Where will you be my darling? Where will you be when the dark is rising?
Monday, August 23, 2010
I hope you like my new blogskin? There's actually a lot of symbolism for this. I think you can thank corporate identity 2 for that; it's probably getting to my head. If you're too dumb to find out what this symbolizes, think fallen angel =).
Anyhoo, I'm finally on my holidays! After suffering so much, especially under the torture of CI2, I'm free! I owe like a hell lot of posts, a hell lot of updates, and my payment of sleep has finally been paid. I slept at 11pm on Saturday. That's early as hell for me.
Although I owe so much in typing, I thought I'd start off with something recent. On Tuesday, we had a churchwide prayer meeting, and Pastor Kevin was back after 7 weeks! He thought of the situation our church was in, with the stagnant growth and price increases for the new building, and told us that spending 7 weeks in New York helped him clear up his mind and think from outside the box. And he also made some extremely drastic changes to the entire CHCKL system while sharing with us his word.
Pastor Kevin began by telling us growth is natural, and it cannot be induced. You can try to force it, and try manipulating it, but it will not be the way it was intended. And the same goes for church growth. It must happen naturally. Even if you paid people to go to church, it would not be of their own free will.
Then Pastor Kevin shared with us the main 4 criteria people outside of church use to gauge the church's status: First, praise and worship. Are the singers pretty? Are they handsome? Is the choir impressive? Are the musicians good in their skills? Second, preaching. Most people would rather listen to something positive and feel-good, even if it may not be relevant or theological, so long people like it, they'll listen to it. Third, the facilities. Are they orderly? Are there enough? Is it in good condition? And lastly, effectiveness. Is the church effective in reaching out, helping others out and all?
The thing is, these things are the things people see on the outside, the external. If we build our church just to please everyone's opinions on what the church shows, it's only external. Pastor Kevin said he didn't want that, but instead, he wanted to build the church inside out, changing each person from the inside to reflect on the outside.
If showing off was so important, we could easily have better musicians for praise and worship. There are people with much more talented skills than our current musicians and singers in church. However, talented as they may be, they may not be as spiritual, or their attitudes may be bad. So we compromise, by putting spirituality over talent, and attitude over skill. Musically, we'll progress slower, but at least in church we can bring down the presence of God, which is the main point of praise and worship anyway.
So starting with the idea of building people inside out, Tuesday onwards, forecast and attendance would totally be scrapped. Attendance for prayer meeting? No more. Attendance for cellgroup meeting? Scrapped. Attendance and forecast for the service? Nada. All gone. If people want to come, let them come. There's services on Saturday and Sunday. Take it or leave it. Having no attendance doesn't mean not communicating with them at all of course. Give them a call, see how they're doing, pray for them, have a cup of coffee and just hang out. Be a good friend know them better. If they want to come for service, they'll come. There's no need to pressure or force them. Because if all you do is contact them for attendance every week only, after a while they won't respond anymore, or they'll grudgingly come.
Pastor continued to explain that we have been the fastest growing church in KL for the last 6-7 years despite having no formal evangelism training given to the members. It is simply through relationship that we have been bringing friends. It's part of City Harvest culture to ask our friends to come, and to invite them naturally, without pressure or coercion. As pastor said "Where they is spirituality, they come, and we grow."
As a church, we shouldn't pressure, for that's not natural. We're a church, no pressure. People take time to learn things, and we help that by giving them an environment to fail. It's okay for them to make mistakes, it's okay to learn and improve. Of course, they can't be making mistakes for their entire lives and all, or be a leader and continually make mistakes over and over again, but the point is we give people a chance to do and learn things.
There must be a balance between excellence and opportunity. We must give new people the chance to try things, but we need to keep a standard of excellence in the church as well. A mistake or two won't kill, and they'll learn from their mistakes.
Pastor then stressed that we must develop relationships with each other in church and learn about one another, building a foundation. People with different backgrounds must be dealt with and treated differently. Those with a difficult background may have a harder time and need different ways to be communicated with than those from normal backgrounds. There's no one size fits all.
And in a profound quote, Pastor Kevin also said "If your intention is to build relationships, ministry will naturally follow. If your intention is to build a ministry, you won't have any friends." If they come, they come, if they don't come, they don't come. Let them decide whether they want to follow Jesus, they don't need you to force them. This is why you can see the atmosphere is different between church services and prayer meetings. Prayer meetings are always attended by those who want to come, usually the more faithful, the more spiritual. For services, there's people who were pressured in some way to come, and new friends.
The leaders and staff may worry and ask "Won't attendance drop?" Won't it be difficult for the ushers to arrange chairs without any forecast? But Pastor Kevin said to not worry, as he wouldn't get angry or upset. If we can build people inside out, there will be a spirituality that will bring people, and we'll have true disciples of Christ.
In church, our growth and life in God is a journey, not a process. There's no point getting stressed over numbers and attendance, since people get so stressed over it. It ends up with stress being our companion of our ministry instead of joy. Then what's the point?
