Diet groups increase church growth

Colin Mathewson asks, "Does God want you to be thin?" in Time Magazine this week:

It’s hard not to feel a bit jealous. Saddleback Church recently launched the Daniel Plan, a church-based diet regimen that includes small group accountability sessions, expert opinion, recipes, and exercise classes before Sunday services, and the program appears to be working: some 15,000 participants have lost a collective 260,000 pounds to date. An impact on that scale would make any organization proud. This organization happens to be a church.

Of course, this isn’t what church is about. Right? Like a good Episcopalian, the notion of church as self-help seminar makes me deeply uncomfortable. But I can’t deny the presence of real spirit—dare I say Holy Spirit—behind the scenes. Atrophied bodies wearied by years of unhealthy eating are being restored to wholeness, to God’s greater glory.
Episcopal churches ought not try to be something they aren’t: megachurches. But how might churches organize across a diocese to create more enticing programs on a more substantial scale? For example, why do so many churches run their own sparsely attended Vacation Bible Schools, when a pooling of nearby churches could offer kids more fun and more learning? And for the love of God, where are our small groups that meet during the week for Bible study or just some simple fellowship and prayer over dinner?

The Episcopal Church boasts liturgical content rich in meaning and sonorous in tone. Our embrace of reason alongside scripture and tradition keeps us importantly open to the ever-important science v. faith debate. Our willingness to find common ground through our practice of worship, while leaving space for different theological and political opinions, has enabled our church to weather recent ideological storms with some measure of flexibility and grace. But the sheer weight of what we do together, the seriousness with which we carry out our worship and praise, may have left many Episcopal churches flat-footed at a time when nimbleness reigns supreme. Perhaps a diet plan wouldn’t be so bad for us, either: exercising our cultural savvy and imagining new ways to be church may enliven a new century of work together, with God’s help.

The article is behind Time's paywall but you can find more from Colin Mathewson and his wife Laurel, seminarians at Sewanee: University of the South and postulants in the Diocese of San Diego. Check out their blog at here.

Comments (1)

Most Episcopal churches that I have been a part of have small groups of all sorts. Foyer groups are very popular -- people sign up and are assigned to a small group who plan to meet once a month for dinner or light snacks. No agenda - just getting to know other people in the congregation.

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