Growing the church 5: What kind of church?
The UMC has a booklet on the church council which suggests three types of focus for the local church.
Nurturing congregations: Nurturing congregations place heavy emphasis on worship, Christian education, and fellowship. Much of the program and ministry of the church is dedicated to existing audiences.
Outreaching congregations: Outreaching congregations focus on missions, Christian service, and healing or care-giving ministries. Much of the program and ministry of the church is dedicated to external audiences.
Witnessing congregations: Witnessing congregations are characterized by ministry in small groups, spiritual formation, faith sharing, and evangelism. Much of the program and ministry of the church is dedicated to emerging audiences.
These are not either/or categories. Clearly, we do a little of each . But the categories serve to give some idea of emphasis. Personally, I think there should be a “fuzzy congregation” category for churches that don’t quite seem to know what they focus on.
The nurturing model -one would think- is the implicit or explicit target of a lot of folks. In a Len Sweet speech I listened to recently, he chided a pastor who was worried about losing his long-term members if he went post-modern. Sweet told the pastor that was the thinking of a hospice, not a church.
I can certainly understand Sweet’s point. But, if the body of Christ requires many gifts – feet, thumbs, spleens, prostate glands – then it seems there is room for more than one kind of congregation.
In my last church we had three congregations- but each emphasised the nurturing model. The 11am service was generally family-orientated…big on illustrations and visual display, light on doctrine and worship. The evening service was very quiet, a time of communion ….hymns, prayers and liturgy. The afternoon (3pm) was absolutely wild. Dancing and vigorous praise. Rockband smoke and lightshow etc. We even got the odd noise order served on us. People tended to pick the style that appealed to them…. The down side was that there was very little integration between the three groups. When we managed some kind of united celebration it was like introducing strangers. There were even elements of friction between the late leavers from the morning service and the early arrivals of the afternoon one (Who used our coffee?).