This post is from the defunct blog “Dying Church”
The Summer 2006 issue of Leadership Journal ran an article I missed at first due to (I think) a bad title, "Cookie Cutter Community." The subtitle is a little more descriptive: "Distressed by consumer Christianity, this church razed the ministries enjoyed by so many for so long – and started over."
Oak Hills Church was a seeker ministry that executed "cutting-edge worship" as well as any other church. As attendance grew, something seemed wrong.
"A number of us were doing some really hard work in terms of the whole spiritual formation process," says Kent Carlson, the founding pastor, "and we were not completely satisfied with the 'product' we were turning out – not only our church, but all of evangelicalism – that we were not in any significant way helping people to be substantially transformed."
Carlson came across a book on large churches with a chapter on consumerism. This led to a re-examination of their ministry in two areas: the products of their existing philosophy, and a call to spiritual formation. This led to some dramatic changes, which the article calls “the dismantling of Oak Hills.” They canceled the seeker-oriented service and moved the mid-week believer-oriented service to the weekend. They redirected money from worship productions to spiritual formation. Some welcomed the changes; many left. Over six years, attendance dropped from 1,800 to 800. “Today, Oak Hills is, almost completely, a new church.”
The process wasn’t perfect, and there are dangers in undertaking this type of transformation. Carlson says:
The non-churched will be impressed when the church finally starts doing what they think the churches should be doing – not creating a big club where people come because you have the best music, and the best youth program, and the best children’s ministry, and the best women’s ministry – but serving the poor, seeking to deal with social issues that are of great importance, working with other churches.
In that, there’s a recognition that Christians not only say we’re different, but we really are different.
There are lots writing about the shift from consumer Christianity to something more authentic. It’s encouraging to see a church that actually made this transformation, even at great cost.