About 15 years ago, I took part in a fascinating research project at the request of Church House Publishing. With a number of people from the USA, sponsored by Church Publishing Inc, we gathered to dream about the church of the future, and to project potential for growth.
We were supposed to be concentrating on all things liturgical (to do with the worship of the church), but as a group of people who were drawn together to dream, we soon broke out of the constraints of liturgy and began to speculate on how and why the church would grow over the next twenty years.
We came up with an axis. On the vertical, we put a scale of intimacy with God. On the horizontal, we put a scale of engagement with humanity.
It is possible to be close to God but distant from humanity. A church like that would be awesome and beautiful in its worship, but its social engagement would be scant. A church could be the reverse, very socially aware but not very engaged with their relationship with God.
In the worse case, a church could be distant from God and from their neighbours. Such a church would almost certainly be in decline, spiritually and actually, closed and inhospitable. But a church that is growing is a church that is highly engaged with its community, generously open, and deeply committed to worship and discipleship.
It’s a no-brainer. A church which is open to others and open to God is more likely to thrive than a church which is closed.