I’ll confess. I’m a senior pastor and I want my church to grow. I always have. When I was a worship pastor, I wanted our church to grow too. When I was growing up, I really wanted our church to grow. I loved friend day! I remember anxiously waiting for my brother’s father-in-law to put the official count up on the wooden number board in the back of the sanctuary. And we were so excited when that number got up over 300! At the same time, growing up, I was just as disappointed when our attendance dropped back to normal the following week.
Is it wrong to want your church to grow? No, I don’t think so. Healthy things grow. In fact, when a plant or a tree doesn’t grow, it’s a sign that something is wrong.
But, should we be completely obsessed with growth in our churches? Should everything be driven and decided based on how it will affect a church’s ability to add people to the roster? Should all of our energy and effort be spent on getting the number on that wooden reader board going up every week?
What kind of a church have we created in America by pursuing growth at all costs? It’s certainly not a very spiritually mature one. In fact…
The fruit of this pursuit is a church that’s driven by exactly the wrong thing. We have churches full of people who think the church exists to meet their needs and keep them happy. People who treat the church like a commodity to be consumed. Who evaluate and choose a church like they would a new car or streaming service.
Scripture teaches that the foundation of the church is the apostles. Most of whom were martyred. The command that drove the apostles was the command of Jesus in the upper room to love one another like He loved them, by giving his life for them on the cross. Jesus said the requirement for being his disciple is denying yourself daily. And the cross we’re supposed to carry is the cross of loving others sacrificially.
Our entire approach to church is about ourselves which is actually the opposite of the call for following Christ. And that’s just for choosing churches. It’s just as off when it comes to staying with a church.
The gospel says to lay down our lives for the benefit of others. When things aren’t going to way we think they should be in our church, we start making justifications for our departure. We become intoxicated with the idea of what a new church or new approach to church might offer us (another sign of our addiction to Americanized Christianity) and are able to find a thousand reasons why our church is the problem. Our church dies the death of a thousand justifications.
The church has become a means through which our desires are to be met and when they aren’t, the church is the problem, not us.
The way it’s supposed to be is: deny yourself, lay down your life for your brothers and sisters in Christ.
The way it is: sacrifice my brothers and sisters in Christ in pursuit of the fullfilment of my own desires.
This may be a hard truth to grasp, and I don’t mean to offend anyone with it. But, the church was never supposed to be a place where I am served. It’s supposed to be a body, for whom, I lay down my life.
Church is a sacrificial community. And the only correlation sacrificial community has with my personal desires and preferences is that I have to deny them.
Not getting what you want isn’t a reason to leave a church. Getting what you want isn’t a reason to stay at a church. Getting things the way you want them isn’t a reason to lead a church. In fact, this is one of the hardest lessons for young leaders to learn. I had to learn it. As a pastor, I can’t make decisions for the church based on what would work best for me personally. I have to make decisions for the church based on what’s best for the whole community and what God wants for us.
Not having the programs you want isn’t a reason to leave a church. Until recently, our church hasn’t had a youth program. It’s been that way for several years. During that time, we have had many people try out our church and choose not to attend our church because we didn’t have a youth program. Many would even say, “we love the church, our kids loved 6:8 kids, but there just isn’t anything for our teenager.” One time, I may or may not have responded by saying, “If you and the other families who have said that to me would stay, we would have a youth group.” They didn’t come back.
Is it wrong to want a good youth program for my kids? No. Is it wrong to assume that a church without a youth program won’t be a place that God can develop my kids? Absolutely. In fact, there has been quite a bit of research now showing that youth groups may have played a big part in the rise of the “dones” and the “nones”. (Those young adult Christians who say they are done with church or choose “none” when it comes to religious affiliation.) It turns out catering to kids their whole lives and then sending them into a larger group of adults with a worship environment that isn’t perfectly tailored to their desires doesn’t work so well. (Read “Sticky Faith” and “Growing Young” by Dr. Kara Powell)
We’ve created and have been replicating “Me Church” for decades and decades now. And that’s exactly backwards from God’s design. Me Church is upside down from what God originally intended.
Tomorrow, we’re going to look a little bit more at this idea of desire, getting what you want and dopamine’s effect on the current culture of church in America.