A recent blog post doing the rounds shows that conservative churches grow at a faster rate than liberal churches. No surprises there. After all who bothers getting out of bed to go and hear stuff that the whole world is committed to anyway. Liberal theology has hollowed out the mainline denominations, and it’s no wonder.
But not all conservative churches grow. If they did then there is hope for the hundreds of tiny dying little tight churches across the UK, Australia and the USA. There are plenty of churches committed to conservative theology that are now reduced to twenty or thirty older people bouncing around a building that once housed five hundred or more. Their combined ages may be roughly the same as the five hundred, but that’s about it.
And what’s more, not all conservative churches deserve to grow.
What types of conservative churches don’t tend to grow and why don’t they deserve to?
1.Churches That Are Conservative and Tight
That’s the group I am talking about right there. The conservative churches that hold to a strongly conservative doctrine, but are completely nit-picky about absolutely everything non-essential. They have a closed hand about many of the open-handed issues that evangelical Christians have agreed to disagree about.They also tend to have a suspicion of the wider culture, and view many of their personal preferences as theological values.
Those types of churches are not growing. A cursory trip around the UK cities will prove it once and for all. They don’t deserve to grow and as they shrink they fall into denial and introspection. Eventually they have a tonne of money, a bunch of property and no people.
The last one to leave turns out the lights.
2. Churches That Are Conservative and Bullying
Okay, they grow for a while, but something happens and then it all falls in a heap, people leave, lives are hurt and the gospel is shamed. Sometimes the bullying leadership manages to regroup, smooth things over, trash-talk those who left and treat them as pariahs, before a fresh bunch of meat, oblivious to the past trauma, turns up. And the whole thing starts again.
There’s an irony in writing that for me as the initial blog post that sparked my response has a link to such a group; a group that ticks all the right theological boxes, but which treats the sheep with great disdain.
Such groups don’t grow for a number of reasons,
Firstly they can’t hold on to good and godly leaders who fearlessly tackle sin even among their own ranks. They end up being self-selecting, and find that lesser-leaders who don’t push back will put up with the abuse.
Secondly, they boom and bust. You can’t grow if you have to keep re-grouping. If you’re the bullying senior pastor and you live in a big enough country, you fly over six states and start it all again.
Thirdly, you certainly can’t grow if you have to spend too much time and energy putting out the spot fires that you are starting. The rumblings of your abused people and your disaffected leadership will take some time to resolve, time that you can’t put in to gospel work.
By God’s grace these types of conservative churches don’t grow over the long haul, and they don’t deserve to either.
3. Churches That Are Conservative For Its Own Sake
Conservative churches in and of themselves don’t grow. But conservative Churches that are gospel-saturated do grow. That’s a big difference. You can have all of the conservative theology in the world, but if you don’t love Jesus and others deeply, and deeply enough to share Jesus with others, you will stagnant – eventually.
To be conservative for its own sake is no guarantee for growth even as the pendulum of the culture swings back towards conservatism. Without the leavening effect of the gospel on the church’s internal life, and the centrifugal effect of the gospel on the church’s external goal, things will wither and die. As they should.
So when you read a blog post that says conservative churches grow, take it with a pinch of salt. Conservatives all too readily fall into the trap of thinking that their conservatism will do what only openness as opposed to tightness; gentleness as opposed to bullying; and gospel ends as opposed to conservative ends in themselves, will actually do.
Anything less than that just gives “conservative” a bad name.