The more I read books by guys who are trying to help the church get out of the rut of no-growth and irrelevance, the more it feels like bad marriage counseling that sinks the couple into more despair and hopelessness. The focus on most of the books by guys like Ed Stetzer, Nelson Searcy, Gary MacIntosh, Thom Rainer have tons of advice on organization and style, but very little about the church's life together that should reproduce disciples.
The gathering of the church on Sundays and how that is done is a very small part of the church's life together. It's much like a marriage where the sexual experience is a very small percentage of the overall relationship although it is the most exciting and fun part of it. The infrequency or dissatisfaction of sex in marriage is a symptom of other problems going on during the daytime and all week long. The kind of advice that the church growth gurus give to the church that sees the symptoms of low attendances on Sundays and low involvement of members is focused mostly on how to make the Sunday meeting better - the part of the church's life that is actually very small.
This is like advising the married couple on better sex techniques and counseling them to set up a schedule to organize their lives so they can have more sex, but it doesn't address the problem as to why they're not doing this naturally. The rest of the church's life during the week is living by a worldly lifestyle and not in a mission minded community. Each member is disconnected from the others, living life in his self centered fashion and only showing up to the church meeting for his own benefit. Only the churches that invest everything into their Sunday meetings making them fun, entertaining and attractive are able to gather many of these kinds of people, so they appear to be succeeding or growing. But it's not really growth. It's a crowd, not a church. A church is a family and a body that is functioning together to fulfill the great commission of making disciples. This doesn't happen on Sundays primarily...it happens all week long and Sunday is a time to re-calibrate, celebrate, re-acquaint with others, get equipped to go back out and keep doing the work of ministry - making disciples.
The kinds of church-help books that we really need are on advising leaders how to disciple people so that they will think of themselves as the church and live like it so that they naturally make disciples of each other and others that they are on mission to reach.
By the word "Reforming" I am speaking of "reviving and renewing" The essence of this kind of reformation is the enrichment of understanding God's truth, arousing the affections Godward, and increasing devotion to Him. - J.I. Packer