The contemporary economic model of church has worked quite well in the congregationalization of North America. Scottish missiologist Andrew Wall has noted that the greatest accomplishment of the 19th century of Christian expansion around the globe, was the churching of North America. In only a century, the church spread from a handful of fledgling states on the eastern seaboard to every state, county, and town in North America.
Truly the ecclesionomic model of a pastor-led church congregations has proven to be a remarkably vibrant way of doing church that has resulted in more than 300,000 congregations in every corner of North America. If the average size of the church in North America was 1,200 members then we could all relax and accept the contemporary ecclesionomic paradigm.
The reality, though, is that the generous average church in North America has only 184 members, resulting in about 55 million congregants out of a combined population of 350 million. More church starts would certainly seem to be the remedy to this dilemma were it not for those pesky incentives and disincentives to behavior hidden within the invisible dynamics of ecclesionomics.
What is happening instead is the Walmartization of the American church scene. Churches with better resources are drawing into their attractional orbit larger and larger numbers of church members by the excellent services they have to offer. In practical terms this means, if you are drawn to better pulpiteers, you may leave your mediocre pastor to attend a church with a better preacher. If youth ministry is your priority, you will seek out a church with a strong youth program. If music and worship are your passion, why would you stay at a church with marginal ministry in this field when a church with world-class worship is just a short drive away? The same can be said for senior adult ministry, missions, and so forth.
To cite an old parable: Two men are on a camping trip when a grizzly bear attacks their campsite. One of the men quickly begins to put on his running shoes. The other camper cries out, “What are you doing? You can’t outrun a grizzly bear!” The first camper responds, “No, but I can outrun you!”
The invisible forces of ecclesionomics are leading God-fearing church members to cast their lot, and their tithe, with churches that perform excellently. If today’s church members stubbornly cling to their congregations out of loyalty or tradition, know this: their children will not. If they go to church at all, they will almost certainly gravitate toward those churches that provide them the best venues for exercising their gifts or receiving the gifts that are offered to them.
As Bob Dylan noted, “You don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” The future of the church in North America is tied to the invisible forces of ecclesionomics. And this is not all bad. The result may well be a Darwinian pursuit of higher and higher quality of Christian service in homiletics, worship, ministry, and mission. Those churches that fail to compete in church excellence will simply fail to thrive, and ultimately expire.
Ecclessionomics, even more than theology, is shaping the landscape of the church in North America today. While one can argue over the value or desultory effects of ecclesionomics, its reality is inescapable and will continue to strongly influence us whether we are aware of it or not.
The law of ecclesionomics is a natural force impacting the lives and behavior of Christians everywhere. But what about those non-Christians, the unreached masses who are untouched by ecclesionomics, because they reside outside the walls of this ecclesionomic church paradigm. These are the real losers in the contemporary economic paradigm of how we do church. We’ll discuss these non-participants in today’s economic paradigm in Part Three of these essays on ecclesionomics.
Dr. David Garrison is the Executive Director of Global Gates, a ministry that reaches the ends of the earth through global gateway cities. Learn more about Global Gates at GlobalGates.info. Mission Nexus member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.