I have just finished reading Mark Ashton’s excellent little book Christ and His People: Eight convinctions about the local church. It is a very short little thing, a booklet really, but packed full of excellent truths and wisdom. I encourage you to get hold of a copy if you have any interest whatsoever in the success of local church ministry (it’s currently going for £2 on Tenofthose.com).
I was particularly struck by one quote from ‘a local minister’:
Do you know how to kill a church? Fasten its members attention purely on internal matters. Get them agitated about what hymn book they should sing from. Make them anxious about charismatic enthusiasm in their midst, or about the sins of the ecumenical movement. Get them totally absorbed in a new building programme, or in fund-raising activities, or in simply being nosey about another’s problems. It does not really matter what the issue is, so long as it has the effect of drying up their outreach. Then stand back and wait for the spiritual gangrene to set in and do its lethal work. Go back a generation or two later and you will find the church has become one of those nasty cliques that are dominated by a handful of inter-bred families who cannot give up the habit of church-going. The church will have been murdered. To be more precise, it will have committed suicide. If such a church remains orthodox, it is a dead orthodoxy; if it retains a congregation, it is a lifeless congregation. As often as not, of course, they do neither. They simply disappear, leaving their once busy churches to be turned into factories or mosques.
I shall leave you to ponder on it.