What Kind of Church?
A February 2015 poll done by the National Association of Evangelicals asked respondents why they chose the church they did, and found "there was a variety of answers, 80 percent of the responses fell into the categories of friendliness (19 percent), children’s programs (19 percent), worship music (16 percent), sermons (14 percent) and pastors (12 percent)." An August 2016 poll by Pew Research [which allowed for multiple answers] found 83% valued the quality of the sermons, 79% felt welcomed by the leaders, 74% liked the style of the service, and 70% chose the church because of its location. A March 2017 poll by the Gallup Organization found the top two reasons were sermon content [76%, sermons teaching Scripture; 75%, sermons teaching things relevant to life], followed by spiritual programs for young people [64%] and having community outreach or volunteer programs [59%].
I would like to believe that most people are looking for the same thing in a church, but these polls show the reasons why people choose the churches they do are quite varied. The polls also seem to show differences based on when the poll was done, too, so this seems to show our answers would vary, depending on when we were asked. Today it's the sermon, tomorrow I might say it's the friendliness of the congregation. The point is, a church would be constantly changing its appeal if it relied solely on these polls to determine what kind of church they needed to be to attract more people.
But, when we really stop and think about it, why would we be interested in what appeals to man, rather than what is pleasing to God? For churches looking to boost their numbers [attendance and financially], these polls make sense; for churches looking to do what is pleasing to God, these polls are meaningless. Unfortunately, many people in this country see the church as they do a business and the 'bottom line' [i.e., income] is the priority, rather than a group of people doing what Christ intended the church to be doing or its focus to be on spiritual matters, rather than material things such as how many people they can get through the doors, how much money it can bring in, or how big their buildings are.
We have far too many 'church leaders' in this country who have this mindset, and their 'product' is a watered-down gospel that has no resemblance at all to the genuine gospel message that was first preached in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. In the beginning, the apostles pointedly told their audience of Jesus and how “you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death” (Acts 2:23); Peter would say later, “you crucified” Him (Acts 2:36). There was no hesitation and no softening the message; the apostles knew that for a sinner to repent, he needs to know he is guilty, and words that convict him of that truth must be spoken, as unpleasant as it may be.
Nowadays, we have churches that in all reality have no apparent concern for the salvation of the people who walk through their doors, for they do not preach a message that convicts, lest the audience take offense and walk out. I've mentioned this before, but it is worth repeating how a Rocky Mountain News Religion editor called 50 churches in the Denver metro area and asked them all one question: "Do you still preach on sin?" Not one church said "Yes." Not one. He followed it up with a question as to why, and one 'pastor' replied, "If we did, we'd lose half of our numbers." By this man's own admission, they aren't really interested in saving souls; they are interested in numbers. Numbers means they can boast about how many people worship there and, of course, that means more money can be brought in and bigger buildings can be built.
Now, we can shake our heads at such reports, but we need to take a long, hard look at ourselves and see if we are really any different. What, exactly, are we looking for in this church? Oh, we may not be focused on numbers, but are we focused on other non-spiritual matters as social activities sponsored by the church, sermons that are more culturally acceptable, or tailoring the worship assembly to times that do not interfere with our personal lives too much? Are we uncomfortable when the preacher preaches on certain sins because we know too many of our unbelieving friends who practice such, and that preaching God's truths on those sins seems too 'unloving'?
It just may be that we are more materially-minded and too focused on our social lives and relationships and that of our families than we are focused on leading them to Christ and getting to heaven. It just may be that we are too interested in the 'feeling' we get when we walk in or out the doors and think the church is 'outdated' because our pulse isn't quickened or our adrenaline levels raised by the singing or the preaching. It just may be that we have a concept of 'the church' doing everything for us while we contribute little to its success. Maybe we are wondering why we aren't growing numerically, even as we skip all those studies that were offered that were geared towards helping every member learn how to teach their neighbors. Maybe we think it's all up to the elders and preachers and teachers to 'do the work that needs to be done,' even as we do less and less. Maybe we aren't as spiritually-minded as we think.
I know we have all heard it before, and maybe we even believe it, but sometimes we don't act like we remember that the church is the people and if the church is to grow, it takes every member participating in its success. Spectators and sideline critics do nothing for the growth of a church, either numerically or spiritually. I am not helping or contributing in any positive way if I sit back and expect someone else to do the work and to stir me up.
So, if I don't believe this church is all it can be, what can I do?
Pray For Every Member. Start by making prayer a part of your daily life, and praying for your fellow church members a part of each prayer. Paul prayed constantly for his brethren (cf. Col. 1:3), and there was always a good reason to do so.
Help Your Church Leaders. The elders, teachers, and the preacher(s) in every congregation each have a serious responsibility, and most volunteer for those positions. If each member would help them or even take part [especially in teaching], the burden would be shared and more members would learn to appreciate the work done by those who are always serving. “Let all things be done for edification” (1 Cor. 14:26) is good to remember.
Encourage One Another Regularly. There is a reason the writer of Hebrews admonished the early disciples to “ consider one another in order to stir up love and good works” (Heb. 10:24); we need to be stirred up every once in awhile! We all know how weary we can get; remember others also get weary, and could use a positive reinforcement that what they are doing is both worthwhile and appreciated.
Work. No church will grow if only a few are doing the work, or no one is doing the work. Growth comes when “every part does its share” (Eph. 4:16), and not until then. If this church is not growing like it should, don't be quick to point out others' errors; take a look in the mirror. Let us be the church Christ wants us to be by being the disciples we need to be. — Steven Harper