The church in North America has a problem. It is “dramatically overprogrammed and underdiscipled.” According to Will Mancini, the functional Great Commission in our churches has become, “Go into all the world and make more worship attenders, baptizing them in the name of small groups and teaching them to volunteer a few hours a month.”
We’re pretty good at building crowds of people through facilities, the personalities of pastors, programs, and people, but we don’t always see the transformation we hope for. We talk about changing our scorecards, but pastors face continual pressure to increase attendance and giving. We’ve been influenced by assumptions about how to do church from three eras of church growth in the twentieth century. “The late-20th-century church model, in many applications, requires so much energy and attention that little to nothing is left for anything else, including discipleship,” writes John Dickerson. Common solutions promise a lot, but many of them perpetuate the problems they promise to solve.
How should we respond?
In Future Church, Seven Laws of Real Church Growth (affiliate link), Will Mancini and Cory Hartman encourage pastors to shift their primary focus from the Lower Room (the attractiveness of your place, the charisma of your personalities, the excellence of your programs, and the welcome of your people) to the Upper Room (God’s unique disciple-making vision for a church). The Upper Room is where people change.
The authors offer seven universal principles (“laws”) for Upper Room ministry:
- Real church growth starts with a culture of mission, not worship. Focus on a culture of mission and you’ll get worship services; but focus on a culture of worship services and you will just get worship services.
- Real church growth is powered by the gospel, not relevance. Don’t cater to consumer preferences. Instead, focus on gospel impact through the people you already have.
- Real church growth is validated by unity, not numbers.
- Real church growth is local, not imported. Churches must decentralize and stay local, distributed, and among the people.
- Real church growth is about growing people, not managing programs. Focus on producing reproducers instead of inviting people to programs and preaching.
- Real church growth is led by calling, not celebrity. Call every believer to engage their parish and serve God through their vocation.
- Real church growth is energized by shared imagination, not shared preference. The imagination must shift from packing the house on Sundays to long-term local impact and personal calling.
The authors conclude the book by helping pastors renovate the Lower Room to build Upper Room community.
Future Church is full of helpful insights. The image of Lower Room and Upper Room ministry is profound. Their analysis of North American church models is helpful. Many of the insights in this book are rooted in Scripture. I can’t think of a pastor who wouldn’t benefit from working through this book.
I have some small quibbles. The language of laws sometimes seems a little hyped, and some of the content is unclear. Law seven, for instance, talks about images from painting: deep tone (the parables of Jesus), the midtone (long-term local impact), and bright tone (personal calling). I’m still a little unclear on what this means. I’d want to read this book along with others, such as Jared Wilson’s Gospel-Centered Church (affiliate link) and Mark Dever’s Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (affiliate link).
But this is a book worth reading and studying. If you are a pastor longing for more than the programmatic church, Future Church will stimulate your thinking and lead you to refocus on your calling. Read it and apply it in your setting.
“This book is an invitation to step into what you’ve always wanted to do, the reason you entered the Master’s service,” the book concludes. It’s a welcome invitation, worth accepting.