Tuesday, May 7, 2013

If You Plant it, Will it Grow?

I own a dvd called The Merchants of Cool that delves into the details of marketing and how successful companies get teenagers to buy into products.  In the documentary, they talk about two basic approaches to boost the popularity of something.

1.) You go out into the community and you talk to teenagers to find out some of the things most of them have in common.  Then, you take those ideas and capitalize on them to bring the people to you for the source of all the things they like.

2.) You come up with something you want people to like and you simply create hype around it to get them thinking they like it.  Sometimes, they pay people to gather around something and act like it is cool.  This baits other people to follow suit and actually start liking this thing simply because others do.

The more I pay attention to trends, the more I notice these two principals are basically still at play and still working very well for marketers.

Where is this going?

I've noticed this hasn't been too much different with church.  I have been to A LOT of churches.  I have search for a "good" church in different cities and states.  And these experiences have taught me a lot.  Back when I started out on my own, and I was looking for my own church for the first time, I thought I knew what I wanted in a church. 

I wanted something nondenominational with people around my age.  Seriously, that's what I wanted.  And the more I think of it, those were my only two requirements.  I found that, and I quickly learned that I didn't want what I found. I didn't feel connected to the church.  Even though people my age were there, I didn't feel I could relate to them.  So, I kept looking.  I ultimately found a church that matched some of the things I was looking for; however, I had then really wanted a church mostly as a social function.

As I moved on in life, I started finding many churches that met my first two requirements that left me lacking Spiritually.  I didn't feel like my desire to learn and grow as a Christian was being met.  I had to find something else. I had to get past my bias against denominations. I decided to stop judging. I found a great church.  I realized that I didn't know what I was looking for.

Yet, I was still leaning toward that one denomination of that one church because I felt comfortable with it.  I got down to Georgia and I found myself in the deep South with a totally different set of options in the way of churches than what I found around me in Virginia or even North Carolina.  I found a church there by meeting Christian people first who I really respected and finding out where they went to church.  This brought me to a different denomination...one I had prejudged and ended up finding myself completely wrong about it.

When we came back up to North Carolina, it was time to find a church again.  The last time we were here, the hunt for a church was difficult.  I had come to the conclusion at this point that there were only a few things I wanted.  Yet, my goals had changed. First, I wanted to be in a church where the people truly cared about each other.  Second, I wanted to be in a church where I wanted to go to church! I know that sounds strange, but I felt like certain churches just make you feel at home.  I wanted to feel at home.  Third, I wanted to feel like the messages were solid and the doctrine was sound.  We had to go through several churches to find these things before.  This time, one church just jumped out at me.  We tried it.  We stayed.

We have grown to love the church.  Unfortunately, the church is small. There are only a few people our age attending.  But we feel so LOVED and ENCOURAGED by the people there that we feel it is our church home.  This experience (and one other one in the past) has had me wondering what makes a church grow? It seems that some churches look for what people want, they find a way to relate to the people, and they bring people in that way.  Other churches are popular just because they are popular.  People want somewhere to get connected and the easiest way to do that is to go to the biggest church in town.

But what happens when you have a great church and the people just aren't there because they are at the bigger church down the street? Many haven't even tried the church.  Maybe they are like I was before and they already don't want to try a church because it is attached to a denomination.  Maybe they come in and only see 5 other couples their age and that's just not enough for them.  What will get people to come in? And then after that, what will get them to stay?

I sometimes think you need to have things there to get people there. Some people want youth groups for their kids.  Some people want to see a sea of people their age. But I think that to keep people, you need to care about the people. And to care about the people, you need to reach out to them and be there for them.  I don't know though because I have never really done outreach for a church.

I am wondering these things because our church is about to go through a major change.  Our pastor is retiring and a new one is coming in. I desperately want the change to be good, but I don't think change just for change is good. Many churches are departing from truth found in Scripture because some of it isn't popular anymore. I don't want to lose that just for change. 

And I am also wondering what is growth? Is it numbers? Maybe it is a solid group of people who are committed to each other and to the church. I would rather be part of a congregation of 100 people who are truly loving and devoted Christians than one of 1,000 who attend church just because it is something to do. 

The Lord has taught me so much through different churches, and I hope to learn something amazing through this experience.  I hope to actually have answers to my own questions.