8 December 2023

Growing a healthy church isn’t complex … but it is counter-cultural

The church spires of St Paul’s Cathedral in the city of Melbourne. Picture: iStock

By Ken Morgan 

6 March 2022

What will post-pandemic church be like? Are hybrid services and Zoom meetings the new normal? We’re all receiving emails and podcasts predicting radical, discontinuous change, urging us to be agile (… and to sign up for their webinar). 

In the face of all the hype, here’s the good news: fundamentally, what’s required to sustain and grow a healthy church will be the same post-pandemic as it was pre-pandemic.  

The bad news is that before COVID, the church in the western world was not all that adept in doing what was required to sustain and grow a healthy church.  

It’s not necessarily complex, it’s just contrary to our instincts and to our culture. It comes down to obeying the commandments of Jesus. 

The most important command is to love God. This is different from loving our traditions (whether they be vestments or hermeneutics), or our place of recognition in the church. Loving God requires putting all our resources at his disposal for his purposes. It means submitting our hopes for things like “successful” kids, financial security and a comfortable lifestyle to the greater hope of the Kingdom of God realised. For the wealthy and aspirational, loving God will be costly.  

The next command is to love your neighbour as yourself. One of the primary ways we demonstrate love for God is to love the people around us. The first century church, the Celtic monks, the founders of the Salvation Army, and dozens of other history-making movements in the church over the centuries were renowned for going to extraordinary lengths to love and serve the unbelieving, and often hostile populace, that surrounded them. This was more than spare time and spare change stuff.   

The demonstration of God’s love though personal, practical and sacrificial acts of service to those outside the church is a powerful testimony to the heart of God and the intent of the gospel.  The kingdom of God is visible as a community of love, as Jesus demonstrated by touching untouchables, dignifying outcasts and turning the pecking order of his society upside down. Jesus does not invite us to be merely good citizens, he calls us to surprise, delight and even astound our communities with kindness. Do this and we will have no trouble attracting people to our churches.  

Jesus’ new command was to love one another. Sixty per cent of Anglican churches with which I have worked have been significantly impaired by unproductive conflict, usually around issues of status and preference. We should be going out of our way to show grace and favour to each other, yet we waste our energy protecting our turf and our tastes.  

Jesus’ parting command was to make disciples, not just church-goers. We are required to introduce people to the gospel in a way that they can grasp and respond with repentance and faith. Then we are to teach them the ways of Jesus, cultivating personal transformation and a life of loving God, neighbour and fellow believers.  

Doing this thoughtfully and consistently will see our churches will grow. It’s been that way for 2000 years.  

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