The church’s “Kodak moment”?

We’ve been pretty hard on the Church Growth Movement lately, so let’s allow an advocate to have his say.  Thom Schultz, the founder of Group Publishing (and I think originally a Lutheran, though whether he is now I’m not sure) has written a provocative post entitled “The Church’s Frightful Kodak Moment.”  It was occasioned by a walk through a mostly deserted Kodak facility, a once successful company that has been left behind by new technology and its refusal to innovate.   He says that traditional churches are the same way and will similarly die unless they make big changes.

But then Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk has written a devastating reply (excerpted after the jump).

From Chaplain Mike, at A Poorly Developed Picture | internetmonk.com:

So, Thom Schultz suggests that the church learn from Kodak’s failures. This is our “Kodak moment,” he warns. Unless we (1) accept the reality that things are changing and churches are declining, (2) give up trying to simply “tweak” what we do and instead focus on “revolutionizing,” and (3) take risks by acting now and experimenting with bold new ideas, we face a future like Kodak experienced.

Therefore, Schultz exhorts us to re-examine everything we’re doing. To ask big questions. To step out and try something. To boldly step into the future because that’s where God is moving.

Etc. etc. etc.

To which I say, with all due respect, “Yawn.”

This is not challenging the status quo. This is the very definition of the status quo when it comes to evangelicalism, and it has been at least since Thom Schultz started writing youth curriculum back in the 1970′s. It’s the same old church growth mantra: “Change or die!” It’s the same old focus on “catching the next wave” and riding it into the future. It’s the same old emphasis on “relevance” and “effectiveness” and “success.”

Though he tries to convince us that the church is hopelessly committed to outmoded methodologies, the only example he uses is that people may have grown tired of the Sunday morning worship show (with which I agree). He also throws out some lines about encouraging people’s spiritual vitality rather than mere attendance (with which I also agree).

But what is so status quo and stale are the lame “answers” he suggests. Let’s get creative! Let’s brainstorm! Let’s think outside the box! Let’s do something different! Let’s be revolutionary! Let’s be bold! Let’s be proactive! Innovate, innovate, innovate!

Look.

Kodak is a business. The church is not.

Kodak sells products. The church does not.

Kodak competes with other businesses in a realm of technology and in a commercial marketplace that is constantly changing, demanding innovation in order for the business to make profits. The church does not.

The church is not a business, and the experience of commercial institutions like Kodak does not provide appropriate lessons for “making the church more effective.” I don’t find that phrase helpful in any way whatsoever. We do not and cannot control our “effectiveness” by means of better methodology. Continuing to think like this will only lead us farther away from the church’s true mission, in which Jesus is central and vital, and farther down a path which is all about making a name for ourselves and building our own proprietary kingdoms™.

The church is about Jesus. The church is about life. The church is about people. The church is about the grace of God flowing into human lives and making us more human (not more “effective”). As human beings made new in Jesus, we live among our neighbors with faith, hope, and love. Like Jesus, we lay down our lives so that others might live.

Even if our church buildings and institutions become empty Kodak-like campuses, and are ineffective, uncreative, having no form or comeliness that make them attractive, with no organizational or institutional beauty that people should find them desirable, by God’s own simple and creative means — people of faith loving their neighbors — God will bring life and health and peace and build the church.

Thom Schultz’s article represents the same tired evangelical thinking about the church’s mission and methodology: imagining that what we’re about requires relying on “spiritual technology” to “connect people to God” and build “effective” churches. It’s just plain bad theology, folks.

In fact, it is nothing less than an ongoing denial of Jesus’ words about the organic nature of the Kingdom, which involves seeds falling into the ground and dying so that they may bear fruit and bring forth life.

Though all the world go digital and beyond, building gleaming towers that reach to the heavens, the mission of Jesus proceeds with a quiet, unstoppable tenacity at ground level.

Get the picture?

HT:  Phoenix Preacher

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.


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