My pastor is on sabbatical, spending 3 months visiting multiple churches in a quest to study worship. This past Sunday, he visited a classic "Crowd and Core" church in Huntsville, Alabama. From my days before attending a Lutheran church, I am very familiar with this particular church. I studied its growth model, and was intimately involved in a very similar church in a nearby town. I had a first hand view of the challenges and the pitfalls of this particular church growth model.
This model is simple. The church consists of two groups of people, the "Crowd" and the "Core". The goal is simple, do whatever it takes to draw a "Crowd", then try to get at least a small percentage of the "Crowd" into the "Core" group. This model is entirely a numbers game. The vast majority of the "Crowd" does not enter the "Core", so the challenge is to get the "Crowd" as large as possible. The size of the "Crowd" is important because it must be large enough to bring enough into the "Core" to both make up for those leaving the church, and to provide the rapid growth necessary to keep the show for the "Crowd" funded.
To develop the "Crowd", two simultaneous approaches are used. First, the show on Sunday morning must be as professional as possible. The singers must all be young, attractive, and wear fashionable clothes. The announcer must sound professional. Lighting, sound, and cameras must all be professional. Timing must be accurate down to a few seconds. Everything is a choreographed performance.
Second, and probably more important than the show, is the content of the pastor's sermon. In general, the way to attract a crowd is to do two things. First, the delivery must be story driven rather than content driven. The sermon must be a series of personal stories and illustrations. It is important not to have substantial content. Second, the sermon must concern the concept of the "Theology of Glory". All Lutherans know this theology as opposed to the "Theology of the Cross". In the "Theology of Glory", the Christian faith is more about what the individual does, and how God makes our life better here on Earth. Typical "Theology of Glory" sermon titles are
- "How to battle Depression"
- "How to have a happy marriage"
- "How to manage money"
- "How to be a better Father/Mother/Son"
In more fundamentalist churches that draw a crowd, the "Theology of Glory" takes a different path
- "If our country doesn't return to God and put prayer in schools, it will collapse"
- "If you have sex before marriage, the rest of your life will terrible"
- "If you live the right way, read the bible every day, and not spend time with the wrong people, God will reward with you with a happy marriage"
In modern prosperity churches, the sermon is always the same
- "If you give xxx and do xxxx, God will prosper you and give you a happy life"
In one local church, the pastor ordained his son into the ministry, paraded his Father, beautiful wife, and beautiful daughter before the crowd and said "If you follow God, you will have a happy and beautiful family like I have."
It is ingrained into Lutherans pastors not to preach that way. They seem almost incapable of it. I believe the difference in the "Theology of the Cross" and the "Theology of Glory" is so ingrained in them, most seem unwilling to copy the sermon portion of the crowd and core growth model.
I am so glad. I couldn't take the crowd and core growth model. In other blog entries, I have noted some of the problems, and at various times I will continue to blog on these issues. But the key point of this entry is that since the "Theology of Glory" is an anathema to true Lutherans, it is important for Lutherans to accept that the crowd and core model does not work for a Lutheran church. It is a waste of time to try to emulate them.
Instead of emulating this growth model, I call on Lutherans to embrace their history and work on evangelism in a way that matches your rich history. Embrace the "Theology of the Cross." Proclaim it in sermons, in Sunday School small groups, in mid-week small groups, and on Internet websites and blogs. Embrace it and proclaim it with all your heart, and do not flee from it. Embrace it with passion, being confident and perhaps a bit arrogant about it. The "Theology of the Cross" is core to who you are, and is a desperately needed message in a world dominated by prosperity gospel.
But, you will not draw a crowd. You will gain one, two, three people at a time. About as many that come in the front door may go out the back door just as quickly. But, don't give up. The "Theology of the Cross" has persevered for 2000 years, and you are called to proclaim it to next generation.