No Cookie Cutter Way (Part 3 of No Cookie Cutter Way)

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

 - 1 Corinthians 12:15-20 ESV


            Paul was writing to the church in Corinth that was arguing over the gift of tongues and wanted that beyond anything else. This church had a lot of issues, people getting drunk during the service, a man sleeping with his mother-in-law with the church applauding it instead of being appalled. While all this was happening, they argued for the gift of tounges, and Paul was trying to tell them they had the gifts they needed. We must understand that Paul was reminding them that they were a part of the capital “C” church, but he also reminded them that they were their own body (church) and still needed to conduct themselves in a worthy way of Christ.

            Paul’s mentoring and discipling of this church took a considerable effort from the apostle. Scholars tell us that at least two of the four or more letters that Paul wrote to his church in Corinth together with the churches in the region of Achaia.[1] We have two that survived, giving us a window into a broken, hurt church that needs revitalization. While Paul was a missionary church planter, he was also a revitalizer who would send his team, Timothy, Titus, Apollos, Silas, Aquila, and Pricilla, to name a few, depending on the needs of the church and based on the person’s gifts.

            The only thing we can say for sure that was also happening in ALL the churches was the gnostic teachings, and this is something that not just Paul but Peter, James, Jude, and John also wrote of in their letters. When we break down Paul’s letters and the different issues in these churches, it spans a gambit of what’s what. As the writer of Ecclesiastes says about nothing new under the sun (1:9), we see in the Church we have cycles of fighting apostasy and rot that will destroy a church body, but we have to turn to the great physician who can heal it.


            Mark Clifton, who does not agree with all things of the Church Growth Movement (CGM), sees the movement’s good and bad in trying to be cookie cutter to the big “C” church. One thing I think the CGM did wrong is making pastors believe, “do these several things, and in “X” time, you will see your church turn around.” The one thing they fail to see is that if the church is a body, then looking at people’s physical bodies, we have differences. The difference is what Paul is getting at with the Corinthians. The gifts that people have are for that specific church where they are. We would not have churches dying if everything were supposed to work the same. Please understand this doesn’t mean that there are things we can’t glean from the movement, but we must realize that just as bodies are different, so are churches. If everyone is uniquely different, so is every church, so why would the same plan work for all? Social media groups are dedicated to the guys who would tell you that and found their own way in rebuilding their churches.

            Look around you if you’re outside or at your church. What do you see? Most likely, people of various shades of color who are fat, skinny, short, tall, young, and old. You get the picture and know that each person needs to be ministered to at their specific level. Now think again, what if the person has some physical need? They may be missing a limb for one reason or another. Perhaps they were born with a congenital disability that hampers what they can do. We do not put them aside, but they are not complete either in one sense of the word and yet, many people with disabilities like this are as functional or more so than non-disabled people. I point out that everyone is different, as is every church situation. In the next chapter, we will look at the uniqueness of churches.

            If a person is trying to lose weight, one diet plan may not work for them, and they must try several to find the one that does. A person with cholesterol issues isn't going to do the Keto diet, which is high in fats. So one way isn't going to be the way that works for all churches. In theory, it should, but in truth, it will not. There's a reason that diets work for some and not for all because we are all unique and have issues that may be related to our family or ethnicity to realize that we need a special diet. Two things are certain. The Apostles Peter and Paul write of these that a Christian's growth is like that of a human, from Spiritual infant to Spiritual grandparent. And that a Christian has different dietary needs based on that growth (1 Peter 2:1-3 & 1 Corinthians 3:2-6).

            At the heart of the Church is a gathering to read and study the Bible, pray and worship God.[2] In many aspects, we get caught up in what we don’t have, and in some way, the CGM makes us fall out of love with what we have because of what we don’t. Note that this differs from when God calls us away from our current ministries to another. Remember what I said about one aspect of church revitalization is making people fall in love with Jesus again? The same can be said of the pastor of his church. We look at what we lack and do not celebrate what we have. We forget that the local church is unique to itself.


