I’m not a church consultant. I haven’t pastored a megachurch or written a bestseller on how to grow your congregation in ten easy steps. But, as a pastor and traveling evangelist for the last 30 years, I have seen scores of churches in action. At the very least, I’m a good observer. And the vibrant, growing churches I have served — whether they are located in city, suburb, small town or countryside–seem to have one thing in common: they don’t mistake one thing for another. Here’s what I mean:
- VIBRANT CHURCHES DO NOT MISTAKE PLEASANTNESS FOR HOSPITALITY. Most churches I visit are pleasant. Someone may utter “good morning” in the parking lot and signs direct you to the sanctuary. But there is a difference between a pleasant church and hospitable church. In the Bible, hospitality literally means “the love of strangers.” Hospitable churches are laser-focused on embracing visitors with warmth and service. There are greeters at the doors, lights on, coffee brewing, hallways and restrooms cleaned, teachers preparing their classrooms. Members see their church as a second home and wouldn’t dream of ignoring guests. Pleasant churches usually don’t have a hospitality plan. If you are greeted, consider yourself lucky.
- VIBRANT CHURCHES DO NOT MISTAKE COMMITTEE WORK FOR GOD’S WORK. Okay, I’m not saying God’s work can’t come out of a church committee, but don’t automatically equate the two. Years ago, I served a church that had a “race and religion” board. In the three years I was there, I never saw a person of color enter our doors. Committees that dutifully meet once a month to do “church business” can’t hold a candle to church members who shine their light every day of the week.
- VIBRANT CHURCHES DO NOT MISTAKE A MISSION STATEMENT FOR ACTUAL MISSION. Nowadays, mission statements seem to be all the rage. I can’t go to a church building without seeing a nicely-framed mission statement hanging on the walls somewhere. But many of these proclamations are long and cumbersome, the result of a dutiful committee (see Point #2) and not church leaders who have been seized by a God-sized vision.Vibrant churches know that the greatest mission statement is the one that has already been succinctly and powerfully given: “Go ye therefore and make disciples…” (Matthew 28:18-20)
- VIBRANT CHURCHES DO NOT MISTAKE VOLUNTEER PROJECTS FOR SERVICE. Putting together Thanksgiving baskets or sprucing up the church yard every quarter are nice service projects. Still, they can’t replace an all-out attitude of service. Vibrant churches have grasped the fact that Christ is not a volunteer director. They know Him as Lord and Savior who calls people to follow Him as a lifestyle. They don’t wait for the pastor or outreach chairman to beg them to serve. They know their spiritual gifts and exercise them in service to Christ and His Church 24/7.
- VIBRANT CHURCHES DO NOT MISTAKE FUNDRAISING FOR BIBLICAL GIVING. This one may get me into trouble, since I know a lot of churches that raise funds for budget and special projects. However, I believe that whenever churches sell products or services to raise funds, they are not giving people the opportunity to give; they are simply giving them a marketplace to purchase. Vibrant churches do not hold constant fundraisers for this, that and the other. A long time ago, I posed a blunt question at a church board meeting: why do we hold an annual fall bazaar to raise money from the community when we should be regularly giving to the community? The church spent more time, energy and resources in preparing for this yearly event than any other, knowing that it would raise the necessary funds to finish out the budget. It had become a substitute for regular, sacrificial giving. Vibrant churches know the biblical principles of generosity, opening wide their pocketbooks in regular obedience, not expecting anything in return but the sheer joy of supporting God’s work.
- VIBRANT CHURCHES DO NOT MISTAKE LITURGY FOR WORSHIP. A fixed set of ceremonies does not true worship make. Jesus said we must worship “in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:24). Can authentic worship happen during a responsive reading or reciting the Lord’s Prayer? Sure. But it first happens in the heart. And if it doesn’t proceed from there, no amount of pew-sitting will transport people into the throne room of God.
- VIBRANT CHURCHES DO NOT MISTAKE PRAISE MUSIC FOR TRUE WORSHIP, EITHER. So many churches have hopped on to the “contemporary praise and worship” train. But guitars and drums are not guaranteed avenues to authentic worship. I have gone through some “praise and worship” services that were duller than a pair of rusty scissors.
- VIBRANT CHURCHES DO NOT MISTAKE STUDYING THEIR PROBLEMS FOR SOLVING THEIR PROBLEMS. Another study, another consultant…and still some churches continue their slide downhill. At some point, there has to be less talk, and more Christ-centered action.
What are some other things that you have seen churches mistake for something else?