The Grace of Church Shrinkage
May 3, 2011
Renovation of the Church by Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken (Downers Grove: IVP, 2011).
In this book Kent and Mike, co-pastors, have embraced the task of telling their story, the story of Oak Hills Church in Folsom, California. They are coming up to 25 years as a church. But during that time they have changed their focus of ministry at least three times and are still in the process of discovering what God is doing with them. Their story needs to be told. More than that, it needs to be heard. Whether a small rural traditional church, a seeker-focused megachurch, a struggling in-between church with a confusing mission or lack of mission, listen to what they have to say.
They have uncovered their journey with honesty and clarity, unveiling themselves and putting themselves at risk for the rest of us to assess and evaluate. I applaud how their story spoke to me. The chapter on "ambition" is worth the price of the book alone, but you also get an honest critique of consumerism in the church and some well thought out explanations of Kingdom of God, spiritual formation as a church, the mission of the body of Christ, and confessions about what to say and do and what not to say or do as you work through change, especially one as dramatic as moving from a seeker church to a spiritual formation church. Sounds like I'm selling Ginza knives, doesn't it? But it is a refreshing book.
Kent and Mike became experts in "church shrink" (104). They had moved their focus to a seeker-oriented, attractional model with Sunday morning service as focal point. A Thursday night service aimed at the committed believers. The first three chapters describe their history and how they got to a day where God met them. The more they did, the more people responded. They were running attendance at 2000. On the other hand, they as persons ran on empty a lot of the time. And by their admittance, they were good at it. But they always felt like they were feeding the "monster."
An elder retreat in the Donner Pass area led to unexpected transformation of their whole direction. Services began to change; mission took on a different emphasis. They changed. Dallas Willard and Eugene Peterson were instrumental in prompting the shift. Then they tried to move the church in their new direction. It broke the unwritten covenant with the congregation that they had set up. Their conviction said they needed to obey Jesus rather than where the people felt comfortable so they pressed ahead. Ten years later we see what they have found. We can learn from them no matter where our ministries sit today.
This is a good read. It reminded me of the importance of relationship with God over job description. Kent and Mike highlight some of the most crucial questions we face in the church today, questions about worship, outreach, ministry professionals, the church, community and communities. Their answers (and answers that are still resolving) will help our quest to seek first the reign of God.