Owen Strachen recently engaged some current research regarding growing and declining churches in his Gospel Coalition blog entitled, "The Hot 'New' Church Growth Method". In the blog, he comments on statistical confirmation that growing churches tend to have both clergy and congregations committed to biblical truth and evangelism. I commented on this same research in my January 4th post "We believe in?" Owen's article is excellent and makes a strong plea for biblically faithful ministry centered in sound doctrine. Yet Owen makes the following statement that has the potential to be misconstrued.
2. This frees pastors and congregations from the pressure of innovation.
"The pastor need not be a showman, a genius, or an activist. The pastor can preach the Word and lead the flock in evangelizing the lost, and God will do the work. Of course, we don’t need studies and articles to tell us this; Scripture gives us all the confidence and foundation we need for ministry (2 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 4:12). But it’s always nice to see truth cut through stereotypes." (Owen Strachan, The Hot 'New' Church Growth Method, emphasis added)
Now I agree we need neither showmen nor geniuses to be pastors. Though some humble flare and intellect may be helpful this not in the job description (See 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1) Whether or not he ought to be an activist we can also save for another day. My concern is that Owen seemingly desires to release any thought of innovation as being a part of growing churches. Just preach the Word, evangelize and God will do the work. Amen, I heartily agree. But are the growing churches that the research cited truly without "innovation"?
I think Owen simply means to cast aside innovation in "doctrine" but a careless or tendentious reader may get the impression that growing churches cast aside any and all innovation. This is not the case. This casting aside of innovation in toto would not only be unnecessary, it may also be unhelpful to certain flavors of conservative church leaders. As I read through the research today I found something else cited along with conservative doctrine, clergy and congregations. The churches experiencing growth also had the following features:
- They had a significant focus on young people
- 44% never use an organ
- 67% always have drums
- 78% in electric guitar
- 100% using visual projection
- 88% either sometimes, often or always use video
So it seems a more accurate summary of the research tells us that the churches that are growing are marked by the following:
- Conservative doctrine, clergy and congregations
- An emphasis on reaching young people
- They employ contemporary musical expressions and technology
So what of innovation? Let us not innovate in the faith once for all entrusted to the saints. (Jude 1:3) May we never veer away from that which we received from the prophets, Jesus and the apostles. Yet we can and should innovate in our communication and contextualization of the gospel. As we like to say in Acts 29: we plant theologically driven, culturally engaged and missionally innovative churches in order to reach lost people with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
For more on theologically conservative and missionally innovative thinking see my Thoughts on Missional Innovation here on the blog. Or you can read that in three parts over at Acts 29: