The Seven-Day-a-Week Church [Secure eReader]
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eBook by Lyle E. Schaller
eBook Category: Spiritual/Religion
eBook Description: With brilliant insight and engaging descriptions, Lyle E. Schaller looks at the seven-day-a-week church, revealing key findings about the characteristics of "megachurches." He analyses the "program church" and the "full-service church"--the traditional congregation and the parish that has created a seven-day-a-week ministry.
eBook Publisher: United Methodist Publishing House/Abingdon Press, Published: 2002
Fictionwise Release Date: January 2004
The origins of this volume can be traced back several years to the urgings of friends to write a book on the life and ministry of the very large church. Many of those doing the urging were pastors, staff, and volunteer leaders I met while engaged in three-to five-day parish consultations with very large churches. Others were participants in seminars and workshops designed for leaders from very large congregations.
While I worked on a tentative outline and the contents, a half-dozen discoveries grabbed my attention and redefined the project. The first was the gradual recognition back in the late 1970s that churchgoers born after World War II were showing up in disproportionately large numbers in large and rapidly growing churches -- especially in relatively new congregations -- that either did not carry a denominational label or wore it very lightly with low visibility. This, of course, is now widely recognized as one of the reasons several of the mainline Protestant denominations report that their members are growing fewer in numbers and older in age. These denominations cut back sharply during the 1960s and 1970s in the launching of new missions -- and especially in new congregations designed to grow into megachurches.
The second discovery was the simplest and most obvious. It is impossible to offer generalizations that apply to every state and province in the United States and Canada. While the Sunday morning churches described in chapter 2 are shrinking in number -- specially in the Northeast, the Midwest, the Great Plains, and the far West -- many continue to thrive in retirement communities in the Sunbelt and in the theologically more conservative sections of the Southeastern United States and in communities that attract large numbers of weekend tourists.
The third discovery was the reluctant realization that the larger the size of the congregation, the more likely the continuity, creativity, and vision rest in the staff, not in the volunteer leadership. By contrast, the continuity in the typical small congregation rests largely in the institutional culture rather than in the paid staff. As a denominationalist and as a product of the 1950s -- which taught that people's loyalties should be to Jesus Christ, the church, and the denomination, not to one particular congregation -- I found that this was a bitter pill to swallow. The acceptance of that new reality, however, does help to explain a significant part of contemporary church life. It is one of the three or four most plausible explanations for the decrease in the number of United Methodist congregations averaging more than 350 at worship from over 2,000 in 1965 to fewer than 1,300 in 1990. This also helps to explain the institutional fragility of the very large Sunday morning church built around the personality and preaching of the senior pastor, which is described in chapters 2 and 6. This recognition of the centrality of the leadership role of the pastor and program staff also helps to explain the rapid growth of Protestant churches in Korea as well as of the large independent churches in the United States that cannot depend on a denominational label to attract new members.
The fourth and most intriguing of these six discoveries was the sudden realization one day back in 1988 that the category I had identified simply as "the very large church" really was a combination of two groups of large congregations. The first, which has become an endangered species, is the Sunday morning church described in chapter 2. The second group, which is increasing in numbers, is the large and rapidly growing parish that offers an expanding seven-day-a-week program. Some of these programs are clearly community outreach or social service-type ministries, directed largely at people who never will become members. Most of these weekday and evening ministries, however, also represent attractive entry points for potential future members. The most obvious result of that insight was a change in the theme of this book from "The Life and Ministry of the Very Large Church" to its present title.
The fifth discovery occurred during a three-cornered literary debate that began back in the 1970s. This debate was begun by scholars in the Church Growth Movement who pointed out that numerically growing congregations usually attract new members who closely resemble the current members. This pattern was identified as the "homogeneous unit principle." The accuracy of this generalization rarely was challenged.
Subsequently, however, a growing number of critics of the Church Growth Movement challenged the homogeneous unit principle on ideological grounds. They argued that every congregation should be inclusive. Every congregation should plan to attract and serve every slice of the population. Targeting one group of people as prospective new members sometimes was described as "exclusionary" or even as "unchristian." At a minimum it was ideologically unacceptable.
Rarely did anyone point out that the congregations most likely to reflect the homogeneous unit principle were not the numerically growing churches, but rather the declining congregations affiliated with one of the "mainline" Protestant denominations.
From the third corner of this debate came two reservations. First was the qualification offered by the pragmatists that a more precise statement would read, "Numerically growing congregations naturally tend to reflect the homogeneous unit principle unless a carefully managed effort is made to build in a greater degree of pluralism." The second qualification occurred to this observer in June 1984 when I began to realize the best examples of carefully managed pluralism that violated the homogeneous unit principle could be found in that growing number of full-service congregations that included a large core of working class adults, their adult children, and other adults from their children's generation.
This expression of pluralism can be found in the large seven-day-a-week African-American churches, in the large working class immigrant congregations with a seven-day-a-week program as well as in the large and vital ethnically integrated full-service churches and the largely Anglo program churches.
Those who examined every congregation from the perspective of the homogeneous unit principle argued that this oversimplified reality. Most of the people in these large, growing, and vital seven-day-a-week churches shared a single characteristic. This meant they really reflected the homogeneous unit principle. That widely shared single characteristic was not race or income or language or nationality or age or education or social class. It was a desire for upward mobility for themselves and/or their children.
