Church Growth/Revitalization Movement

As the church continues to decline in North America, specifically in mainline denominations, a number of solutions have been proposed about how to solve this problem. There are those who see the need to cut ties with the church as we know it and to start over again. There are others who see reforms within the current structure as the better option. Of course, this is not a hard-line between the two. Some have proposed a combination of the two options. This isn’t really anything new and it’s something we currently see in politics here in America. There are those who want to drastically cut government and there are those who simply want to reform what is currently in place. Earlier this week, David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times, wrote an article about two theories of change, one stemming from the French Enlightenment, the other from the British Enlightenment. The French Enlightenment was based on reason (think Descartes). Essentially, it sought to move away from feudalism and emotions and instead, build a system of thought on foundational truth. In regards to change then, the thought was to clean house and begin again, this time on human reason. In contrast, the British Enlightenment put more stress on emotions and sentiment than on reason. They argued that we are emotional beings and these emotions contained both an admiration for justice and beauty and darker desires which looked out for oneself and one’s people. For the British Enlightenment, its theory of change was continual reform without altering the core substance of what is in place. One always distinguished between the good and the bad, then sets out to better the bad parts of the system. Brooks writes, in summarizing some of Edmund Burke’s thought who was part of the British Enlightenment, “He believed that each generation is a small part of a long chain of history. We serve as trustees for the wisdom of the ages and are obliged to pass it down, a little improved, to our descendents. That wisdom fills the gaps in our own reason, as age-old institutions implicitly contain more wisdom than any individual could have.” This is present in both politics (e.g., the Tea Party) but also within the church growth/revitalization movement. There are those who think the church just needs to start over with a new foundation. And then there are those who think the foundation is in place and instead, we need to modify the practices of the church. It’s interesting to see these two schools of thought still at work in the world today.

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