Basically, that sums up everything Pastor Kevin shared that night. It was quite a shock, as well as a relief, for me. I've been in City Harvest Church for my entire Christian life, and they've always been superbly systematic. They get attendances, forecasts, numbers of decisions and all that very efficiently. This system has been part of City Harvest for a very, very long time. And I've grown up with it all my Christian life. For me, I understand the importance of it. It's needed so that the person making the songsheets knows how many to print. It's important so that the ushers will know the best way to arrange the chairs and guide the people coming in. However, it comes into danger as well, as sometimes the people getting attendance will only ask you for attendance, maybe a reminder to bring friends and nothing else. That becomes extremely routine and superficial. And trust me, I've dealt with plenty of that before, mostly in CHC SG.
Now you might be thinking, if I was so aware of this and all, why didn't I speak up and all? And heck, I'm a helper, part of my job was to get attendance from certain people. Wouldn't I be a hypocrite? Actually, no. I was very aware of superficial relationships and the such, and spoke up on it on many occasions. Many posts I wrote before talking about people in church were part of it. The ignorance era, the whole helper issue back in E458 and a lot of other stuff. And it's gotten me into trouble a few times as well. I'm too outspoken according to some people I'm not going to mention by name. Back then, and up till now, I realized how annoying it was to get a call just to get attendance, and see if I brought any friends. Week after week after week. As a Christian, one thing I do to keep a proper perspective is to see things from an unbelievers point of view. Is that certain message hard for the unchurched to understand? Is it possibly offensive? Is it annoying? I keep that in check, so that when I began doing the duties, I avoided them, and based on how many great relationships and friendships I've made, I think I did quite a good job. Maybe I did too good of a job, as I've had a few leaders tell me "stop equating yourself with the new members".
I must be doing it really obviously to have that said to me several times by leaders in CHC SG and CHCKL. It's also why (I suspect, but with good reason) it took me quite a while to be raised up as a helper in CHC SG, despite knowing more than all the helpers having a better relationship with most of the members than any of them. However, I did realize the importance of the forecasts and the such, and my outspokenness was only on issues that were clearly negative. And when I began my own duties as a helper, I always avoided what I thought was negative when I wasn't a helper. I would contact people and have a decent conversation, and in the midst of it, ask if they were coming for service. I kept it natural and if they couldn't come, I simply asked why and said it was alright. Of course I wasn't perfect in this. At times attendance would slip from my mind, and minutes before I needed to pass up the forecast, I'd simply contact the person purely for attendance. This happened quite a few times, although my track record of asking naturally was much better. But I always thought to myself that if the person really wanted to come, they would of their own free will. Encouragements and all that were fine, but often, these encouragements turned out to be guilt-trips that pressured new friends to come.
I've always believed that if people really didn't want to come, they shouldn't be pressured (or as the church says "strongly encourage"). This explains why I've never really given a damn if people are adamant they don't want to come and I'm told by certain leaders or helpers to try and keep bringing them. I realize that a number of committed people originally only came to church because of people constantly asking and reminding them. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's wrong, but it's simply never been for me. I've always had the insistence that I should focus on building up the people currently attending church and cellgroup. After all, they are the ones making the effort to come. Plus add to the fact I've never been much of an evangelist, bringing friends regularly to church, and you can see how this focus and belief stems. In all my years in church I've rarely brought friends to service, but instead building relationships with those who already come, and helping them and getting to know them better. Yes, I know everyone has the capacity to bring friends (it's one of the lines one of my previous leaders said almost weekly), but understand that some have a larger capacity and some have a smaller capacity, and I've got a tiny capacity. It's not my specialty. One thing I said was that what's the point if we've got large numbers of people but they aren't committed? I'd rather have the small number of people spiritually stronger instead.
Anyhoo, I'm pleased with what Pastor Kevin shared. He's begun to have things become more "fresh", such as starting service with Keith sitting with the members, instead of on stage, and rearranging certain segments of service, so they aren't so predictable. What he shared was the exact thoughts I've always had for a long time, and I've butted heads with much of church authority because of it. Coming to church doesn't mean you believe in God, but coming of your own free will does show your commitment. Sure, you can believe in God without going to church, and you can still learn without attending services, but you'll be missing out on the church happenings, you'll miss great opportunities for building great friendships and you'll lose out on fellowshipping with all kinds of people. Not going to church simply shows your commitment level. Believing in all the right stuff doesn't mean crap if you don't act it out in your life honestly. Missing a few services because of weddings, holidays, family stuff and all that is perfectly fine. But if there's no excuse, and you don't want to come, that simply shows your commitment. Commitment doesn't mean coming if you feel like it. A commitment to marriage means going through it with your other half even when things might not be easy. Same goes to church. Christianity is a relationship with God after all. Will I force you to come to church? Nopes. If you want to come, come, if not, then don't come.
I've learned the importance of fellowship a long time ago. Spending time with friends and members is extremely important, and that's why I never miss fellowship if I can. And on days when I can't make it to service, if possible I still come over to join for fellowship too. Do I take the initiative to start every friendship? No, not really. But I do make an effort and have my fair share of fellowship, and mind you, it's a big portion.
All in all, kudos to Pastor Kevin for his honesty and bravery. I don't think it's easy to share of such major changes the church will go through. Salute! This marks a big change for the church. And it's a change I'm pleased with and wanted, although it may take a while to get used to, since I've been so used to the systematic formula. The attendance may drop, especially in CHCKL, since a large number of members are foreigners who go back to their home countries after their studies in KL are completed. But spiritually, I think we'll grow stronger than ever before. And thus, growth will follow soon after.