This week we have had Karl Barth on church growth but I have had CS Lewis on my mind when it comes to church growth as well.
In a lovely little essay called “The Decline of Religion” he writes:
Thus the ‘decline of religion’ becomes a very ambiguous phenomenon. One way of putting the truth would be that the religion which has declined was not Christianity. It was a vague Theism with a strong and virile ethical code, which far from standing over against the ‘World’, was absorbed into the whole fabric of English institutions and sentiment and therefore demanded church-going as (at best) a part of loyalty and good manners as (at worst) a proof of respectability.
He goes on to say that only when we are free to opt out of faith can:
accurate observations to be made. When no man goes to church except because he seeks Christ the number of actual believers can at last be discovered. It should be added that this new freedom was partly caused by the very conditions which it revealed.
But then he goes on to say that as religious practice was in decline, there was a growing interest in Christianity within the British intelligentsia. He says:
an increased interest in it [Christianity], or even a growing measure of intellectual assent to it, is a very different thing from the conversion of England or even a single soul. Conversion requires an alteration of the will, an alteration which, in the last resort, does not occur without the intervention of the supernatural. I do not in the least agree with those who therefore conclude that the spread of an intellectual (and imaginative) climate favourable to Christianity is useless. You do not prove munition workers useless by showing that they cannot themselves win battles, however propers this reminder would be if they attempted to claim the honour due to fighting men. If the intellectual climate is such that, when a man comes to the crisis at which he must either accept or reject Christ, his reason and imagination are not on the wrong side, then his conflict will be fought out under favourable conditions.
So if Barth reminds us that we must pursue God for the sake of God (an unplanned and unprepared growth of a visible kind will spring up somewhere) then his English contemporary points us towards the importance of all kinds of things that are not in themselves related to church growth (or indeed the pursuit of God).
In a book that I used to own (did I lend it to YOU?), Free of Charge, Miroslav Volf writes about how we live in a culture stripped of grace. While it is not the work of the church to write the poems and songs and screenplays and novels and comic books (and dare I say it blogs) that shape the imagination of our age, church growth in any sense that it is desirable relies on the Sufjans and the Clints as much as on monks, nuns and pastors.
Your Correspondent, Never should have encouraged some of you