August 19, 2005
Agape Press

(AgapePress) – Mainline denominations have struggled for years in the area of church growth.

Actually, most of them have been far better at shrinkage. Dave Shiflett’s book Exodus describes Americans racing from liberal churches for conservative Christianity found in a variety of places, not the least being Roman Catholicism, the Orthodox Church, the Southern Baptists and other evangelical traditions.

The shrinking dynamic continues apace as once formidable denominations have, according to Shiflett, turned “Holy Writ on its head: what was once forbidden becomes acceptable, if not celebrated; admonitions toward holy living suddenly become hate speech.”

The mainliners have, in many instances, become so secularized and bereft of biblical teaching that instead of challenging the norms of a sliding culture, they merely reflect them.

So — forgive this columnist if he tackles a mainline church that actually appears to be growing. Or, at least, its vacation Bible school is growing. A church in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, has decided to use J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter motif in its summer Christian education emphasis.

Enrollment has doubled!

According to Associated Press, “Wizards and Wonders: The Journey with Harry Potter” is, uh, taking off as young ones mount their broomsticks and learn to fly at the “Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft” which teaches them this and other nuances of the interconnectedness of witches, wizards and magic with Scripture.

Far be it from the church growth pundits to criticize growth in any normal sense, especially when it comes from a denomination that has been losing members hand over fist for decades. But have we really digressed this far? Wizards? Flying broomsticks? Witchcraft … and the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Enrollment has doubled!

But, asks the holy skeptic, at what cost? The Episcopal Church, along with other mainline denominations, has cheapened Scripture (which didn’t work for church growth), discounted traditional Judeo-Christian morality (which also didn’t work for growth), lowered standards of membership (again, didn’t work), and has so confused a church in Pennsylvania that its members decided to try Harry Potter to see if witches, wizards, and magic might not work wonders for the appeal of Christ.

But … enrollment has doubled!

One of the terms used by serious students of evangelism is “indigenization” — that is, we should analyze the culture we want to reach and adapt our approach accordingly. But, asks our holy skeptic again, is there not a limit to that process? Are there places where we just won’t ethically go? One local mainline church in Pennsylvania apparently thinks not.