con-trar-i-an (noun): a person who opposes or rejects popular opinion; a person who goes against current practices.
Not too long ago, while I was reflecting on ministry and my years of being a pastor, I had the following thought: What if I took everything I learned about church growth and turned it on its head?
The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea and so I came up with 10 contrarian principles for church growth. My theory is there are a lot of pastors, like me, who are tired of all the books and conferences and experts telling you 10 ways to grow your church and after implementing those 10 ways your church doesn’t grow. My thesis is that many church growth conferences and books leave the average pastor feeling inadequate and discouraged. My question has become: “Are there biblical principles about what it means to be a church, that if implemented, will not guarantee numerical growth, and in fact, may stifle, if not halt, church growth, but they are biblical anyway and need to be implemented?”
So, this is the fifth post in a series of posts fleshing out my contrarian church growth principles. And rest assured, I believe in and practice each one. Here is the link to the first contrarian principle to church growth. Here is a link to the second one. Here is a link to the third one. Here is a link to #4. This post is about the fifth principle:
Contrarian Church Growth Principle #5: Strive to be a church known for your conscientious activism.
I pastored my first church for 14 years before leaving to pastor another church. While I was away, my first church went through some difficult and painful times that forced them to make the hard decision to close the church. They contacted me, 2 years into my new pastorate, to help them close the church and dismantle the corporation. After 18 months of trying to liquidate assets with little success, the equally hard decision was made for me to resign my church and return to restart my first church. The decision was also made that a major characteristic of the new, revitalized church would be to focus on the community by being heavily involved in social issues. We believed, and still believe, a major part of our ministry would be being a conscience to the community. That stated mission has led me down some very interesting paths–some good and some not so good. I have learned a lot, and I have made a lot of mistakes along the way. But there is one thing I know: When the church made the decision to close in 2001, no one in the city cared and no one in the city would have missed the church. I am confident that is not the case anymore! If my church ceased to exist tomorrow there would be a huge void in our city. I know this to be true because community people and political leaders have told me so. Our church is known for being on the front lines of social issues in our city and state. Issues like inadequate healthcare, systemic racism, gentrification, mass incarceration, the death penalty, living wage, and caring for the poor and those experiencing homelessness. Part of our calling is to be a holy nusance. We take Jesus’ parable of the Sheep and the Goats seriously (Matthew 25:31-46). We think being like Jesus means implementing His vision statement into the DNA of our church (Luke 4:18-19). As a result, I have a low-income church in a high-income city. But it’s worth it because everyday I see miracles and every day I get to watch God supernaturally supply our needs. My church is still small, but our reputation is that our foot print is far greater than our feet.
Every church has a reputation within its community. Sometimes the reputation is ambivalent–no one really cares about the church and she is doing or not doing. Sometimes they are known for their programs or their music or their building. We would rather be known as a church that speaks up when everyone else is quiet. We would rather be known as a church that serves the community by being a conscience to the community.
It ain’t easy. But if it were easy everyone would do it.