I just started reading an interesting book by C. Kirk Hadaway, the current Director of Research at the Episcopal Church Center. It's entitled, Behold I Do A New Thing: Transforming Communities of Faith (The Pilgrim Press, 2001). I've not gotten very far into the book, but already I'm struck by several passages.
For starters, there's Hadaway's understanding of a religious institution (as opposed to a secular institution or a social club):
"What is a religious institution? Although opinions differ greatly on this matter, I accept the definition that religious institutions are those that connect or relate the everyday world (the immanent) to a reality that is behind, beyond, or subsumes our world (the transcendent). Religious institutions allow the individual to experience transcendent reality in the midst of everyday existence" (p. 9).
Hadaway continues by arguing that, in light of this understanding of religious institutions, most churches in North American are more secular than religious:
" ... many churches in the United States, Canada, and the rest of the Western world are not very religious. Western rationalism, in general, and Protestantism, in particular, militates against the experience of the mystery of God. Mainstream Protestant churches often intellectualize the connection between the transcendent and the immanent; conservative evangelical churches tend to replace God's mystery with mechanistic formulae and causal logic. These are extreme examples, of course, but where in North American Christianity does one see much emphasis on mystery, the spirit, religious experience, or communion with God? These are probably most evident among Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Episcopal, Pentecostal Holiness, African American, and some Unitarian Universalist churches. Even the rapidly growing seeker-sensitive megachurches seem to have little that is religious in their worship. Most combine moral lessons and self-help in an entertaining package. Not much mystery there!" (p. 9).
"Many churches in the West are not very religious." Is this a fair charge?
Then there's Hadaway's distinction between the purpose of the church and the purpose of for-profit corporations and social clubs:
"What distinguishes the purpose of a church from that of a for-profit corporation, or even a social club? I prefer straightforward language, so I will turn again to a statement from Peter Drucker: 'The business of the church is to change people; the business of a corporation is to satisfy them.' That is, I believe, a statement that should be taken to heart by every church leader. It forces each of us to ask the question, 'are people being changed (transformed) in my congregation?' If the answer is no, then my church has a different purpose, and that purpose is probably to satisfy people" (p. 11).
I think that Hadaway is on-target here. It is, indeed, all too easy for the church to fall into the trap of "customer satisfaction" rather than transformation. But what exactly constitutes "transformation" and how do we know it's happening? Perhaps Hadaway begins addressing those questions as he continues:
"Of course, to change people or transform them begs the question of what they should be changed into. The obvious answer is that they should be changed into disciples who are open to the spirit of God and live a life of faith, vocation, and reconciliation in God's Realm. Thus, transformation is intentional and directed, rather than haphazard. It is also embodied and incarnational. People change, because all things change, but in most cases the church isn't much of an ingredient for personal change, much less the catalyst. The church can be both a catalyst for transformation, as people experience God through transcendent worship, and a place of formation, as people become part of a community of faith" (p. 11; author's emphasis).
The church can be these things, but Hadaway maintains that "in most cases" the church fails. Is he right? What other catalysts of transformation and places of formation are taking the church's place?