Every so often, I receive feedback from people about how they perceive the job I’m doing as their pastor. Sometimes this feedback is valid ~ they’ve brought up something that’s lacking in the way I practice being a pastor (it’s always practice, since I don’t think I’ll ever get it right). Often, this feedback is a reflection on what they think is problematic about our congregation. There are regular concerns about whether we’re reaching out to the community in which our church building is located; concerns about whether we’re ‘getting the word out’ about our congregation the way we should; concerns about why some people don’t attend any more; concerns about whether we as a church community are meeting the spiritual needs of the members of our congregation.
So often, people talk about what strategies to use, what programs to implement, what style of worship we ought to move toward or away from. I think these are the wrong questions to be asking. These are business questions. These are issues that are relevant to corporate and retail life, relevant to entities concerned with profit. Questions of market share, retention of members (customers), recruitment of new members (customers), marketing strategies, etc. are only relevant if our concern is keeping the institution alive. They’re only relevant if our concern is perpetuating a particular congregation (or, by extension, a denomination).
Of course, I'm interested in my congregation (and my denomination) continuing, but only for purely selfish reasons ~ if my congregation continues, I'll continue to have a paycheck, and if my denomination continues, I’ll continue to have a means by which to find a new call (job) when that time comes.
But retention of members is not the church’s job. The acquisition of new members is not the church’s job. Meeting the spiritual needs of current or new or potential members is not the church’s job. The church’s job is to communicate the gospel. (If this means that the congregation I serve will no longer exist, so be it. If this means that denominations need to die, that’s the way it goes.)
It seems, though, that we as church have bought in to the myth that bigger market share is always better, which compels us to water down the gospel so that it is no longer offensive to anyone (we'd hate to scare them off, wouldn't we?). Of course, once we’ve watered down the gospel so that it’s appealing, then the bible has become just another self-help book leading us to better morality.
Of course, the Gospel is not concerned with morality. The Gospel is about killing us and raising us to new life. And not in some sweet by and by; right here, and right now. Jesus didn't come so that we might have congregations ~ Christ came so that we would have life.