When I go to a church conference or read the materials from a church association all the material seems to try to answer one question. How can my church be a success? It is the holy grail that inspired many a book, conference and consultant. A great many of these books, conferences and consultants offer divergent solutions and conflicting assessments of our problems. Most solutions gain traction for a while and then begin to fade.
Often the solution being offered doesn’t provide the expected results in a context different from the one it was discovered in. We see this a lot in Canada whenever we apply techniques, and models promoted by Americans. Canadian culture and Canadian church culture are different than their American equivalent. What works in Chicago and L.A. doesn’t necessarily work in Toronto, and is really far fetched in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.
At the house church conference I was at there were lots of little formulas and techniques being taught. I struggled with it. It seemed so much of the content was offered in the same style as something from Willow Creek. For me “simple church” isn’t about employing specific techniques and shared rituals but of genuine expressions of love and fellowship. Each individual church should creatively structure things given the people involved and the cultural context.
Whenever someone says something like "church is T.H.I.S.: Theos centered, Holy Spirit empowered, Inspired by Scripture, Serving Jesus” I just want to flee. Church is no less nuanced or complex as a family or a marriage. Who would try to reduce the concept of marriage to some cute little acronym? It seems particularly out of place where the emphasis is on relationships rather than programs.
The conference wasn’t all information about formulas and techniques. I found a track of sessions where the presenter had us practice a simple technique for drawing people out to share the real issues in their life and listen to God’s leading. Introducing people to a little bit of simple / organic fellowship was probably the best thing he could have done. He did wear down some of my aversion to trying some of these techniques with new people because a group of strangers bonded very quickly.
Shared rituals or practices are an essential part of the church. People shouldn’t uncritically adopt what some guy three thousand miles away came up with for his church. The guy from three thousand miles away shouldn’t assume that he came up with the universal approach and proclaim it as the new better way to be the church.