Churches face challenges like never before. Most statistics show a decline in church attendance. Other statistics reveal that churches are closing faster than new churches are starting. If things don’t change, the church will disappear. It has always been a truth that the church is only one generation from distinction.
Yet, Jesus promised that the church would endure until He returned. He also promised that He would build the church. Yet, church leaders strain to come up with programs and methods that will grow the church.
In spite of the downward spiral of many churches and denominations, some are growing. A few are seeing exponential growth. Yet, attendance growth is not the best barometer of a healthy growth. Some churches are growing because they have been able to tap into the latest fad of Christian methodology. This results in transfer growth of “Christians” from other churches. Transfer growth does not make a positive lasting impact on the kingdom of God. Rather, it often produces a consumer-minded Christian. The foundational error is that Christian leaders become more interested in attracting other Christians rather than effectively connecting with the community. This is counter-productive to how the church was designed to function.
The question, Is the church for Christians?, is a central and revealing question. In a recent talk by Sean Sears, church planter in Boston (Grace Church), he challenged the natural thinking of most pastors, church leaders, and church members. Many of the ideas below are a result of his message.
I have discovered that the longer a Christian is involved in church, the less he is involved in his community. The longer church leaders work at a church the more weird they become to the unsaved and unchurched. Part of all this is due to the incompatibility of Gospel-living with society. Jesus said that the ‘world’ would not understand the follower of Jesus. If they persecuted Him, they would surely persecute His disciples.
However, the problem isn’t always spiritual incompatability. Some of the problem is that Christians pull away from the very people who need him most. As a church planter, Sean knew he had to impact his community if he were to survive. He had to reach new people. However, once a church reaches 100 in attendance, the needs of the congregation often rule the calendar of the church leader. Once a church reaches 100 it often becomes so busy serving the needs of the church that it no longer has time to do what it needed to do reach that original 100. It has been said, we can become keepers of the aquarium instead of fishers of men.
1. The whole point of being a follower of Jesus is to help others follow Jesus. The church isn’t for Christians – it is Christians. We were never meant to be for ourself but for others. Nothing that God made is for itself. Everything living is designed to perpetuate life – to extend life the the next generation. Christians are designed to reproduce other Christians.
2. The closer you get to Jesus the more you should be concerned about those farthest from Him. In Luke 15 Jesus reminds us of God’s value on the lost. He was criticized for spending too much time with sinners. The problem that religious people had with Jesus wasn’t just that he spent time with sinful people, but that he spent social time with them.
Jesus shared three parables to illustrate His motivation. We know these stories as the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son (Prodigal Son). They were all lost for various reason. The sheep was loss because it’s the nature of sheep to wander. The coin was lost because of the negligence of the woman. The son was lost because he rebelled and left his father. Though they all were lost for different reasons, the emphasis is not on their lostness, but the desire to go find them. The shepherd left 99 sheep to find one lost sheep. The woman cleans her entire house to find one lost coin. The father continuously watched, waiting for his son to come home. The result of finding each is the rejoicing that takes place when the lost is found.
Jesus highlighted that our concern should be for those far from Him. Too many churches spend outrageously more time, money and personnel on church functions than outreach. Church leaders are more concerned about losing members than gaining converts. One church leader expressed the concern that many church members have. “Pastor, it seems you are more concerned about the people outside our church than inside our church.”
I understand that church members must be cared for. I understand that the church is a hospital for hurting people and part of the responsibility of church leaders is caring for the flock. But the purpose of the church is for those outside the church.
Where do Christians go when their needs aren’t getting met at church? The often go to another church. But where do nonChristians go when their needs aren’t getting met at church? They go to Hell. Please don’t read more out of that statement than intended. The church isn’t the only place to hear about eternal life and the church is not the dispenser of grace. But when a church is more concerned with meeting the needs of Christians than meeting the eternal needs of nonChristians, it is heading down the wrong road.
1. Proximity. Have access to them. Go across the street and introduce yourself to your neighbors. Join a local service club. Coach a ball team. Invite your neighbors to a cookout. Christians are often counseled to stay away from nonChristians. But you can be around broken people without it having a negative impact on you. We are to remain separate from sinful actions, but not separate from sinners.
2. Posture. Your demeanor determines your impact. People can tell if you really care about them or they are your project. If you’re felling guilty because you haven’t shared your faith, don’t run out and blurt out the Gospel to soothe your conscience. You are doing it more for you than them. Get to know your neighbors and co-workers. That way you will share your faith because you really care about them. People don’t care what you know until they know you care.
3. Patterns of speech. Adjust your talk so people understand. It’s easy to have Christianese. We can use terms and jargon that only other Christians would understand. Words such as redemption, justification, trinity, fellowship are all terms that are not easily understood by those outside church. Even the term lost or unsaved can be misunderstood. Sean uses the term ‘spiritually disconnected’ for those outside the family of Christ. Be careful that you are understood by those you are trying to influence.
These are just a few thoughts about reaching our community and neighbors for Jesus. I hope this has caused you to think about your impact on those around you who are far from God. If you are near them, they may not be as far from Him as you think. They could be only one conversation away from a better understanding of the One who loves them most. Please, start the conversation.
Is the church for Christians? My answer is no. The church is Christians. The church is for the glory of God to reach the world for Christ.