When in Bible College back in the early 70s, the hot topic was called Church Growth. Not being in the pastoral ministry program, I didn't actually take any of the classes; but was exposed to the chapel lectures, optional seminars, and related required reading.
Church Growth as I came to understand it was less about proselytizing than positioning. Among the key emphasis were things like building in the path of growth so we'd have a church already there when the population moved in, having childcare to attract families, making sure the services were "appropriate for the generation," etc. I'm still not sure what that last thing means, and even now it all seems a bit surreal.
One thing I learned, whether intentionally taught or not, was what came to be called "counting the crowd". You didn't want to actually get a physical count, but an estimate -- what was termed a "preacher's count." Somehow "almost 200" sounded better than 167.
One thing I still instinctively count when entering any new congregation is the ratios.
If at 56 you're considered one of the young folks, there's a problem there. If at 30 you're the old man of the church, same problem.
The more telling ratios have to do with gender. There will always be more women than men. Women tend to live longer and young women tend to stay with going to church long after young men find it is unendurably boring. If, however, you walk into a church and they are surprised to see a new man in a group 80% or more women, this is a big problem. The same can also be said when a church is so dominated by men that women have no apparent "place."
The thing which has consistently amazed me about Christ Community Church where we are committed is the true mix of ages and ratio of men and boys to women and girls. At any given service you can count the crowd and there will be very close to 50 percent men, even at those dreadful Wednesday evening prayer services. For the record, this only occurs in a church when there are strong Christian women involved. Something real can be built on such a ratio.
This past Saturday went to the sixth annual men's ministry real-man-real-chili cook-off with my favorite son-in-law (easy to have favorite when there's only one daughter). Being actually a family affair there were probably as many women as men attending.
There were 14 entries in the cook-off, each which their own idea of what goes into real man chili. Some had a better idea than others; one or two had no idea whatsoever.
The gig was for everyone to taste a sample of all 14 and then vote for their three favorites. Steve, being the meticulous type, kept notes as to his evaluation of each sample. I just scratched out the ones for which I would not require seconds.
The winner was Rodney Pennington. I know Rodney Pennington. Rodney is a friend of mine. Apparently the fix was in.
After almost 15 years I know and appreciate these men consistently making up such an impressively high ratio. I've watched them from the distance our 21st century world imposes and have come away impressed. They are men of faith in Christ and I have been brought closer to the Father because of their prayers. As I commented to Steve, whatever you think of their chili, these are good men.
God can do a lot in any church with a few good men and strong Christian women, even without church growth rigmarole. Jesus had twelve such men and some women who supported them, look what came of that.
David L. Lewis is an observer of and sometimes commentator on life who may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.