Title caught you, didn’t it? The word ‘church’ in our culture means ‘local religious non-profit business’ (I’ll call them LRNPBs from now on) that has a staff, a facility, a building, and a budget. Technically there is only one Church, and its not a business, its the collective community of people who follow Jesus and do his work in the world.
But for the sake of being interesting and relevant, out of the thousands of options of ‘local religious non-profit businesses’ to which you can go on Sundays to worship, how do you even start?
Often I have heard one of the main reasons that people choose one LRNPB to worship at over another is because they “feel like they get something out of it” or they “feel spiritually fed,” but what they really often mean is that they liked or preferred one particular style or aspect of the service (like the music or the preaching). So “feeling spiritually fed,” in my opinion is an undependable criteria for selecting a LRNPB. So is great music. So is fantastic preaching. Its all preference. As a guy who has worked at LRNPBs for six years, here’s some questions I like to ask when choosing a little-c church, in no particular order of importance:
1. Is the environment contagious or average? Another way of saying this is are you proud enough of the experience that you would invite your friends and family? Were you welcome there? Were the people warm and friendly or unengaging and disconnected? Did someone greet you? Did you feel energy in the air and a sense of expectation? If the environment isn’t contagious, chances are you’re not going to stay long, and you’re not going to trust it enough to invite your friends. Do people who are not Christians feel welcome there?
2. Does the preacher talk about Jesus and preach the Bible? Preaching/teaching that is truly and distinctly Christian will preach Jesus and the Gospel as the hope for men and women. Topics are great and necessary, but if you go 6 months and all you talk about is marriage, finances, and ‘inviting your friends to church,’ and giving random proof-texts from all over the place to support their “applications”, that church has lost sight of the Gospel which is the “power of God unto salvation.” Do you leave with a greater thirst for reading the Bible? Do you leave with a greater sense of wonder about knowing Jesus better?
3. Are you challenged to contribute, or invited to consume? Where I live in Scottsdale, AZ, I am appalled by the number of people that jump from church to church. We live in a culture of spiritual consumers who attend whatever church tickles their fancy or gives them their spiritual high or spiritual fix for the week. The Church is not a place you go that exists for your benefit, it is something you are, and YOU exist to GO serve the world. In my opinion, many times the fact that a church DOESN’T have everything you want might be the very reason YOU should stay so that YOU can lead it.
4. Is raising up the next generation of young Christians a high value? If a church is not focused on the younger generation, and not just in lip-service but as reflected in their budget, chances are they’re more devoted to maintenance than mission. Chances are they’re more devoted to traditions than vision. And let’s be honest, if we don’t win the next generation and train them up we have about 20 years until the church is dead.
5. Are there LOTS of opportunities to connect and share life with others? People long for connection and relationships. Is this a church filled with people who care about each other?
6. Is this a church that serves? Are there community missions projects? Are there massive relief efforts? Is this is a place that hurts people or that heals people? Does the leadership have hearts that bleed for social justice issues that God’s heart bleeds for? Are the pastors compassionate or cold?
7. Does this church SAY it does the above things, or does it actually DO them. This one was added after a friend read my original post. 🙂
This is a short, by no means exhaustive list of things I look for in a healthy ‘church.’
And here’s the biggest reality that may negate everything I have just written… this is the wrong question to be asking in the first place.
BE your definition of a ‘healthy church.’ Live that way. Stop looking for the perfect LRNPB. It doesn’t exist. Commit to a community. Contribute. Serve. Love.
But in the meantime, out of curiosity, what would you add to the list? 🙂