Diversify or Die? The Future of the Church Is Stronger In Many Baskets

Colored basketsThere is no one right way to do church.

Sure, there’s a foundation of correct theology and behavior that needs to exist for any group to legitimately call themselves a church. Among them are:

  • The divinity of Jesus
  • Salvation through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus
  • Practicing the Great Commandment and the Great Commission
  • The primacy of scripture
  • And just a few more

But, beyond the surprisingly few essentials, there is no right way to do church.

As soon as we pick any method as the right method, we take a great risk. First, because it causes us to look down on other ways of doing church and, by extension, the fellow believers who worship that way. Second, because as soon as that method becomes stale or irrelevant, the Gospel appears to be stale and irrelevant, too.

The Gospel is always bigger than my, your, or anyone else’s method. 

 

The Strength of Diversifying

One of the primary strategies for a family’s long-term financial viability is to diversify your financial portfolio. If all your assets are in one financial basket, you’ll be left with nothing when that company, stock or industry tanks. But if you scatter your financial eggs into several baskets, when one goes down, others go up and you’re protected.

Different people worship and serve in different ways. Recognizing, supporting and encouraging that diversity within a biblical theological framework is not a weakness. It is, and has always been, one of the church’s great strengths. And it will be one of our greatest tools for the survival and strength of the church in coming generations. 

That’s why I never argue over the right or wrong way to do church. There needs to be a diversity of church styles because there’s a diversity of cultures in the world, a diversity of people within every culture and lightning-fast change happening in virtually every culture.

What works in Tonga won’t work in Russia. But we don’t need to travel halfway around the world to see the need for diversification. What works on one block in my town won’t work on the next block over. Not to mention, what works today won’t work tomorrow.

I’m fully aware that the church itself will never die. Jesus said he’d build it and Jesus knows what he’s doing. But in many parts of the world, the church is foundering right now. And all indications are that she will be in decline for several decades to come if we keep doing business-as-usual. Much of this coming reality is outlined very accurately, though heartbreakingly by John S. Dickerson in The Great Evangelical Recession. (Thankfully, Dickerson offers some answers worth considering, too.)

The temptation, when faced with such predictions of doom, is to reinforce and require greater adherence to methods that have worked in the past. On core theology, that is essential. If we don’t agree on basic biblical principles, we can’t die soon enough. But on everything else, it’s a mistake. The strength of the church has always been found in greater diversification of methodology, not less.

 

See Outside Your Own Basket

Unfortunately, a lot of church leaders aren’t becoming more open to diversification. In many instances, we are hardening our one-size-fits-all approach regarding methodology.

If the church is going to survive and thrive into the next century and beyond, we have to stop putting all (or most) of our eggs in

  • The church growth basket
  • The home church basket
  • The postmodern basket
  • The emerging church basket
  • The traditional basket
  • The denominational basket
  • The non-denominational basket
  • The (insert your favorite way to do church here) basket
  • or even my favorite, the Small Church basket

I’m done with seminars, books or conferences that present themselves as having “the answer” for how to do church in the future. I’m keeping all my options open.

This is one of the many reasons I like quirky churches. They help me see outside my overly restrictive view of what a church has to look and act like.

 

Diversification Is As Old As the New Testament

Please don’t respond to this post by telling me “the answer is to do church the way they did it in the New Testament.” If we take that idea seriously, it only supports the premise of this post. The New Testament church was a very diversified bunch.

As I wrote in The Grasshopper Myth

…there wasn’t just one New Testament church, there were many. When someone says “we need to do church the way the early church did it,” we need to ask, “which church are you referring to?” The church in Philadelphia was very different from the one in Laeodecia, while the Jerusalem and Corinth churches might have had a hard time recognizing each other as Christian at all.

Most of the letters Paul wrote were to specific churches. John wrote the book of Revelation, not to “the church” in general but to seven individual congregations with seven different messages tailored to the size, health, histories, sins and ministries of each church.

The Grasshopper Myth, chapter 11, A New Way to Define Success

 

One Body, Different Parts

One of the strengths of the Christian faith from the first to the twenty-first century has been our ability to adapt, adjust and diversify our methods. The Gospel of Jesus speaks to every language, ethnicity and culture on earth. All while maintaining its center. Truth has a way of doing that.

The only “best” method of doing church is the one that works in any given situation.

Jesus knew this. So he didn’t even suggest a church strategy. He encouraged his followers “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” I believe Jesus wanted us to diversify. It was an essential part of his plan.  So he gave us the glue that would hold such disparate parts together – love one another.

But instead of appreciating our methodological differences and seeing them for the strength they are, church history is filled with church and denominational splits. And that continues today – especially on the internet. We’re tearing the body apart.

Lovingly challenging each other is important. But backbiting and pettiness over what are often nothing more than methodological differences is killing us. That’s not diversification, that’s dissension.

There is only one Church. One faith. One baptism. One God and father of us all. But we are made up of many parts. I, for one, thank God that, within his one Church, there’s a lot of room for a lot of people.

As long as the center holds, our differences won’t make the church weaker. They’re an essential element for making us stronger.

 

So what do you think? What thoughts do you have about the strength of a diversified church?

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(Colored Baskets photo from WickerFurniture • Flickr • Creative Commons)

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2 thoughts on “Diversify or Die? The Future of the Church Is Stronger In Many Baskets”

  1. Absolutely agree! Especially as diversity affects the larger church and the local church in terms of change over time. However, the philosophy of diversification can be dangerous if a small conggregation tries to take on everything that comes along. In our small congregation (we recently became an average church in adult Sunday attendance), we work hard to be excellent in the relatively few things we do, and taking on other things has to be done very carefully. When we have folks who come to our church a few times and then tell me “I really love this church except…” I tell them that we are who we are and if the Apostle’s Creed or something else is that important to them, then perhaps we’re not the right fit. I’m not against the Apostle’s Creed, or Communion every service, or bluegrass music (to name a few suggestions I’ve received), but that’s not who we are; those things are not our strengths and to try and ‘diversify’ to please one person will inevitably lead to someone else’s dissatisfaction. Now, in time perhaps we will need to abandon our contemporary music and do bluegrass in order to meet the needs of the congregation and community, but for the time being I’ll refer folks who want that to the church two towns down the highway that is known for their bluegrass gospel services. Thanks again for a thoughtful, and thought provoking post.

  2. In our church though is it a large congregation not everyone in the church is equally represented in the various ministers of the church. The congregation is made of up different races,etc., but there is only one race that is not in any role of leadership in the church. African-Americans pay their tithes the same as their oriental, hispanic and white brothers and sister, yet they are not repesented anywhere in the church. The church offers services to everyone but blacks in the church. I don’t believe the church is racist because it supports many African children, but not black american children or families. The church leaders and boards is pedominately white. Even the guest they invite to speak or visit the church are usually white, unless they are in sports. I have never seen or even heard of an African-American minister being invited to speak, but the church has no problem invitingblack sports celebrities or black comedians. We are more than comedians and sports figures, and this sends the wrong message to young blacks in the church.

    This is the only problem I have with our church. I have seen the pastor after services in the lobby high fiving white, hispanic and oriental members but never have I witness him doing the same with black members of the church. In fact, I once walked over to thank him for helping me with a paper I had written for my Masters and I thought he was going to break out and run away. Many Church Leader say they desire to have a church that is diversifed but I don’t believe they really mean what they say. If the church of the future is grow stronger I believe we must diversify the whole church, not just the congregation. Everyone should be repesented, and we must serve the whole community and not just a select few. Heaven will be diversitified! Everyone will be there!

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