How to Shrink Your Church - by Tim Suttle

A few days ago, the recently retired Rev. Mike Slaughter tweeted this little article (gem) from 2011. 

In the event you did not read the article in full, the author is a pastor named Tim Suttle. His main argument is stated in the opening paragraph:

Pastors and churches spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year attending conferences, buying books, hiring consultants, advertisers and marketers, all to try and accomplish one thing: to increase attendance -- to be a bigger church. I'm absolutely convinced this is the wrong tack.

Rev. Suttle argues that the drive to get larger churches is fueled by two sources: Sentimentality and pragmatism.

He defines sentimentality as: "tell me something that will make me feel better".

There are many seminarians who have a ton of conversation about the creeping sentimentality in a church. The sentimentality is very real conversation that needs to happen, but my interests reside in the conversation about pragmatism.

He defines pragmatism as "tell me something that will work".

The emphasis on the pragmatic is something that has come into the mind of anyone who has taken a class and thought, "why do I need to know this? I will never use this in my life!" While seminaries and church leadership work to diminish sentimentality in the church, these same bodies work to elevate pragmatic.

For instance, every preaching class I have ever taken or any church leader that I have head speak about preaching there is an emphasis on the practical. Every sermon needs a "take away" or a "life application" for the people. The assumption is that unless the preacher can give a practical application of the sermon then the sermon is severely lacking. Preachers need to speak to people's heads (teach), heart (inspire) and hands (action). 

Photo by  Silvestri Matteo  on  Unsplash

If pragmatism continues to be idolized in the preaching moment then the proclamation of the Gospel will devolve into a Jesus-sheen TED Talk. Or even worse, preaching will move from a symbiotic relationship to a co-dependent one. Where preacher and congregation are less interested in the difficult process of dying to ourselves and more interested in weekly Christian life hacks.

I encourage you to read the Suttle article which lays all this out much better.