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“The Numbers Are Going Up But Something Doesn’t Feel Right”

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I’m out traveling and leading seminars with pastors in Eastern Pennsylvania for a few days. Today I was traveling with Craig Weidman assistant to the District Superintendent in the C&MA East PA District. He was telling me a story out of his own ministry when he described an experience that sounded all too familiar at Life on the Vine. He said, “the numbers were going up but something didn’t feel right.” He was describing the changes that were happening at a prior church ministry when numbers started going up meanwhile the ethos of the gathering was changing. He asked what do you do with that?
We’ve been experiencing the same thing at Life on the Vine and we’re asking the same question. There’s a certain excitement being generated. People are hearing about the church. The liturgical shape of our services is beginning to make sense to people. A disposition is being formed in the gathering to receive the presence of Christ in our midst. Yet even with all this we sense a certain percentage of people are coming to watch, not participate (in Mission). There’s a larger group coming to see what’s going on with a limited commitment to community and Mission. The church has taken on an attractional element. “The numbers are going up but something doesn’t feel right.”

Solutions we’re discussing:
a.) Get ten people together, form a missional communal order and send them out of here. Start another church or two!
b.) Shut down the Sunday morning service once a month, and do everything we do at the big gathering in the homes, taking the spectacle element out of it, and forcing each other to be community and pray together for the neighborhood we are in. Any offerings taken are visibly discussed in ways we can bless and reach out to hurting souls in the neighborhood.
c.) Create some guidelines for coming to our church that strongly suggest, after a period of incubation, that one should commit to the Communal and Missional practices of our body or move to a place where one can. Incubation period? One year, 6 months?

Of course many folk would suggest that this could all be solved if we simply became a set of house churches. Yet I believe there are numerous ways incarnational presence in the communities can be made possible by larger church bodies (I’ll perhaps engage Frank Viola on this sometime in a future post). What do you think? Have you experienced “The numbers are going up but something doesn’t feel right”? What did you do?

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PS Here’s a reminder about the up-coming Ancient Evangelical Future Conference Oct 9,10-11. This year’s whole discussion is on “being the church,” the church as the continuation of God’s Story. This section of the AEF Call reads as follows:

We call Evangelicals to take seriously the visible character of the Church.
We call for a commitment to its mission in the world in fidelity to God’s mission (Missio Dei), and for an exploration of the ecumenical implications this has for the unity, holiness catholicity, and apostolicity of the Church. Thus, we call Evangelicals to turn away from an individualism that makes the Church a mere addendum to God’s redemptive plan. Individualistic Evangelicalism has contributed to the current problems of churchless Christianity, redefinitions of the Church according to business models, separatist ecclesiologies and judgmental attitudes toward the Church. Therefore, we call Evangelicals to recover their place in the community of the Church catholic.

D.H. Williams, Howard Snyder, Janell Paris, Rick Richardson, myself are all tackling this subject matter. They extended the “early bird” registration rate. Read about it here.

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