After one of my seminars, I was driven to the airport in San Francisco by Josh, one of the young pastors on staff. We had 90 minutes of excellent conversation with stimulating ideas. During the invigorating conversation, the topic of church growth emerged.
We discussed what causes some churches to grow while others seem to plateau and, eventually, die?
Allow me to share one answer to that extremely critical question. I believe that one factor which can either encourage growth or stifle it is the ability and willingness of members and attendees at a church to know the difference between convictions and preferences and to live and make decisions accordingly.
When I was younger, I held lots of so-called convictions over issues which were not really crystal clear in the Bible--things you would put in the category of life-style choices or behavioral issues...issues such as movies, music, dancing, make-up, cards, drinking, pool, body art, etc. I would, along with some of my Christian friends, argue over these secondary issues which, in many people’s minds were (and, to them, still are), primary issues, worth going to war over--taking secondary issues and making them primary biblical mandates (with no biblical support) for themselves and others.
Over the years, I’ve culled down the list of my so-called convictions and moved many of them to my personal preference list because the Bible is not explicitly clear on these things. I now refer to convictions as closed-handed issues and to preferences as open-handed issues. I want to hold tightly to convictions and hold loosely to preferences--willing to compromise and go along to get along. I want to choose my battles carefully and prayerfully.
Now, here is the bottom line.
Churches which continue to grow and make a difference are those whose people have the right things in the convictions and preference columns. Churches which become irrelevant and no longer reach the current generation of young people are full of people who hold convictions over issues that are really preferences, with little or no support in scripture, wasting their time and energy on unimportant “wars.”
Music styles (preferences) would be a classic example of this. I have lost track of the number of churches which are full of 50-70 years olds with nary a 20-30 year old in sight because their worship and music is the same as it has been for 50-60 years. (Just for the record, drums are not a tool of the devil!)
One of my early mentors, Warren Myers, told me to be sure to major in the majors and minor in the minors--don’t major in the minors. He also told me to pay attention to where the Bible is gray on an issue and where it is black and white on an issue.
Some believers need to have more gray crayons in their box.
The last thing you want at your church is to wake up one morning and see that most, if not all, of the people who attend are 60-80 years of age and realize that you missed the boat somewhere and are now frantically scrambling to rearrange the chairs on the deck of the Titanic.
Here is my question to you and your church: Are you putting preference things in the conviction column, thereby, rendering you/your church unable to make essential adjustments to be relevant to, and reach, the next generation?