A week ago a colleague of mine organised a study day at our university on the state of the churches in Wales and what can be done. Wales has seen a steady decline in church attendance from half the population at the time of the 1904 revival down to – well estimates vary from 5-10% depending on how you count attendance at church, weekly, monthly etc. I was asked to give one of my maths church growth talks.
This is the first time I have ever tried presenting my work to a non-academic audience. They were mainly church leaders, people engaged in mission etc. I stripped at out the maths and system dynamics and just left a few causal loops in, to describe the basics of the dynamics of conversion and how it gets increasingly hard to spread belief as the poll of unbelievers shrinks.
My main aim was to get over the idea that church growth is driven by enthusiasts, who reproduce themselves, and thus sustain the enthusiasm and growth of the church. Following Acts chapter 2 the principle is that life brings growth. So concentrate on building the church life and God gives the growth. OK there is a lot of maths behind the principle, and a number of nuances, but in essence seeking the life of God is what churches should prioritise .
It was a good meeting, many interesting questions and discussions. And the other presentations were good and thought provoking. The final round table discussion was perhaps less encouraging. Generally the whole focus of the discussion was on “what can we do?”. That is fine, God does require us to do things, we are not passive in the building of his kingdom. But there was no discussion of “what can God do?” The spiritual side was lacking. We could have been trying to expand the tennis club!
I did say I had a concern that if church primarily grows through revivals, as Edwin Orr and Martyn Lloyd-Jones have claimed, and if revival comes about through a hunger and thirst for God, then, I said, I was seeing little of that hunger for more of God in churches these days. Plenty of enthusiasm for church, for growth, for mission, for community involvement, sometimes even for revival. But where is the enthusiasm for the Lord Jesus Christ himself?
My hope, and prayer, with all the work I do is that people will seek to be enthusiasts, to receive of the Spirit, because they have a thirst for more of Jesus Christ in all his glory. The conversions, the church growth, the community involvement, and the revival we need, will follow as our love for Jesus explodes. If the research I do helps points people in the direction of seeking to be an enthusiast for Jesus, then I feel it will be of some value.
More on what it means to be an enthusiast in another post!
And well done to all the people who came to the meeting and made it such a success (despite the provisos above) I pray the Lord blesses their ministries. And a special well done to Paul – the organiser of the study day.