            I joke with people when they say I’m calling myself a Bostonian for living in Massachusetts, it is common for outsiders of New England to think everyone from Massachusetts is a Bostonian. Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, we have two types of Bostonians, true and those who claim to live within the metropolitan region (the area that can be called Boston but is not Boston proper). The truth is, I barely have the accent, I have lived in Maine, New Hampshire, and Missouri, to be truthful, and when I first began to talk, I took the Mancunian (Manchester, England) accent of my English grandfather, who was watching over me with my grandmother while both my folks worked until I was 4-years-old. But, I lived in the West Roxbury neighborhood for those years of my life, where my grandparents and parents had a home on Edgemere Road. So, my joke is that like Paul was a Pharisee of Pharisees, I am a Bostonian of Bostonians.

            Now, in Boston, we are known for our teams, the Celtics, Bruins, and Red Sox; the Patriots are in Foxboro, that metro region, and not really in Boston proper. But it’s the Red Sox I want to focus on for a bit. Everyone knows of Fenway Park, and truth be told, I have a love-hate relationship with the park, which I will go into later. Fenway is known as one of the “Cathedrals of the Game” it, along with Wrigley Field, are the oldest parks. Talk to any Sox or Cubs fan; they can tell you stories for hours about those places. But there was a time called the cookie cutter years, where the title for this series and post comes from when cities tried a different approach to the game’s cathedrals.

            As baseball and football rose in popularity in the 60s and 70s, many cities looked at dual-use stadiums. Nothing new; the first was in Cleveland, built in the 1930s, the baseball and football teams used, which ironically was called “The Mistake by the Lake.” The second was in Baltimore. These two had unique features, but the buildings were round like a cookie cutter, and the name stuck. Soon Washington DC, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Atlanta, San Francisco, Oakland, and others fell in line. Many of the classic ballparks of the past, Shribe Field, Ebbets Field, Griffith Stadium, and the Polo Grounds, were eventually replaced with cookie-cutter dual-purpose stadiums. By the 80s, many baseball and football teams were roommates in these.

Veterans Stadium Philadelphia, PA circa 1980s

            The issue for many baseball purists was that these stadiums were lifeless, the field dimensions were near identical, and each, while unique in its way, had no personality like Wrigley or Fenway, for example. People traveling to Boston, Chicago, Detroit, and New York would see that the cookie cutters kept the fans away from the game because they were not up close to the action like they were at the older ballparks. They saw how the triangle in Fenway or the Monuments in New York were in play and helped the home team out. In some ways, one could argue that there was no “home field advantage” because the cookie-cutter fields were all too similar.

            That all began to change in the 90s with Baltimore’s new stadium Camden Yards, which brought back classic elements of the old parks while still being modern. It became the DNA of about every other new ballpark, and while a few would be contemporary domed fields, these also took classic elements into them. The other thing was that these new ballparks also included unique characteristics and quirks to their cities. No ballfield dimensions are the same, and every team has a true home-field advantage. The same can is said of churches.


            Let me say what I am getting at with a headline like this: every church is unique to where they are initially planted. Some churches bear names of areas unique to their neighborhood, for example. Some have a history tied to something painful as a church split. It was for some as joyous to split in two because they grew and had people from around the town. Some were founded to minister to warehouse or factory workers, and others were started to minister to the Polish, French, Spanish, or other ethnic groups calling the areas home. Where the CGM made, what many Millenials and Homelander generations today see as, nightclub-like settings a common needed belief, all similar churches of the past had style, woodwork, and other features lacking today that younger people find fascinating. Overall, each has its flavor and its quirks. Let’s go back to Fenway Park for a moment. As I said, I have a love-hate for the old girl.

            In the late 1990s, Major League Baseball began interleague play between the National and American Leagues. I went to my first of these games in 2001, and I remember this because Red Sox great and Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez was the pitcher that day and went down with a rotator cuff injury. It was also against Philadelphia, I had seats in the right field near the bullpen, and I know that because for what I paid, I expected a good view down toward first base and Homeplate, but when I sat right in the seat, I was facing the bullpen and the outfield grandstands. Even the Philadelphia fans near me complained. The words rang with me, and I think we can take them two ways here. “This is the great Fenway Park? These seats are horrible. Why would anyone want to keep this dump up and not replace it?”

            They spoke three years before a classic modern one would replace their cookie-cutter stadium, but they also clamored for a new stadium there for years. On the one hand, it shows that the old girl is dated, I would have loved a new stadium, but on the other, it demonstrates my point that each area has a uniqueness. Churches are the same, and I still remember the church in Brockton where my dad was an associate pastor. Aside from the “Moody Pulpit,” there were hidden passages that all the pastors’ kids knew of and hid in, this one included.


