Spiritual formation is under attack and the perpetrator is one you’d not expect — it’s the evangelical church. All churches? No. But there is a particular type of church model that I’m talking about. It’s the model that I like to call the Evangelical Assembly Line. In this church model, leaders focus primarily on breadth of attendees, not depth of discipleship.
In this model pastors might say, “It’s all about the 1 and not the 99.” If you’re behind the scenes in these churches and can hear staff meeting conversations, the agenda items focus primarily on “getting butts in seats.” It’s all about the numbers. How many people came today? Did we get connection cards on file for them? Have we plugged them into life groups? Can we get them onto a volunteer team? How can we increase our attendance? Is it time to bring in the Disney costumes to attract children? Fireworks after service? Drop Easter eggs from a helicopter?
You get the gist. It’s all about attraction. And once people have been attracted, it’s all about getting them on the assembly line. Sign them up to volunteer; focus them on others and not themselves; keep them “running after the one and not the 99.” Their goal is not to retain and build leaders, but to continue building attendance, building campuses, building schools.
When pastors tell volunteers and staff that church is for the 1 and not the 99, they are effectively cutting off discipleship. Why isn’t discipleship the focus on the Evangelical Assembly Line? Discipleship is hard. Building relationships is hard. It poses questions that are hard to answer. Real life issues are hard to navigate. But what’s easier than discipleship? Well, it’s easier to attract visitors and to convert visitors to volunteers.
So the Assembly Line is just that— get the visitors in, convert them to volunteers, and use them to perform that same step over and over and over. And what happens when a hard-working volunteer gets exhausted or disillusioned and falls off the end of the assembly line? Nothing. The silence is deafening.
But in that moment, the Spirit steps in and scales start falling from their eyes. They finally see that it’s never been about “running after the 1.” It’s always been about getting 99 more seats filled.
Deconstruction is spiritual formation. The Evangelical Assembly Line isn’t equipped for that level of discipleship, but the Spirit is. And it’s important work. And it will continue, despite the outlash from toxic leaders.