The “Successful Church” and Programs

How many times have you perused a church’s website and been impressed with the wide array of programs and activities going on?  Maybe you walked into a church lobby, and browsed the information booth and discovered the vast offering of ministries and thought, “wow, there’s something for everyone here!”.  Maybe you’ve been part of a church like that….so much going on that you could be part of some pretty amazing ministries every night of the week if you wanted.  Its as though the message to visitors and members alike is, “no matter what your need is, we’ve got a ministry, program, or activity, that will help you”.

What could be wrong with that?

Well, to be fair, there are a couple of advantages to this approach to church ministry.  Let’s look at both of these “advantages” and try to determine if they are valid.

1. It does a good job of drawing a crowd

People like to know that the church will meet their needs no matter what need they might have, and so this approach will most certainly draw a large crowd.  However, let’s examine that a bit more closely.

We’ve already covered the misnomer that a large crowd means you’re successful as a church.  All a large crowd means is that you’re drawing a large crowd.  It does not always mean you’re being successful at making disciples.

2. This mentality also allows churches to truly meet the needs of its people.

This may be true on the surface; however, I believe this mentality simply feeds our consumeristic approach to ministry.  Man is fundamentally self-centered and desires to be served, and if we orient the masses to view the purpose of the church as being “to meet my needs”, then we simply feed this consumer-mindset with respect to churches.  Now, we encourage folks to choose their church home like they would choose their hair-stylist.  Before long, we create a nation full of “church attenders” that voice the following sentiment:

I like this church because it meets our needs as a family, and as long as it continues to meet our needs, we’ll stay.  However, if we find out that there is a church down the street that might do a better job of meeting our needs….or won’t talk so much about the things we don’t like to talk about (i.e. sin and hell and stuff like that), then we’ll just change churches and go there.

The fundamental flaw of this mentality is that it tells people that the church is an organization that exists to serve us, rather than us “being the church”, and that we exist to serve the Lord.

3. It looks like there is a lot going on

Granted, there is a lot going on at churches that have bought into this mindset; however, does increased activity always mean increased effectiveness and “success”?  Certainly there is a lot of “good” that goes on in churches that offer a plethora of programs and ministries, but can they be sure that what they are doing is actually accomplishing the mission of “making disciples”?

The drawbacks:

In addition to the danger of feeding the prevailing consumer-mindset regarding churches….

–         It often draws people away from the lost. Most of these activities and programs are at the church building, which means folks are leaving the places where they are in closer proximity to the lost (i.e. their subdivisions and workplaces).

–         It puts a ton of pressure on the staff and church leadership. Now, instead of the focus equipping the saints for works of service (Eph 4), the focus becomes “doing whatever it takes to draw more people and keep the people who are already here”.  The youth pastor has to come up with the best games and the best band, The worship pastor has to put on “the best show on the block”, the children’s pastor has to come up with the most creative activities, and the teaching pastor has to deliver the most eloquent and “uplifting” sermon on the block.  If the staff doesn’t consistently hit “home runs” in all these areas, then the people will leave and find some place that does.

–         The appearance of “success” feeds our pride. I’ve felt this before in previous ministry situations.  There’s a lot going on, and a flurry of activity, and it strokes the ego….”wow, we’re really making a difference here”.  Many a pastor has fallen victim to this flesh-serving temptation.  Its a very subtle attack, but the tangible reality of lots activity and programs happening all over the place can whisper in our ear that “we’ve built quite a kingdom for ourselves…won’t it be great to offer the fruit of our efforts to God”.  Spiritualize it as we may, we are simply so blinded by our own pride that we can’t see that we’ve actually done very little for the Kingdom.

What do you think? Am I just eating sour grapes, or does this ring true to you?

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