There is a coffee shop where I grew up in Northern Ireland that serves the most incredible cinnamon scones. Perfect swirls of buttery moist, sweet, sticky, dough with a sugary crunch and an intense, aromatic cinnamon punch. People come from miles around to have one. They are in every way scone perfection. I, like many other regular cinnamon scone users, choose to remain in blissful denial of their sugar and fat content, for they are quite simply a 10 minute fix of heaven.
For years my wife and I tried to make them, scouring the internet for different recipes. We got somewhere in the right ballpark but nothing we tried could substitute for the real thing.
Last week the whole cinnamon scone thing got me thinking. Over the years I have heard many recipes for church growth. The various church ingredients typically include:
Pray for growth
Run an evangelistic course
Start a new type of Church service
Make sure you welcome people properly
Actively engage children and teenagers
Have a clear vision
Be active within the local community
Be open to change and innovation
Have a good website and Facebook presence
There is nothing wrong with these things. But somehow, like my scone recipes, they don't quite satisfy me. Something is missing. Rather than concentrating looking for perfect recipes to replicate church growth I think we need to look rather deeper.
The real cinnamon scone maker is an extraordinary artisan cook who treats the dough with care and respect in a way I did not. I think my scone problem was not so much my recipe as my attitude. I was not taking time to use gently mix and kneed the dough with the love and care of the artisan. I was in a hurry with my food processor, wanting a quick, convenient result. Similarly in the church it is not so much what we do but our ethos and values, our way of being, that makes the biggest difference.
Church, essentially, is the community of God’s people. The two most important commandments are about loving God and loving one another. This means that our values and beliefs about people are crucial and what we do needs to flow from those values and beliefs. The list above contains some good ideas but unless they are founded on love of one another they will always feel a bit hollow.
So what values might we want to make foundational, and what might flow from those values in terms of how we do church? Here are some things my colleague Catherine and I, from our research and experience have found make a difference:
Encouraging people to be their unique authentic selves. To come to church with all their gifts, skills, creativity, questions, doubts and difficulties.
Believing that each person has something special and unique to offer the Kingdom of God. Something so precious that discovering and nurturing that contribution becomes a key part of what we do.
There is broad view of mission the missi
on of the church, valuing and encompassing all the things we and our brothers and sisters are called by God to do. Including secular work, community engagement, family life and more.
Taking seriously the fact we are all equal in God’s eyes. All filled with His Spirit. This means everyone is worth listening too. Leadership and decision making are widely distributed. Everyone is an equal kingdom stakeholder.
People are encouraged to take risks, have a go, and learn from mistakes.
Everyone is actively encouraged to contribute what they believe God may be doing and saying.
Leaders don't direct the show, but rather believe themselves to be coaches catalysts and facilitators.
This hugely loving and respectful way of being is massively healing, releasing and creative. It rapidly develops competent disciples of Jesus and builds a community people will want to join. What’s more it firmly hands responsibility back to disciples themselves for their own life, mission and personal growth. Overly reliant followers no more. Leaders can resign from the need to be multitalented, priority juggling, visionary geniuses. Leaders can relax and put their feet up more. Phew! Superhero outfits can now be washed, ironed and put away in the loft and leaders can return to normal human being status. And is all this just idealistic pie in the sky? Our research and experience says it really works.
Interestingly since my experiments trying to make the cinnamon scones I have been told that the secret recipe has never been written down. The wonderful artisan baker just adds, pours and kneads, taking his time doing what looks and feels right for each individual batch. I'm sure you see the parallels.