To say the church is “ineffective” is to make a claim that is more than a little difficult to prove. Is the church less effective today than, say, 20 years ago? 40 years ago? 100 years ago? Still, many make the claim that the church today is ineffective and they suggest that in former days it was more effective. Has the church become less effective or do we know its weaknesses more today than before? So, rather than making a sociological claim or a spiritual claim or an influence claim, let’s say the church is not effective as it could be or that the church could be more effective.
Which leads me to Harvie Conn and his book Evangelism: Doing Justice and Preaching Grace. Conn begins by claiming the church is not as effective as it was and that church numbers are dropping big time — his numbers only scratched the surface for those same numbers are worse today than in his day. (image)
What I want to focus on is Conn’s Five Questions about our lack of effectiveness in our society because, though he asked these in 1982, those questions could be asked again today — to great effect. I have not read much of Conn, but I find him at times (and what I hear of him mostly) to be prescient often.
But, what questions would you ask of the church today that seek to unveil reasons for ineffectiveness?
Is Our Message Cultural or Demythologized?
By this Conn means the church needs to de-mythologize its message from racism, materialism, the expertise myth, and privatization.
Is Our Church the Message as Well as the Medium
I quote him: “The church as institution [not a negative term for him] has slipped by practice into the church as technology” (19). It’s about bigness, professionalism, etc today: is the church a message to be seen?
Is Our Strategy Preacher-oriented or People-oriented?
How much of what we do today is determined by the pastor or the needs of the people? He quote Bonhoeffer who said the first service to others is to listen to them. Do we expect others to listen or are we listening?
Is Our Approach Pastoral or Patent-medicinal?
People need pastors who listen and care. I quote Conn: “This personal involvement with others determines the pastoral dimension of our work. Bearing the balm of Gilead, and not patent medicine, we are motivated by the heart of the shepherd” (22).
Is Our Concern Parochial or Universal?
“One cannot be a missionary church and continue insisting that the w world must come to the church on the church’s terms. It must become a “go” structure. And it can do that only when its concerns are directed outside itself toward the poor, the abused, and the oppressed. The church must recapture its identity as the only organization in the world that exists for the sake of its nonmembers” (23).