Looking at the sphere of the Christian church two extreme categories emerge. These two categories stand as polar opposites, each at the other end of the spectrum and neither fulfilling the biblical concept for a church. What are these two categories? What are the characteristics which define them? And how can a church avoid falling into their pitfalls, or, if it already has fallen, how does it get out?
The Trending Church
The first category is the trending church, the church whose sole focus is being hip, cool and relevant to the younger generation, bringing in visitors as fast as it can fill the seats and pulling in the biggest profit. Nothing else matters to this church except keeping up appearances and looking good on paper. If the numbers are up, the church is doing its job; if the guests are having fun, the show’s a success.
So what’s the problem with this? Many people flock to churches like this. After all, if they’re going to invest their time and money into a church, they might as well get the biggest bang for their buck; right? The problem with this kind of church is that its focus isn’t right; its mission is to put on a good show and be at the top of the conference leader board. Many people may enjoy a church like this, but what are they actually gaining from it spiritually? How is it helping them grow? How is it helping them in their walk with Christ? How is it bringing lost souls to the Lord? The limelight is the illumination of the trending church, and the True Light (Jesus) has been switched off.
I once went to what could be called a megachurch. It had a bookstore and a food court. Bookstores and food courts are all well and good unless commercialism is stealing the church’s focus.
When Jesus entered the temple in Jerusalem and found people buying and selling in the courts, righteous anger was kindled in His soul. “On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers’” (Mark 11:15-17).
The Unbending Church
The second category is the unbending church. The unbending church thrives on tradition. It has forgotten its mission and lost its zeal. It has settled down into a sedentary life and resists any kind of change with a will of iron, unyielding, unswerving and unbending. The top priorities in this church are upholding traditions and gathering every Sunday for a sermon reiterating things members have already heard and socializing with people they already know. This church is more like an exclusive country club than a church. Members don’t want any newcomers unless the new people fit in with themselves or can bring something to the church by either a pocketbook or prestige, and you could fit their community outreach into my great-grandmother’s thimble.
I once attended a church like this. Members staunchly resisted change, and when newcomers began coming to the church, they didn’t want “those kinds of people.”
One churchgoer even went so far as to drive a child away from the church with her cane when he did something she didn’t like. The majority of this congregation didn’t understand or embrace the true purpose of the Christian church. When Jesus and the disciples ate at Matthew’s home, the Pharisees asked the disciples, “‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners’” (Matthew 9:11-13).
As vastly different as these two churches are, they share two similarities.
- They both lack genuine care and fellowship toward newcomers as individuals.
For many people, taking the initiative to form social connections can be difficult and entering a church whose members exhibit no concern for them personally or desire to get to know them as a person can turn them off to the church — perhaps even to Christianity as a whole.
- They both lack purpose and vision, which should be the driving force behind the church.
The Friending Church
So where is the medium between the two extremes? What defines the biblical concept of what a church should be?
Perhaps one of the best ways to become a fruitful church is to embrace the greatest commandment, which Jesus said was to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).
However, we should also keep in mind that Jesus gave two commandments. “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:39).
In accordance with this commandment, we should warmly welcome all who come into our churches and earnestly desire and work toward bringing them to the Lord.
Finally, we come to the mission of the church. Yes, Jesus said that the healthy don’t need a doctor, but the church is for the believer as well as the nonbeliever. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
However, this is not the mission of the church. Matthew 28:19-20 gives us this: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
So to avoid being caught or to pull your church out of the pitfalls of the trending church or the unbending church, the perspective, purpose and vision of the church must be adjusted to meet the principles of the friending church as mentioned above. Then you can begin sowing the seeds of a fruitful church that will, God willing, become a church ripe for the picking.
“But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded’” (2 Chronicles 15:7).
Whitney Schwartz is a Michigan-based freelance writer and the author of the devotional book “Grace Like Rain.” Go to youbeblog.wordpress.com for more of her writings.
- If Jesus entered your church today, would He find it a “house of prayer” or a den of materialism and superficiality?
- If we love God with all of our hearts, souls and minds while earnestly striving to follow Him, how will our fruitfulness be affected?