 20s
Chapters 12-13 Institutional Solidification (30s/40s)
Chapters 14-15 Prelude to Merger
Chapters 16-17 The Wesleyan Merger
Chapter 18 The Decade of Evangelism (1970s)
A few things of note happened to the Wesleyan Church in the 80s.  One was the move of its HQ back to Indianapolis.  This was to go closer to the city and closer to the airport.  If we were going to be engaged with the world, we would need to be able to get there.

There were also some changes to our core documents, our Articles of Religion and our membership commitments.  A paragraph on God the Father was added. The most major change was on divorce.

Previously, adultery was the only thing mentioned as a valid basis for divorce.  This was expanded to include any sexual sin such as incest or bestiality.  The word porneia in Matthew 5 and 19 is usually taken to mean sexual immorality of any kind.  More controversial was what divorce did to membership. Previously, the "guilty party" in a divorce lost membership and was not allowed to remarry. Now, membership was not involved with the issue.

The WC launched missions in Europe in the 80s, when Ken and Marilyn Blake went to Munich, Germany, where I was last year at this time.  Since then we have a number of small works scattered here and there in Europe. On the whole, these efforts have not yielded much fruit, a sobering reality and one that deserves serious reflection. As we are poised to have a church in Cuba after over half a century, I hope significant reflection is going into the question of contextualization.

But the biggest feature of the 80s was probably the growth of large churches in the WC and the beginning of serious church planting by those churches.  Kentwood Community Church, where Wayne Schmidt pastored, has to be a model for how to grow in a way that isn't gimmick or shallow but discipled growth with depth.  Although he is now the head of Wesley Seminary at IWU, under his leadership Kentwood went on not only to have "children" churches, but grandchildren and great grandchildren.

John Maxwell led the church in the charge to grow and even set up a Round Table for the pastors of the largest churches in the denomination. They were all following the lead of Bill Hybels at Willow Creek Community Church.  Of course not all the church was as gungho as others. Some of these pastors were seen as a bit arrogant and even shallow--numbers for numbers sake.

The large church of the present day is hopefully a little less "attractional" and moving well beyond the seeker sensitive model.  The shift from attractional to missional is a shift from a self-centered church that competes with other churches for people and builds off of "transfer growth" to a church that is centered on what God is doing and wants to do in a community.

The attractional church also tends to be a homogeneous church, a church that only draws people who look like itself.  Usually this ends up being white middle class families.  Wayne Schmidt at Kentwood was a pioneer of reaching out to its diverse community with the aim of looking like the same multicultural mix of people around it.

Finally, Willow Creek has acknowledged in the last ten years that its almost exclusively seeker sensitive approach, which only aims at the entry level person, was ultimately a failure.  It is now acknowledged everywhere that a church needs to be leading its congregation into deeper and deeper faith, primarily through small groups.  A large church thus must have its people meeting in smaller discipleship groups to be a fully functional church.

In fact, you might think of the healthy megachurch as a collection of smaller church communities within a larger whole.

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