When did we lose our vision? When did Christianity become more about music preference, church decorations, and potluck fellowships? When did church culture trump following scripture? Recently, my eyes have been opened to what is the great problem in the church of America. There is no amount of praise music, church building projects, or programs that can fix it. The church is fundamentally backwards in its focus.
I have served now in buckle of the Bible belt for a year and a half now. In this time I have attended my fair share of church growth conferences. Each gives the pastor new tools to lead the church into a new direction… one that, according the speakers, is sure to grow the church. As I look to most growing churches, what I see are these strategies fully at work and drawing healthy Christians from place to place, growing the church with the best band, newest building, and coolest programs. Transfer growth is not kingdom growth, and if it is what we are investing in, we have already decided our fate.
I think the choice any church must make is whether we desire comfort or the kingdom more. The comfortable church builds itself to attract more and more people who share the ideal of comfort. I am not a numbers person. Numbers are deceiving. Numbers often deceive us into thinking that we are healthier than we actually are. I grew up in a traditional church. On any given Sunday there are at least 1500 plus people worshiping to a grand choir, a large symphony, and a beautiful multimillion dollar building. The question must be asked though, how many of the members of this church actively live lives that are lived more than just morally, but also missionally? A church built on performance will attract members who desire performance. I also recently visited a younger, hipper church. As I looked around I think the sound and lights of this church cost more than the entire building and grounds of Western Heights. They attract thousands of people to their services. To tell you the truth, I would ask the same question of this church as of the first… do they lead people to live lives that are not just moral, but missional? Please hear that I am in no way condemning these churches; in fact, they share the same struggle that I have. As I work within my church, I get caught up often in making people comfortable, building a church to attract more comfortable Christians, and failing to lead the body of Christ to do the work of Christ.
A new style of worship will not solve the present crisis of the church, nor will a state of the art building, nor will a new growth strategy. Why? It is because all of the above are directed at ourselves. We are designing our churches to attract Christians. I have never heard a lost person talk about wanting a cup of coffee and then deciding to go get it at the local “holy grounds.” We need to stop institutionalizing Christianity. Lost people don’t come because of the music. It does not matter how good the band is — U2 is better. It does not matter how good the pastor is — football is more entertaining.
What must happen? What must shift? We must re-engineer church back to the way God created it. It is His body at work on His mission. The preaching of the word should move from seeker sermons to sermons that equip soldiers. Fellowship must shift from potlucks to believers spurring one another to good works. Prayer must shift from just bumps and bruises to praying for God’s power to be at work within us. Evangelism can no longer be a program but instead the natural conversation on every believer’s tongue. Jesus did not see a need and start a ministry; He saw the need and sent somebody. The early church did not start a missions program, but as Rome scattered Christians, they shared along the way.
Christianity in its current state is not natural. For the church to grow, not by transfer, but by conversions, we must shift away from the institution of religion and live out the genuine authentic relationship with a Savior who bears fruit in those who are His.