Friday, May 9, 2008

Seth Godin on Church Growth

I appreciate Seth Godin. I have no idea if he is a disciple of Jesus or not.  But he is pretty perceptive.  I was introduced to him by his little book "The Dip."  Maybe I'll speak to that another time. 

But his blog Tuesday, while having absolutely nothing to do with faith, religion, church or evangelism got my mind to thinking.  Perhaps it is because we continue to get snipes from both ends of the "worship war" continuum in our church.  Today our worship guy talked about being approached in a local restaurant (Elmers) with complaints that we don't do enough hymns. (Last Sunday half of the songs were traditional hymns). 

You don't talk long with our teens & twenties before hearing that the music we do is too old and boring. (And they are NOT talking about the hymns). 

Perhaps it was because that was on my mind that I was struck by Seth's post today.  In a nutshell he states that in most endeavors there is a tension between that which is edgy/obsessed and that which is vapid or trite.  At one extreme, you can be so edgy that hardly anyone is interested in your work, your music, what you write or your church.  But a little bit in from that Seth says:

That bell curve to the left represents acceptance by the focused/excited/tastemaking community. Those are the people who love microbeers and haute couture and Civil War memorabilia. Like all market curves, there's a sweet spot. Go too nutsy on us ($90,000 turntables, for example) and even the committed will flee. Go too pop, though, and we'll avoid you as well....

He goes on:

The bell curve on the right, you'll notice, is bigger. This is a second market, a bigger market, the market of pop. These are the folks who go to the Olive Garden for a nice Italian meal instead of the authentic place down the street. They too want something that's not too edgy and not too (in their opinion) trite.


The reason you need to care is that gap in the middle. Every day, millions of businesses get stuck in that gap. They either move to the right in search of the masses or move to the left in search of authenticity, but they compromise. And they get stuck with neither.

Find his complete post here: Seth's Blog

My question/reflection is about whether or not the same is true of church style and of preaching style. You can have churches that are so edgy that they attract only the fringiest of fringe.  That may be house churches or hyper-fundamentalist churches or the Catholic Mass in Latin.  Either way, it will never attract much of a following.  But there are then churches that have most of the elements as these fringe churches, but not as "weird" (however that is defined) as the fringe ones.  Many successful contemporary churches and very conservative mega churches fit this model. 

There are, however, the pop churches...reaching lots of attenders, and yet more culturally mainstream than the bell to the left.  Perhaps they are more marketing driven.  Perhaps their worship music style is exclusively pop.  But they are a "safe" place to be.  No-one is threatened too badly.   (I know I am setting myself up for all sorts of misunderstandings and criticisms by this simplistic and generalized description).

The real point of my post is in regard to those churches who try to go half-way.  Who try to be the specific genre church; who try to attract a specific form of Christ-follower; who want to move their church to a more post-modern style, for example. But they compromise.  In the name of keeping onto people, they make compromises that really do not allow them to move as far that direction as they hope. (Or church politics keep them from moving as far one direction or the other as they believe would be beneficial).  And what happens?  You get caught in the trough, or "the gap in the middle" as Seth puts it.  As two different music ministers on my staff (at very divergent times in my ministry) have stated it, "Instead of everybody getting a little bit of what they want, nobody gets enough of what they want and everyone is unhappy." 

The answer to that must be bold leadership.  It must be an unerring eye toward where you believe that God is leading your church.  It must be as willingness to loose people.  Hopefully it is not Ben Tre Logic (from the Vietnam War: a U.S. Major reported on the destruction of the provincial capital of Ben Tre: ""It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.")

But how many churches have become lost in the gap? What are your thoughts about this? Am I totally misapplying the data?  Give me feedback so I can refine my own thinking. 


Mark Rust said...

This idea comes up in Tim Steven's book "Pop Goes the Church". We think that we can become an attractive place for non-churched people just by adding drums and changing the chord structure of a few songs, but we don't want to deal with the deeper issues that exist.
"So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth." Rev 3:16 (NIV)

Cal Habig said...

That's true, Mark. I am looking forward to getting into "Pop Goes the Church".

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