Why Call It Once A Month Church?

by Jim Henderson on October 8, 2015

James D. Hunter had Christianity’s cultural naiveté in mind when he wrote in To Change the World that:

Idealism misconstrues agency, implying the capacity to bring about influence where the capacity may not exist or where it may only be weak. Idealism underplays the importance of history and historical forces and it’s interaction with culture as it is lived and experienced. Further idealism ignores the way culture is generated, coordinated, and organized. Thus it underrates how difficult it is to penetrate culture and influence its direction.

Retail anthropologist Paco Underhill author of Why We Buy[1] studies consumer shopping habits and reports his findings to curious business owners. His company videotapes customers in stores, catalogs their behaviors, and then “makes the obvious apparent” to said business owners. One of Underhill’s most important insights is this: “Once a business owner walks into his store he forgets how to think like a customer.”

This is how we Christians often analyze our problem with reaching the culture for Jesus. The problem is always, “We don’t try hard enough,” or “They’re too lost to respond.” Like business owners, once we cross the threshold into the church we forget to think like customers. We begin creating new programs we think will attract them. We reserve parking spots for them near the front door and provide free donuts and coffee. We even install smoke machines, fountains, and huge woofers that will shake them to their bones.

In spite of all these  “soft system” upgrades we’re not only not reaching the lost, we’re losing the found.

Why are committed Christians attending church so infrequently? What’s changed? Have we lowered our standards?

After 40 plus years in the church business (25 of them as a pastor and a church planter), I’ve concluded that “Jesus” is not the answer to this problem. It’s something far more mundane and practical. It’s something staring us in the face each time we gaze into our smartphones. It’s a cultural reality whose agency we greatly underestimate, or as Hunter says, “misconstrue”

Consider the way the following have altered our relationship with time:

  • the printing press, by making information more widely available;
  • the internal combustion engine, by making the carriage “horseless;”
  • the electric light altered, by making it possible to work longer hours;
  • the telephone, by making it possible to talk with someone hundreds of miles away;
  • the television, by pushing more ideas into our already crowded imaginations

In our time, the Internet—and more precisely the smartphone—has dramatically altered our relationship with time in the same way. Due to the dramatic increase in religious goods and services (as well as authentic spiritual relationships) being delivered via smartphones, our available time allotted for church attendance has shrunk dramatically.

Time is man’s attempt to manage uncertainty. We created a clock and then became its prisoner. We can’t help but count, and once we start counting we’re forced to decide what counts.

When it comes to motivating humans to change their behaviors time is our fiercest opponent.

Our decision to gather once a month is not reactive—meaning we’re not doing this to say what we’re not like. Nor is it innovative—we know there are already groups doing this. Our decision to gather and even call our church Once A Month Church is tactical; we want to address the issue we consider to be of paramount importance to the people in our culture who are in the church and outside of it as well.

Why not learn from the customers? They’re telling you they don’t “have time” to come every week. They have physical time. What they’re lacking is psychic time (not as in supernatural but as in mental/emotional). People are on overload from psychic stress and have determined that once a month is about it for them regarding a church service.

Magical thinking tells us that doing more of the same thing will garner different results. It’s precisely this kind of thinking that’s led to our current situation of 155,000 plateaued or dying churches.

Once A Month ChurchLike the Pope choosing to ride in a Fiat instead of the Pope Mobile, symbols can communicate substance. Once A Month Church is a name we hope messages a substantial shift from the historic norm.

My wife often says, “People are allergic to clarity.”

We want to be crystal clear about our intentions.

We take our opponent – time – very seriously.

 

 

[1] Why We Buy, Paco Undershill ,Simon & Schuster June 2, 2000

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