September is a busy and important time here at The Presbyterian College, with new and returning students arriving for studies. For six years now, as a faculty member here, I’ve been part of a team receiving students as they arrive in Montreal.
Often those students come from other places in the country, or even from overseas. They may be arriving from Charlottetown or Edmonton or Yaoundé. Having said their goodbyes to family and friends, they arrive in Montreal to settle into a new neighbourhood, a new culture, and a new pattern of life. One of our tasks at the college is to make students feel at home, to welcome them into a new community, and help them settle into a new rhythm.
This year I’ve also had a new experience in the return to school. For the first time, I am also on the other side of those goodbyes. What do I mean? Well, my wife and I have just dropped our eldest daughter off for her first year of university in Ottawa. This time I’m not on the receiving end of a student, helping her become oriented to university life and a new city. Rather, I’m on the side of saying good-bye and then driving away, leaving her to settle in.
This time I’m on the other side of good-bye.
Carey Nieuwhof, pastor of Connexus Community Church in Barrie, has written a blog post on 8 reasons most churches never break the 200 attendance mark. I thought I’d offer a reply, though in truth I’m not really interested in how congregations might break that apparently important threshold – or why they don’t. I’m more interested in the preoccupation itself – the preoccupation with breaking the 200 threshold.
Nieuwhof is by no means the first writer/blogger to focus on that magic number. I’ve come across it elsewhere, in passing. And one can only presume that there is a wealth of religious and sociological literature out there that explains and defends the importance of the all-important 200 attendance mark.
Before getting to my 8 reasons (actually, I only have 6) for this preoccupation with the 200 threshold, it is important to know that this is a thoroughly modern phenomenon. Otherwise put, this focus on achieving and surpassing a numeric level finds its home in modernism – philosophically and culturally speaking. There is nothing timeless or essential about it. For 2000 years the church has not lived its intention to ‘reach people for Christ ‘ in such terms – only in the modern period has such thinking and acting become possible.
I’m not saying that the church has never talked about numbers (just read Acts and you’ll see otherwise), but the church for the vast majority of its history did not talk about numbers in this way. Continue reading