Sometimes we over-think this church thing. We think that if we built a rocket it would take us from the challenges we face and provide a new landscape. We want new and improved programs, a shiny new curriculum, better participation, deeper generosity and more staff or volunteers to make it all happen. I have come to the conclusion that we are trying to answer the wrong questions – because we’re focused on marketing and not on discipleship.
You recognize a vital healthy church when you participate in one. Even though they come in many forms, sizes, worship styles, locations, budgets, structures, and affiliations – these pieces are all secondary concerns. Are there challenges that continue to lurk in each of these categories? Of course. But these areas are not the foci of what these churches do.
I believe that vital and healthy churches do two things: they love God and are relationship driven.
When a church is passionate about God – worship, learning, governance, and participation all take on a much different flavor than the guilt and drudgery prominent in so many congregations.
When a church is motivated by bringing people together – events, groups, hospitality, invitation, service projects and connecting with people in the neighborhood isn’t about proving the need for your existence or selling your product in a new market. The church should be about relationships, because the church is first and foremost a community of people; not an institution to maintain.
When churches struggle or have less participation than they used to have, people start to panic and look for quick fixes. There are no quick fixes, but that doesn’t mean we have to over-think it.
All we are called to do is love God and love our neighbor.
While I would maintain that God (and not us) should be the subject of our sentences as we connect God’s love for us with what God is doing in and through us to love others, we must ask ourselves, “How is the ministry we share geared toward these two purposes?” If we can’t answer that question then we need to change our practices. If we can answer that question, then we can work on strengthening what we are doing. “Doing” is where we need to focus. Too often we talk about what we want to do, but struggle to follow-through. We have to call on each other to “do” something, or we will end up not doing much of anything.
Too often in my view, churches focus on the wrong things. They are held captive by their past rather than utilizing their history to move towards the future. They are geared toward maintaining what they have before they lose it rather than giving themselves away. They are focused on not upsetting a few people rather than keeping their eyes fixed on Jesus and doing the right thing even when it is most difficult.
Being church doesn’t have to be rocket science.
We don’t have to make it harder than it is. A few fishermen, tax collectors, tent makers, suspect women and many strays made a pretty good go of it in the first years after Jesus’ death and resurrection because they loved God and brought people together. If God can use that group to change the world, God can use us too.
All it takes is a heart for the Lord and heart for others that call people to action.
We can leave the rockets for another day.
(And if you don’t think my analysis is right, read through Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament, and then tell me what you think.)
Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-47)