O Come, O Come…A Manual!
by Captain Terry Camsey –
Many years ago I used to be a church growth seminar “groupie”!
At that time, the obsession seemed to be more with finding out what was wrong with the church. We looked at the “vital signs” of growing churches… we looked at the “pathology” of struggling ones. I even studied for the “Diagnosis with Impact” certification that Fuller Theological Seminary was offering at that time, learning to be a church “doctor.”
I truly believed (and still do) that it is pointless to prescribe without first having made a correct diagnosis. There was precious little around then that went beyond a description of symptoms to knowing what to do to effect a cure, as distinct from temporarily relieving those symptoms.
So, the “groupies” went from seminar to seminar, hoping to pick up some insights that might make a positive difference. I saw the same denominational church growth executives at each gathering, hoping to glean from other growing churches’ representatives (each with a manual to sell!) what the keys were.
Truth to tell, many were hoping for a “quick fix”… a “magic” formula that in two or three simple steps would reverse a seemingly hopeless situation and result in a mega-church. The danger was in not differentiating between the “methods” successful churches were using and the “principles” that those methods were—in that particular setting, at that particular time, with those particular leaders—applying with such success.
(We may see the same danger today in some corps trying to apply Booth’s methods—brilliantly relevant in his day—rather than identifying the principles those methods were applying and seeking equally ”brilliantly relevant” methods to apply those same principles today!)
We collected manuals. How we collected manuals! Wander into my office some day and see the cupboards and shelves full of manuals. Come with me, too, to the storage “cage” in the basement and see the boxes and boxes of manuals and previous “annual themes” supportive material. You’ll see that we are an Army that marches on its paper! And still they come… masses and masses of catalogs of resources through the mail.
So we find ourselves as if looking at a very comprehensive menu in an expensive restaurant. So many choices, what shall we have? Try the sampler appetizer, we think, that may help…
We reap what we sow, they say. Not necessarily, because—among other things—persistence plays a great part in seeing any kind of growth. Then there is preparation of the ground…selection of suitable soil (is what you have suitable for the fruit you seek with the methods you plan to use?)…preparation of the soil so that the seed will take root…sowing at the right season and in the right way…watering…enough sunshine…fertilizer where necessary to enrich the soil and help the seed take root and flourish…pruning to excise anything inhibiting growth…allowing time for ripening before harvesting the fruit… using the right methods and implements to harvest the fruit…
What fruit are you seeking but not seeing? Consider the above paragraph very carefully. What you sow is not necessarily what you reap. To stand a chance of reaping anything, you have to sow…not just read manuals about gardening.
Persistence is, I say again, a key to healthy growth. I heard of an insurance agent once who became a millionaire. His strategy? Every day he would ask one hundred people if they wanted to buy insurance. That’s it! If, by the end of the day he had not spoken to one hundred people, he’d stand on the street corner and ask his question until he reached the self-set quota.What would happen if each soldier asked one hundred people a day if they’d like to hear the good news!
Almost any evangelistic method will work if you keep at it. Some methods will be better than others in your setting. But beware of chasing too many of those rabbits at the same time! Read books and manuals about catching rabbits, by all means, but read with discernment, building insight as you go. Choose your rabbit carefully, read as much as you can about that rabbit (and its habit!) use the appropriate strategy to catch it and keep refining that strategy.
In no time at all you’ll be singing “Where have all the manuals gone?” and writing your own!