The following is a conversation this past weekend that I had with a guy at a church booth set up at our town’s Spring Festival. From all appearances, it is a small church that is relatively new and meeting in a shopping center down the street from my own church.

 

Me: “Hi, aren’t you guys right down the street from the elementary school?”

 

Pastor guy: “Yes sir we are. How are you today?”

 

Me: (I pretend to look at tract) “Good. Oh, so you guys are Free Will Baptist huh?”

 

Pastor guy: “Oh, well we’re our own unique church. We planted it.”

 

Me: “But there’s a Free Will Baptist church less than a mile down the road from where you guys are at, and there’s another one right by my house another mile or two away. It seems like there is already a lot of Free Will Baptist churches in this area, why a new one?

 

Pastor guy: (a bit suprised) “Well the more hooks you put out, the more souls you are likely to catch”

 

Me: “Hmm, but I think there are almost 400 churches in this county alone, and less than 200,000 people living here. That means if every single person alive and breathing in this county went to church then you would have less than 500 people per church.”

 

Pastor guy: (suprised) “Well, I guess we’re trying to reach our 500 then….”

 

Me: “But, it’s probably less than 20 percent that go to church regularly, so that means less than 100 people per church. In your experience does your church make new converts, or just…. Cannibalize members from other churches?”

 

Pastor guy: (slightly offended) “Well that’s not what we are trying to do! We are trying to win souls! The more areas that we have churches in, then the more people we can bring into the Kingdom” he explains.

 

Me: “Kind of like the McDonalds approach? Put a church on every corner, and people will come?”

 

Pastor guy: Well, yeah!”

 

Me:“But it also seems like if every church has fewer than 100 members then they probably pay for a pastor and secretary, and for a building of some kind, and that’s it. It hardly seems efficient to have hundreds of buildings and salaries to pay for, and not be able to plant churches where they are greatly needed or fund missions or outreach with that money. It kind of takes our eyes off the big picture and focuses them only on ourselves.”

 

Pastor guy’s wife: (Getting uncomfortable) “Well, we’ve been doing this for 33 years…”

 

Other than pleasantries and discussing small group models for churches and other things, I just left it at that because I felt like I had worn out their graciousness.

 

Sigh, but this church growth thing in America has gotten out of hand. I mean, this guy is Free Will Baptist, They have a bazillion churches around here. Does he work with these guys, maybe start a small group in an area or something to reach new people and maybe bring new people into existing churches? No he wants to start his own thing, be independent, an island unto himself.

 

I don’t understand it. I’m reformed, and in the PCA. We have only 3 churches in this entire county out of nearly 400 churches total. We team up for things, our pastors know one another. I would practically pee myself if we could have unity with other denominations that are similar (like the ARP) or had more people in this area we were similar enough to work with. That very opportunity is laid right before this guy and he runs from it.

 

But maybe that’s the problem to begin with, that is….. we have way, way, way too many churches all trying to execute their own very narrow vision or accomplish their own inwardly focused goals while ignoring everyone else around them. There’s no “finger on the pulse” of the area’s spiritual needs because everyone’s limited to seeing just their own little slice of it.

 

Which begs the question, with plenty of churches just cruising along focused on themselves, I wonder what happens when theres a problem within the church? Does it split and half of it defects to other churches? Or will some start new churches that will run the way THEY want them to? Either way, I think as a result; the original church would of course be smaller and likely suffering to pay its bills so it probably focuses even MORE inwardly and stops growing physically, and if it becomes frustrated with its new challenges it can stop growing spiritually completely.

 

Meanwhile, the churches who just grew from absorbing members from this afflicted church think they are doing something right, think their new growth is a sign they’re on the right track, so they pat themselves on the back and probably becomes complacent and inwardly focused. Overall, absolutely no progress has been made. If anything, people become disallusioned in the process from the politics and power struggles. I just described half the churches family members or myself went to as a child.

 

 I love the words Thomas Pollock wrote over 100 years ago in Jesus, With Thy Church Abide:

 

“May she one in doctrine be

One in truth, and charity

Winning all to faith in Thee

We beseech Thee, hear us

We beseech Thee, hear us.”

 

“May she guide the poor and blind

Seek the lost until she find

And the broken hearted bind

We beseech Thee, hear us

We beseech Thee, hear us.”

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