- Thousands of us in the United States will enjoy the handiwork of family recipes this Thursday.
- Sugar cookies of every seasonal shape will be available in the coming weeks.
The Bad (but not so bad) News:
- There is no longer a recipe for creating A Successful Church.
- Cookie Cutter Churches have died or are dying.
There was a time when most Protestant Mainline Churches followed a similar recipe for success and it worked: Sunday Morning Church School, Sunday Morning Worship, Children’s Vacation Bible School during a week in the summer, Church Choir, Women’s Groups Men’s Groups, Pastor-Led Bible Study, Sanctuary with Pews, “Education Wing” that looked like a school building.
Over the past couple of decades the recipe shifted a bit.
Some churches installed screens in the sanctuary and initiated “contemporary worship services.” Some built enormous Family Centers. Some copied what other churches had found successful. (I remember a pastor telling me last year that his church was considering the possibility of placing a computer lab in their building because the church down the street had one. I suggested that they should not do this because 1) the church down the street already had one and 2) there are computer labs in public libraries and 3) they needed to discern what their church was called to offer to the community based on the needs of the neighbors.)
How many times have we heard that “we need a preschool to bring in young families” because that “worked” for another church? Or we need to include guitars and drums in worship because “that’s what the Methodists (or the Lutherans or the Presbyterians) did to bring in the young people“?
I’m not saying that screens, drums, and preschools are a bad idea. It’s just that we need to include them in our ministry because it works for our own context. (If we try putting a preschool in a neighborhood with no children or with an overabundance of preschool options already available, we will be frustrated.)
The question is always Why? Why do we want screens? (There are excellent reasons but “to be attractive to the young people” is not one of them.) Why do we want to bring in young people? (Again, there are good and great reasons but “so they will join all the committees and give money to keep us afloat” is not one of them.)
There is no precise recipe for a “Successful Church” in the 21st Century anymore than every American is eating the exact same menus this Thanksgiving. (Anybody sharing the feast with a vegan? Anyone bringing curry this year?) Just as our culture is more diverse, our communities are becoming more diverse and therefore our congregations could – should? – become more diverse as well . . . at least if we are serious about making disciples of all nations (or all neighbors.)
If we really need a recipe, I would suggest this one:
- Prepare the congregation. (God is always doing something new and it’s usually not what we expect.)
- Gather necessary ingredients/information. (Do we know what our community is missing? What’s needed? What breaks God’s heart out there?)
- Allow things to heat up. (Let the Spirit in.)
- Mix it up. (Try new things. Don’t try to institutionalize everything – i.e. just because you try something doesn’t mean you have to do it forever.)
- Taste. Savor. Strive for a more adventurous palate. (HH and I encouraged our kids to try a “no thank you portion” with new foods. This is not a bad idea for church creativity too. Just try it. Maybe it won’t become your favorite thing, or maybe it will.)
- Don’t forget to say ‘Thank You’ to the chefs. (Church is no place for shame and blame when we try something new and it doesn’t work out. Thank those who worked behind the scenes and then take your turn.)
And leave the cookie cutters in the drawer. (Drop cookies are easier and more fun anyway.)
Happy Thanksgiving Everybody!