Uncomfortable Growth

Before thinking about church growth you should ask yourself, who do we really want to attract?  Not in the hypothetical sense but in the very existential sense where one looks at what they are already doing to ascertain who they’re really trying to attract.  There are scads of books on church growth.  Read one.  Those books will almost always tell you how to get the people who you’re comfortable with and who will make you feel comfortable.  On the other hand I have uncomfortable suggestions.

Put $20 in the commissary account of every freshly incarcerated inmate in your local city jail.  The way it works (at least in Grand Rapids) is inmates are not given basic toiletries like toothpaste and deodorant and instead must buy them from the commissary.  Dental hygiene is important, particularly for these people who usually are poor and generally do not have access to dental care.  There is also the more existential issue here, just a Snickers bar can cheer someone in a desperate situation up the way it wouldn’t if it were just purchased at a local gas station.

Pay unemployed members of the congregation to drive the working poor (who generally have poorly working autos) to their jobs and other places.  This serves a great need but it also gets poor people (who tend to be demoralized and isolated) interacting with each other.  The ride program may be facilitated with an off-the-shelf smartphone app such as Life360.

Read what people write, particularly people who are not of privilege.  People do not realize that the real world is far from a level playing field for discourse.  As an individual with a disability who has social anxiety (or maybe just hypersensitivity to being snubbed) I have experienced this again and again.  For me and many others the pen levels things out some.  On the internet people do not see my disability and judge me for the content of my words alone.  Of course the same holds true for a person of color or of a different sexual orientation.

Every week right before the church service hear a report from a representative of each minority in your congregation.  This may be a African American, a Latina, a liberated woman, an L/G/B/T member, or an individual with a disability.  A lot of the time the reports may have trivial details (like the Lions losing again) but the point is to prime the pump for when something deathly serious does happen (like the Zimmerman verdict, the oppression gays are receiving in Russia, or the plug being pulled on Terri Schiavo).  The point of having it before the service starts is so the core members of the church (who generally come earlier) will hear it and if something of great weight happens the service will be postponed until the event has been let out.

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