Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Five Practices?

I recently read a book that had some interesting information in it. In all fairness, I did not choose to read this book. It was an assignment by my denominational superiors. Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations by Robert Schnase is a little book that outlines some "best practices" that many successful congregations have in common.

I will not even broach the subject of what makes a successful congregation. That is an argument that is beyond my energy or commitment to win. Suffice it to say that there are several definitions of success in congregations. Sometimes Schnase seems to equate "fruitfulness" with numerical growth. At other times success seems to equal meaningful outreach or peaceful congregations or growing budgets.

The biggest flaw in the book is that the title implies some help in determining and implementing the practices that will make a church fruitful. We never get that. We are given the five practices and some examples of how they work and change churches. But there is never a hint of how to affect the change necessary to carry out the practices.
  • Radical Hospitality. The first practice is not mis-named, but it is definitely out of place. For Schnase hospitality happens when a person comes to visit your church. This is a problem because people do not just show up in church any more. If we are to be truly fruitful, we need to go beyond hospitality to reaching out.
  • Passionate Worship. Schnase focuses on planning, preparation and balance in worship. I could not agree more. The old hymn admonishes us to "give of your best to the master." In worship we should certainly offer God the first fruits, the very best effort that we can muster.
  • Intentional Faith Development. I could not agree with this point more. Well-meaning Christians are more likely to let their their faith slide than to be serious about growing in relationship to Christ. This needs to be addressed by individuals and congregations.
  • Risk-taking Mission and Service. There is nothing, I believe, that causes faith to grow more and more quickly than mission. Doing what God calls you to do is great faith development and it is obedience to God's command.
  • Extravagant Generosity. I felt that Schnase gave a disproportionate amount of attention to the matter of giving. If the church is faithful in all the other practices, generosity is sure to follow. One other weakness here is that generosity is limited to financial stewardship.

Schnase has written a book that does identify some common practices in successful churches, but this is all information that we have heard and read elsewhere.

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