The ecclesiastical and liturgical changes that developed at the move from domestic-center church to building-centered church set the Christian community on social mapping trajectories that have affected, not only views on the role of women in the church, but how we also define and understand church growth outputs and outcomes. The distinct change from domestic space with more informal domestic relationship oriented habits and associations to a more formal institutionalized ecclesiastical space has, over two plus millennia, created specific social ramifications for the church and for doing church. And, as well, this has influenced what we consider acceptable church growth texts.
We should not underestimate the power of a building as “a church.” As Jeanne Halgren Kilde reminds us, the “material world is far from neutral,” nor is a “church building” any less neutral [Sacred Power, Sacred Space: An Introduction to Christian Architecture and Worship, 199]. Although reflecting on earlier church history, yet still valid to our contemporary building-centered church, Kilde continues, “Christian space is dynamic space. It is powerful space” . The power of sacred space, including a building designated as “a church,” changes everything. Power shifts. Sustainability becomes necessary. Maintaining approved and acceptable hierarchies become absolute. Habits associated with the use of a “sacred” building and the division it makes with everyday life orients our social mapping. A building-centered church experience is not nuetral to the church’s associations and human relationships in and outside the church community (i.e., a local church community).
The use of building-centered sacred space as church is a language itself, a specific “god-talk” that that creates a separation from other non-sacred church space, reinforcing a incongruence, a cleavage between everyday life and, also, a barrier between human and human social mapping (or a redefining of social mapping). The shift to now long entrenched habits and meaning associated with building-centered, addressed sacred space made with human hands known as “a church” has provided an interpretive lens for reading the New Testament. The question is not whether we should have specific buildings as centers of “church” activities, but how such building-centered church experiences influence and mold both our interpretation of biblical texts and our understanding of church—and thus, form our parameters for church growth. Interestingly, the Ephesians household code suggests how “members” are understood as persons, and in doing so, there is potential to move beyond mere numbers of people as the only outcome for church growth.
*For those following my thoughts on "Church Growth" as I prepare a paper for the upcoming November 2015 annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Atlanta. This portion comes from the paper entitled, "Domesticating Church Growth (Eph 5:18-6:9): The Spirit-Filled Temple-Church Architecture (Wives-Husbands/Children-Fathers/Slaves-Masters) and Outcomes of Personhood."
Other Not by the Numbers posts >>
Not by the Numbers: Acknowledging building-center church experience bias, reimagining church growth (revised)
It is fairly unavoidable and often nearly impossible to approach Bible texts or biblical topics without some level of bias, not just from denominational tradition or theological inclination, but, even, more so from our regular social experiences (i.e., social mapping) and everyday habits (i.e., social construction). We often begin our understanding of a biblical text or topic within the space our social experiences and habits have created for us, often leading us to confuse application for interpretation. And, as a result, interpretative conclusions, in turn, have an affect on our social relationships—an often-overlooked outcome of interpretation. This can be seen within the arena of church growth. Growth outcomes typically are understood in numbers of people that, correspondingly, affect social relationships. In turn, these outcomes determine particular “church” activities that may include or exclude certain people, by design or by unintended consequence.” Our building-centered church experience, along with its weekly habits, form interpretative bias and project what qualifies as church growth and what activities are determinative to bring such growth.
When the topic of church growth is on the table, numbers are the chief and, for most, the sole outcome that is measured. This, however, may very well be formed through our building-centered church experience and habits, rarely questioning the validity of our assumed biblical foundation; thus, biasing how we imagine church growth. Our social mapping (i.e., our social relationships) and our socially constructed building-centered church experience inform as to what qualifies as (or not as) “church growth” texts, providing a grid for acceptable parameters for interpretation. Yet, Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians offers another way to imagine how church growth should be measured. The Ephesians 5 filling command (5:15-21) and the household code that follows (i.e., the haustafeln, 5:22-6:9) is one such overlooked church growth text. The filling of the Spirit (v. 18) is dynamically related to social and domestic relationships implied by the relationship-trio (wives-husbands, children-fathers, slaves-masters), offering another frame for imagining biblical church growth.
 Berger and Luckman, Social Construction of Reality, 1.
 See chapter 6 of Wasted Evangelism.
 Although there are some that point out that growing “spiritually” can be considered church growth, however such growth is typically measured individually, not typically as a church.
*For those interested, I like to post drafts of my current research and writing. Here is the introduction to my up-coming paper that I will present at the November (2016) annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Atlanta, GA. See introduction and thesis >>
For those interested, I like to post drafts of my current research and writing. Here is the introduction to my up-coming paper that I will present at the November (2016) annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Atlanta, GA.
The full title of the paper: Domesticating Church Growth (Eph 5:18-6:9): The Spirit-Filled Church-Temple Architecture (Wives-Husbands, Children-Fathers, Slaves-Masters) and Outcomes of Personhood
Church growth is completely dependent on what one means by “growth.” Typically, a church’s growth is measured by defining growth as numbers of people either in attendance or on a membership role. Conversely, a definition can lead a congregation to church growth goals that promote outcomes that are actually contrary to the nature of the gospel. However, does the concept of biblical church growth offer other classifications to measure successful church growth? Other potential outcomes that would indicate church growth that reflects the very implications of redemption that initiated by the cross of Jesus, the Messiah?
Our focus on numbers as church growth, that is the average tallied attendance in one room on a Sunday or totaled at congregational annual meeting’s reading of a membership roll, creates a social reality for a congregation that promotes “church” attitudes and resulting habits that are hostile to the gospel of Jesus the Messiah, potentially creating space that can dehumanize individuals, foster inequality among populations and demographics, and envision people as consumers to be targeted and the gospel as a product to be marketed. Church growth outcomes related solely to numbers of people in relationship to a building-centered church experience limits potential outcomes that reflect the imagery and trajectories presented in Scripture, particularly as imagined through the text of Ephesians. Paul’s reference to the “filling in the Spirit” (5:18) and the following Haustafel creates space to think biblically, even exegetically, about “church growth,” for the sacred space(s) currently in place (i.e., the typical building-centered church experience and business-centered bureaucratic church models) can be barriers for reimagining from the text a different narrative for church and church growth.
Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians presents the local congregation as God’s expanding (growing) household-temple in the Spirit (Eph 2:21-22), making the filling in the Spirit command (5:18) related to (local) church growth, not misapplied toward privatized spiritual growth. Commentators note that the household code (the Haustafel) that follows in Eph 5:21-6:9 is related in some way to the command to be “filled in the Spirit.” This paper takes into consideration that the household code, or domestic relations in the Lord, following the filling command is the expanding structure of God’s Spirit-filled church-temple. The re-oriented domestic relationships in Paul’s Haustafel (Eph 5:21-6:9) are the church-temple’s architecture: the expanding sacred space created by the filling is the household code of wives-husbands, children-fathers, and slaves-masters. This suggests potential church growth outcomes related to “personhood.” The paper will develop this thesis through (I) showing how “sacred space” impacts our concept of personhood; (II) connecting the “filling in the Spirit” to the church-temple imagery in Ephesians; (III) developing a contextual reading of the “filling of the Spirit” command (5:15-6:9); and, (IV) demonstrating how the Haustafel suggests a trajectory of church growth outcomes beyond mere numbers.
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.