Over the last several weeks I’ve been running an experiment of sorts. It’s not scientific in any way, and in all honesty I didn’t even set out to do it on purpose. I saw an interesting pattern a while back and started paying attention to it. Specifically, I’ve been paying attention to responses to posts on FaceBook.
As a church nerd, I find posts about the church interesting. These include research about attendance patterns and posts about worship in society. They include personal experience and advice based on what is working—and what isn’t. So I reposted these, usually with a comment and a question.
As a music director, I love posting pictures and writing about what our music ministry is doing. Sometimes these posts are pictures of something we’ve already done. Sometimes they are advertisements for something we’re doing to do. When I post these, I usually add a brief comment along with them.
The pattern I noticed is that there is always (without exception so far) a much greater response to the latter kind of post. My friends see what we’re doing, and they “like” it. Friends of friends see what we’re doing, and they “like” it too. It’s a veritable “like fest.” And people comment. Response to engaging questions about church polity and trends is typically limited by comparison.
Which is not to say you can’t find lively discussion about those church nerd articles. If you get enough church nerds together, those exchanges can get downright spirited. But they never have the seemingly magic appeal of a picture of a bunch of kids on stage with a guy dressed as a clock.
And it’s not just the participants and parents themselves. If you take a look at who “likes” these things, it’s people from all over. Friends and family, church family and Church family, people are inspired by seeing folks engaged and active.
It makes sense, I guess. Take the beer out of someone’s hand, put him on an inner-tube and give him a good hard shove. Post the resulting video. Marvel at how many people watch it, like it, and share it. That’s better entertainment than a six-pack and a bug zapper. But when was the last time you saw a viral post about church polity in the 21st century? It’s not that nobody cares. Make no mistake: lots of people care about church polity in the 21st century! The problem here is that the people who care about church polity in the 21st century are already in the church.
It’s not that we need to talk less, and it’s not that we need to do less. A week or two ago I made the case that we need more talking and more doing. But when we talk, we need to talk about things that matter in the world. And when we do, we need to do things that matter. People who aren’t coming to church right now don’t care about the research. If they come into church and hear a business plan for growing attendance and coffers, they will walk out again, dooming that very plan to failure like so many before it. As my friend Jonathan pointed out not long ago, our culture is increasingly placing a premium on authenticity, which is probably a good thing for the church, even if it leads to painful pruning.
Whether talking or doing, Christ was about people. He met them where they were and profoundly impacted their lives. No polling. No strategy sessions with the disciples to grow attendance. If Christ is our model, we should do the same. Not for influence or statistical excellence, but for the love of God.