How to make your church more popular


I’m kicking myself — I’ve been completely oblivious to something right under my nose. Here’s my no-duh moment: Of course people who elevate casual and contemporary services are primarily concerned with numbers.

Membership. Attendance. Popularity.

It’s been called “social proof” by Dr. Robert Cialdini, psychologist and author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. When other people like it, you should like it, too.

I think of it this way: In the non-rational zones of anyone’s emotions and social interactions, we can expect to find a sort of default formulation that looks something like this, if applied to local congregations:

What Will Draw And Keep People = Big Congregation = Status Of Success = Implicit Proof Of The Best Theology Or Doctrine Or Worship Style Or Order Of Service Or Sound System Or Pastoral Hair Gel Or Whatever The Leadership Deems Most Important To Get Butts In The Seats = It Worked!

People will think, “That church is so big — they must be right, and I’m left out. Honey, we should check that place out next Sunday.”

Novelty works for a while. Any retailer will tell you novelty is a great way to get people in the door. However, novelty only remains novel for so long. So congregants, like consumers, eventually look for a new novelty. How can anyone use Novelty 2.0 to compete when Novelty 3.0 is available in the same market?

Thus, church leadership continually finds itself in a state of cyclical exasperation: The leaders must fine-tune that which is not fine-tunable — meaning, human beings.

(In some churches, it means trying to fine-tune God’s Sovereignty, which is by definition impossible, so each effort in ministry can be likened to a hamster’s efforts to keep the wheel spinning in place. He won’t get anywhere, but he can look great by spinning it faster. I can’t know if I’m one of the Elect, so maybe if I can keep the wheel spinning — i.e., work hard at character — I can look like I might be Elect, and thereby ease my anxiety and terror, even though I can’t build true character, so I shouldn’t try, but if I don’t, I won’t have anything to go on except my work ethic and my hopes that I believe right enough and enough enough, which has me thinking about that great Calvinist hit song “The Last In Line” by Ronnie James Dio, which seems to be referring to Judgment Day with the lines, “We’ll know for the first time / If we’re evil or divine / We’re the last in line.” Anyway, I’ll come back to great heavy metal songs that illustrate Calvinism, like “God Hates Us All” by Slayer, at a later date.)

A Parable

Once upon a time, the church leaders jiggled the handle twice and the toilet quit running for a few minutes. When it started running again, the leaders jiggled the handle twice, and it worked again. But when the toilet starting running after that, two jiggles wasn’t stopping the toilet from running. They waited a while and tried one jiggle. No luck. Eventually four jiggles worked — but only for a short time. So the leaders sent the pastor off to a conference on ever-more-precise handling jiggling.

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