It didn’t happen for us this year, but it did for Danny Hyde. In the introduction to his sermon yesterday morning pastor mentioned that he again received a barrage of invitations from local evangelical congregations to their Easter extravaganzas. Not long ago I saw an online video by an evangelical pastor talking about strategies for planning for the big Easter outreach service. I do recall getting lots of mail to this effect in years past when I was pastoring in Kansas City. One great fad from the mid-late 80s was “The Phone’s for You.” This was a scheme by which the local congregation turned itself into a telemarketing boiler room. As Richard Ostling explained, in a 1989 article in TIME, the enterprise was cooked up by a Quaker—that should have been a clue, what hath Quakerism to do with confessionalism?—but it was quickly adopted by lots of evangelical congregations and even by some Reformed congregations. We tried it in Kansas City, after a fashion. Of course the TPFY has gone the way of all such trendy strategies. After all, who is more hated today than the telemarketer? Who has not called or written to the “Do Not Call” list to have his telephone number blocked?
TPFY, however, was like a lot of other “strategies” (in this context, even this word takes on a smarmy, creepy, disingenuous pallor) in that it was a scheme to pack the church on Easter Sunday by using the so-called “law of large numbers.” If a congregation called enough people, under the right circumstances, they could expect to see 200 new faces on Easter Sunday, just in time to see the new “Praise Band.” Yippee! Then, next week, it was expected that about 50% of those numbers would return, but a portion of them would be new faces. Easter was to become the high holy day in the church-growth calendar.
As ugly as the word “strategy” is in the context of late-modern new measures, I still think that confessional Reformed churches need to be “strategic,” i.e. they need to be planted with the intent of reaching the lost through the formal preaching of the gospel (i.e. evangelism) and through the informal witness of God’s people as they fulfill their daily vocations. We need to plant churches intentionally, thoughtfully, prayerfully and not willy-nilly as we sometimes do.
Our existing congregations also need to be outward facing. We need to be aware of how we appear to outsiders. In truth, we probably do see more faces on Easter than at any other time of the year. Some of them may not be Christians or may not be members of true churches. We ought to have a care for them. We ought to think about how we seem to them. For example, we ought to take a moment to make sure that, as much as possible, we are not unintentionally “speaking in tongues,” i.e. using in-house jargon when we need not do. Yes, we should use the Christian vocabulary, and no we need not “dumb down” the services for new comers but we might think whether it’s a good idea to sing a song from the old country (in an language other than English) or whether this is the best Sunday for the angry tirade about how the country is going to hell in a hand basket or whatever—there really isn’t any good Sunday for this is there?.
Whatever Easter has become to the modern “evangelicals,” to us, as with every Sabbath, it is the Lord’s Day, the day of the inauguration of the new creation. It is resurrection day. It is the day in which we celebrate one f the central acts of redemptive history, to which believers looked in hope in times past and to the reality of which we look back now. This is our church-growth strategy to do as Paul and preach winsomely and warmly but firmly and with conviction the foolishness of Christ resurrected. As at Mars Hill, some will believe, some will hear more and others (perhaps most) will not. Let the message be the offense, however, and not the messenger(s).
The church isn’t a boiler room but neither should it be an ice house. We have the greatest and grandest of all messages, Jesus is the Messiah. He was crucified and he was dead, but he is dead no longer. He lives not “within my heart” but rather he lives objectively, really, historically. He was seen by hundreds, touched, and heard. As Jim Boice used to say, what you use to get them in the door you will have to use to keep them in the door. Let them come to see risen Christ placarded before them in warm and truly evangelical preaching and let them stay to see vestiges of the life-giving power of the risen Lord in the communion of the saints.
Wait, this might also be taken to mean that, just as worldly ways to get numbers is askew, in order to diversify the church we need not look to politically correct dogmas like “racial reconciliation”? Maybe word and sacrament should be trusted to bring not only more but also different kinds of believers?
You’d think as a non-Dutchie I’d be more than symapthetic to CRC ways to make “outsiders feel welcome and at home” by employing PC methods and pedagogies. But nothing could be further. Like I keep saying, “just please pass the bread and wine” (code for employing the confessional program) and a lot of things can be solved.