Summary: A winsome church does God's work God's way for the sake of God's world.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL recently published a report indicating that “the U.S. now has a bigger share of people who don’t identify with any religion than those who do. In the last seven years, the number of people unaffiliated with either Roman Catholic or mainline Protestant churches has spiked from around fifteen percent of the population to almost twenty-five percent. That’s one in four Americans! Meanwhile, mainline Protestants – Presbyterians and Methodists and Lutherans and such – have declined from about eighteen percent to about fourteen percent. Even evangelicals and Roman Catholics have seen a plunge in numbers.
Now, if we care anything at all about the church and its health – and we do, don’t we? – I’ve got to think we would like to turn this trend around. So how do we do it? How do we stop the decline and start to grow again? What do you think? What drives some churches in their efforts is the glitzy glamor of the new, the bigger, the better, and the innovative. If we could just do more of something or do something bigger and better than anyone else, maybe that would reverse the reversal. Ron Hutchcraft once described such dead end tactics as programs, personalities, people, property, and profits. Scott Clark talks about the “killer Bs,” by which he means bodies, buildings, and budgets. Get more bodies in the pews, build bigger, better buildings, raise more money. It sounds promising, but, the truth is: such measures don’t work – at least, not in the long run.
I know a church here in our community that wanted to attract young people, so they built a gym. They went into debt to pay for it, and, when it was finished, it just sat there. The youth did not show up. “Build it and they will come” is a myth, and it only works in the movies.
A fourth “killer B” would be busy-ness. And a lot of churches see mere activity as a sign of life? But is it? Or bigness! There’s a fifth “B.” Is that the proof that a church is healthy and vital? If not, what is? What makes for a winsome church that is alive and well?
When you look at Acts, chapter 2, you can see that it’s not the external trappings that make for a winsome church. It’s not what’s up front that counts; it’s what’s inside. A winsome church does God’s work God’s way for the sake of God’s world.
Acts 2 tells the story of that pivotal Pentecost when God poured out the Holy Spirit on his church. Some people call that first Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension – they call it the birthday of the church. Being a Presbyterian, I don’t call it that. I used to, but not any more. To me, the birthday of the church is recorded back in Genesis, when God first made a covenant with Abraham to bless all the nations through his offspring. That’s when the church got its start. That was its birthday. Pentecost, in my mind, was the coming of age of the church. It marked the point in time when the church was equipped for its mission with power from on high. It was now grown up and ready to go to work.