Your church will face multiple crossroads. At each one, you will probably find the church voicing dozens of competing opinions. In the confusion of figuring out whose voice should win out, it will be helpful to consider the choice which will be at the center of almost every crossroads you face.
This is the option that decides the direction of the church based on what people want.
In our time, it is common for people to “shop” for a church home. The shopping is guided by a list of items they are looking for in a church. Perhaps the items will include a vibrant nursery and preschool program, because they have young kids. Items could also include a wonderful youth program with plenty of activities because they have teenagers with needs for social interaction and events.
They might be busy young professionals who need opportunities to connect and network, so that will factor into the list. They might have aging parents who are moving to town; so they’re looking for an active seniors ministry.
A mainstay on most lists is a worship service of stirring songs. And, very importantly, they will need to leave church each Sunday feeling like the sermon inspired and fed them.
If your church meets those needs, then the family will likely join your church. That is, until a new church opens a little closer to their home, with preaching that is a little more inspiring, songs which are bit more energetic, and activities which are more engaging.
Since people tend to shop for the best church, it seems natural for church leaders to make people’s wants their main guide in making decisions. Churches driven by the need to mirror people’s shopping lists are well-described as “consumer Christianity.” Unsurprisingly, such churches can feel the pressure to compete with each other for attendance. Decisions are made on the basis of what will satisfy the most members and/or what will attract the most visitors.
Instead of asking what is going to best attract or satisfy the consumer, the second option is to ask what is going to most effectively exalt Christ. According to this option, wherever there’s a crossroads, you go with whatever is going to elevate Jesus.
Methodologies change over time, and various ministries come and go. But what drives the methods and ministries according to this second option is the exaltation of Christ. Everything in the church—from the preschool ministry to the seniors ministry—is guided by the “true north” of building Christ’s kingdom, not drawing a crowd. Every ministry of the church comes about as a result of putting Jesus in the center.
This second choice puts the wants of people second. Whatever exalts Christ comes first.
This is the decision John the Baptist modeled when he said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
This option sees the church not as a private school with extracurricular activities, a senior citizen center, or an entertainment venue. Rather, it means seeing the church as a group of believers in Jesus who have surrendered their lives to Him and are exalting Him in the world they live in. It doesn’t mean the church doesn’t need to be encouraged and
What They’re Looking For
Let’s say that your church chooses to make Christ’s exaltation, not the consumer’s excitement, its overriding consideration. Over time, won’t that drive people away, so that most of your people will end up at thriving churches, while your church slowly shrivels up?
After all, isn’t a wish-list church what everybody’s looking for?
Actually, you don’t have to look hard to find a good show. Here’s what people are really looking for:
Does this church really believe this stuff, or are they just putting together a great event? Are these people practicing what they preach? Do they really care about people? Do they really follow God when they’re not on stage? Are they authentic?
True increase—of devoted disciples, authentic love, and sacrificial service—isn’t the result of asking what’s going to attract the biggest crowd. True increase comes when the church is led by people who say, “He must increase, but we must decrease.” Our wants and needs come second. Christ comes first.
Rather than making fans of our church, we make disciples of Jesus.
The Recurring Choice
So, when you find your church at a crossroads, and dozens of opinions surface, what will be your overriding consideration? Majority approval? Biggest attraction? Best show?
TV commercials and marketing gurus and your own instincts will tell you it’s all about people’s preferences. The Bible tells you it’s about exalting Jesus and making disciples of Him. “He must increase.”
And when He increases, He will cause the increase.
Think about the generations your church can affect if you decide to push aside your personal preferences and focus on making authentic disciples of Jesus, not just consumers of church.