            Christian bookstores have shelves filled with books on “how to grow your church” there are countless podcasts about this topic. It is like a mentor once said to me, “one thing you’re going to find out going to all these conferences, eventually they are all repeating the same thing.” He told me the importance of gleaning what I could. Today he pastors a two-church multi-sight with a healthy 400+ membership. He isn’t a growth guy either, but he holds to one principle of Donald McGaveran, the godfather of the CGM, to be missional.

            McGavran’s book that started it all, Bridges of God, is not really about church growth the way we see it today but about the pastor catching the missionary aspect of the mission of all churches.[3] Going back to the root of “why was your church started?” Many denominations and networks can help you get information on the make of the people in the city/town you are in, which is always a huge factor here. Let’s look at a few elements here. Here are three that are key for you to know: Where is your church (city/town and specific location)? How old is your church (age never is a thing of success or failure, but we have to honor the history of these churches)? What motivated the people to gather and incorporate it (was it a split, or perhaps it was to reach a specific group of people)?

            Your knowledge of your church will be the #1 factor determining many facets of your church. You have to look at the people around you, the elements in their lives, and whether they are white collar or blue, for instance. What are the things the locals like to do? Are there festivals and other things that you can connect with people doing? You get the idea. Knowing your people is essential because this is being a missionary learning the culture and people to whom you are sent, and as Paul puts it, being everything to everyone (1 Corinthians 9:20-22).

            Next is another important factor, how old is your church? Age isn’t always a good thing. Many people are not attracted to the old stuff, and they think that the people are stuffy and set in their ways. The other thing is that churches build reputations that can be hard to shake off. Another factor is sin that has cursed the church. That sounds harsh and perhaps charismatic, but one of my friends, a Reformed Baptist and swears that is part of what happened to his church. Even as he tried to get the church to look to God for the forgiveness of sins in the past, things were always hard to keep moving on. Ultimately, he gave the building to the plant and moved to a community in the south with a people group in need of churches.

            Why did your church start? I had a 14-year tenure in a church that began over a split. The pastor who had been voted into an established church wanted to disciple the church and teach them the ways of the New Testament church. The church, 30 years later, still lives that out, but after all those years in a small town and always drawing people from the surrounding communities is moving to a city. The church is looking to continue the work they have been doing for the last five years in a new home. Some churches started to reach factory workers, others immigrants. This is an important fact that the North American Missions Board has for its Replant team, of which I help facilitate cohorts from time to time. Overall it is essential to know and honor the history of your church.

            Three hundred years of history at my church, and I discovered when I began to research for grants that our bell in the tower is from the first building and one of the first cast in America. The 7th pastor partially purchased the property, and the rest was given for the current structure by town folk because of its history in the Great Awakening. George Whitefield spoke one of his seven days in the town on the hill, overlooking the field in back. If we just did what books say, we would be like many pastors who bulldoze into a church and then wonder where they failed when the people leave and the doors close. Remember this, people will move towards modern things, but when people come into an old church, they expect things a certain way. Legacy and several other churches I know have done that with the sanctuary space and service, balancing tradition and modernity.

            I will close out this blog with this final thought. You can read and have people convinced that the younger generations are not interested in the past. However, people who study generations will tell you differently. According to numerous surveys, Millennials and Homelanders showed more appreciation for history and their elders than my own Generation X. A few years ago, I was made aware of a church that would not allow a 58-year-old to play bass guitar with the worship team because they wanted all 30 and under on the stage. What happened was a coup when many musicians began not showing up. The 58-year-old ended up at another church, and about 3/4s of the worship band followed. As it became known, the younger people loved this musician, and he was a huge help to the team in understanding music theory and other parts of playing together. Pastor, this is why we need to understand our churches and the uniquenesses within, which we will discuss next.


[1] Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, eds., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 1st Printing edition (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 1993), 164.

[2] Mark Dever, The Church: The Gospel Made Visible (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2012), 70.

[3] Donald McGavran, Bridges of God: A Study in the Strategy of Missions (Eugene, Ore.: Wipf and Stock, 2005), 68–70.


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