Volume 17, Issue 5: Poimen
Novelty and Endurance
Pundits and church-growth experts have been asking for many years,
what is the key to church growth? Studies have
been conducted, doctoral theses defended, and niche marketers flown in from
Manhattan. The data are in. Now, combine them in a large pot, bring to an initial boil, reduce the heat and simmer on low, uncovered, for three hours. When
the egg timer beeps, what you have left staring at you from the bottom of the pot is the essence of modern church
growth theory: Novelty. The factors that cause churches to grow nowadays all have this one thing in common.
Our culture is changing at an increasingly rapid pace. Need some background information for a report on
nuclear power? Google it. Locked out of your car? A lady in Detroit can unlock it via satellite. Want to see pictures of
the grandkids? We'll take them on the camera phone and zip them right over. And these are just
technological examples. The same rate of change affects other aspects of culture as well.
When the world changes at such a breathless pace, if you cannot keep up, you are doomed to deepening
disorientation. Those that can keep pace become so comfortable with "new and improved" that they begin to wear innovation
like an old sweater. In fact, they require innovation as a condition of their patronage.
In ministry, it is axiomatic that whatever we do
to get people to church, we have to do
to keep them there. If we draw people to church with a dog and pony show, we can only retain them if we
continue the dog and pony show. And the law
of diminishing returns informs us that
each show has to outdo the last. But what if what drew the crowd was
not a dog and pony show? What if the draw was novelty
itself? Well, then the axiom dictates we must continue to provide novelty, in
growing portions, in order to retain the crowd. This generates fads as churches compete to provide the latest, most cutting
edge "worship-experience" for modern evangelicals. Witness the purpose-driven fad, the emerging-church fad, the
home-church fad, and the endless Holy Spirit fads of the Charismatic movement. Phil Johnson has dubbed this
phenomenon "The Fad-driven® Church."
And now for some introspection. There has been a spike in attendance in Reformed churches in the last decade.
We might ask, why? Well, there are many good reasons to exit modern evangelicalism. Many report having grown sick of
the superficiality of the worship, the man-centered gospel, the general absence of content. Others resent being referred to
as "giving units" and having to watch their pastor preach through binoculars. It does not hurt attendance, of course,
that Augustine and Calvin, out of favor for so very many years, are now the
mode. Calvinism has become hip.
Is it our novelty that draws the numbers? On the one hand we are unapologetically Calvinistic. But on the other,
we have a well-developed culture of celebration. Yes, we sing the psalms. All of themeven the ones with words
like "dung" and images of broken teeth. We do not blush, but sing them robustly in four-part harmony. Is this not odd?
But there is more. We consider Christian education worthy of great familial sacrifice. And we make bold to declare
the supremacy of Christ over every government, family, and burger shack. Not convinced of our weirdness? Okay. We
like reading Leviticus and the hinterlands of Exodus. We treasure them with the rest of Scripture. And all of
these "distinctives" mean that we are weird (or, if you prefer,
But if we are novel, what distinguishes us from the
Fad-driven® Church? To answer this question, we must first
pose another. Why did you first come to a Reformed church? For some, it may be that it seemed "cutting-edge." It
was interesting because it was all so new (though really quite old). But if this is so, in order to "retain" you, your pastor
must trot out the next innovation. And if he is truth-driven, and not novelty-driven,
he simply cannot do it. This does not mean
a Reformed church cannot changethe motto of every church ought to be
semper reformanda, "always reforming." But
the changes do not occur for the sake of
change, but in pursuit of truth,
beauty, and goodness.
What this means, practically, is there are some things we began to pursue years ago which no longer savor
of newness. However, because they are true, good, and beautiful, we must continue the chase. Perhaps the novelty
of psalm-singing has worn off, and the pursuit of covenant community has grown tiresome. Or maybe the regularity
of discipling our children has become a drudgery, and the pursuit of the Word old hat. These are lofty pursuits, and
they are not simple or easy. Expect your flesh to groan at them sometimes. But when it does, ask yourself what first
brought you, truth or novelty? If it was novelty, then you must chase the latest fad. But if truth, beauty, and goodness drew
you, then endure. For what separates us from the
Fad-Driven® Church is joyful
endurance. Tenacious pursuit. No
distractions. Eyes on the goalfor this year, five years, five
hundred yearsin style and out.
"And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap,
if we do not grow weary" (Gal. 6:9).