A more careful analysis revealed that for many of these large and rapidly growing megachurches that single-factor explanation of upward mobility also oversimplified reality. The real point of homogeneity for many (but not all) of these large and rapidly growing full-service churches can be summarized in four sentences.
1. The people worshiping in these churches discover that their lives have been transformed by the power of the Gospel.
2. That happens because the leaders (both paid and volunteer) have experienced the transformational power of the gospel in their own lives; therefore, they are convinced that they must share that experience with others.
3. Most of the members cannot help inviting others to come and experience the transformational power of the Good News about Jesus Christ.
4. As a result, these churches operate on the assumption that more people will come if invited by those whose lives have been transformed by the gospel. Thus a self-perpetuating cycle is created that generates a steady flow of visitors. As is pointed out in chapter 2, while this is not the only reason these churches often become very large, it is the number-one factor.
The last, the most recent, and the happiest of these six foundational discoveries I owe largely to Robert Buford, W. Fred Smith, and The Leadership Network. Many old men are tempted to romanticize the past, to glorify the heroic figures of an earlier era, and to bemoan the contemporary absence of outstanding leaders, preachers, tenors, scholars, lefthanded baseball pitchers, and honest politicians. To offset that predictable tendency, I have been honored to have had the opportunity to meet and talk with scores of senior pastors, associate ministers, and executive pastors born since 1950 who are among the most competent leaders I have ever known. As a group they are highly committed, bright, optimistic, skilled, Christ-centered, enthusiastic, goal-driven, compassionate, visionary, intelligent, caring, and entrepreneurial leaders. They have been willing to accept and to fulfill the responsibilities of serving as initiating leaders. They are highly productive workers who know how to get the most out of each hour God has given them. They reinforce the conviction that God does lift up the leaders needed for each new generation. The only point of concern is whether the supply will be adequate to meet the growing need.
The product of those six discoveries is this book. This is not simply a book about that rapidly growing number of very large program churches. Rather this book is about yesterday and tomorrow.
The big Protestant churches of the 1950s were built largely around the ecclesiastical trinity of that day -- inspiring preaching, a superb choir, and an attractive Sunday school. For all practical purposes, these were Sunday morning churches. That mixture often was enriched by Sunday evening services and the personable -- and sometimes controversial -- long-tenured senior minister who also often earned a role as a respected community leader.
The big Protestant church of today and tomorrow also is built around worship and memorable preaching, but that superb choir is only one component of an extensive ministry of music; the Sunday school is but one component of a huge teaching ministry; and the schedule is filled with a variety of other events, classes, programs, and groups. These are the seven-day-a-week churches that are emerging as the successors to the big Sunday morning churches of the 1950s. The mixture of characteristics that are a part of the culture of these program churches often is enriched by a senior minister who is an initiating leader and who has brought together a collection of energetic, creative, daring, imaginative, productive, committed, venturesome, and personable individuals to serve as the program staff.
When the scholars of the middle third of the twenty-first century review the recent history of the Christian churches, they will lift up several changes that can be dated in the second half of the twentieth century. At or near the top of that list will be the rapid growth of Christianity in Africa and the phenomenal growth of Pentecostalism in South America. Also high on that list will be the beginning of the post-denominational era, which has created a supportive context for the rapid increase in the number of large seven-day-a-week churches. From today's perspective, the emergence of the seven-day-a-week church as the successor to the big Sunday morning churches of the 1950s is one of the most significant developments of this century.
Much of the discussion in this book contrasts two types of Protestant churches. One is the traditional congregation that has concentrated most of the structured or scheduled programing on Sunday morning. The second is the parish that has created an extensive seven-day-a-week ministry with only a minority of the events, activities, programs, gatherings, services, groups, and classes scheduled for Sunday morning. In order to facilitate the flow of the book, two synonyms are used repeatedly for that more awkward term seven-day-a-week church. One is the "program church." The other is the "full-service church." While a few may quarrel with this, in this volume all three carry the same meaning.
Finally, contemporary standards requiring full disclosure make it advisable to warn the reader that for all but three out of the past thirty-two years this writer has been on the payroll of a parachurch organization. The first eight of those years were spent as Director of the Regional Church Planning Office, which was created, owned, and financed by fourteen Protestant denominations in northeastern Ohio. That was followed by three years at Evangelical Theological Seminary. I have spent the past twenty-one years as the Parish Consultant on the staff of the Yokefellow Institute, a parachurch organization with headquarters in Richmond, Indiana. These experiences obviously colored the perspective for the writing of the first chapter of this book. Absence of a denominational label on my employer's headquarters also has made it easier for me to work with pastors, volunteer leaders, and officials from five dozen different religious traditions during the past three decades as well as with leaders from scores of large, nondenominational, or independent, full-service churches.
I am indebted to all of them for their candor, comments, cooperation, corrections, courtesies, criticisms, ideas, insights, observations, patience, questions, reflections, suggestions, and thoughtfulness.
Copyright © 2002, Abingdon Press by Lyle E. Schaller