Several months back I heard that people in their 20’s who go to church regularly were asked, “what church do you go to?” And the average young adult believer mentioned 3 different churches. Now, I have no way of knowing if that’s true. It might be that some church program director was just saying what he was noticing and over time and miles, it became a study and is quoted as fact.
In my experience, this could be true especially in suburban areas where church ministry options abound. You go to one church for Sunday morning because you like the worship, or the preaching or both. You go to a small group that is sponsored by another church and you attend another church that excels at children’s mid-week programs, etc. And the temptation is to say, “well at least people are at church.” They are doing “church things” after all. That’s good, right?
Okay, but maybe not…
I think there are some Scriptural principles of church mission and spiritual growth that fly in the face of culture. And in all our good intentions, we may be making spiritual growth less achievable.
1) Accountability and Spiritual Authority (Hebrews 13:17). If someone’s spiritual life is divided up between different churches, under different leadership structures, to whom are they accountable? In Scriptures we are all accountable to spiritual leaders. How can that be exercised if we are divided in our participation? No one knows me well enough to ask me the hard questions, to find out where we’ve been, or to help me walk in a consistent, growing faith.
2) Spiritual growth demands the perspective that church is a place to serve, not be served (1 Cor. 12:7). We often reach out to people with what we have to offer – the grace of God – often expressed through programs and opportunities. There is nothing wrong with that. But we have to encourage each other, that rather than finding something that meets your need, you have opportunity to create it! I remember when we were church planting in California. My oldest became a middle-schooler. We had no youth group and I said to him, “if you want a youth group, you have to grow it. And I’ll help.” He, the other kids and families did just that. They grew a youth group and they understood that God wanted to use them to do it.
3) Vital Community (Acts 2:42-47). This kind of community calls us to be involved with one another at every level of life. That is tough, if not impossible, if we are only relating to one another at set times and settings.
4) Support for local congregational needs (1 Cor. 16:1-2; Acts 4:32). The fact is that programming costs money. Even small groups have staff people that oversee and train leaders. And if we are taking ministry effort from one group, but only contribute gifts to the church that we attend on Sunday morning, someone else is paying our bill. A reality is that a church needs financial support. And the more we divide our involvement and support, the less strong churches are.
Without these principles, are we really helping people grow in Christ? Isn’t this trend really based on a strong bent toward individualism (me and my needs) and consumerism (go where I can to get the best bang for the buck)? Some say it is also rooted in our educational model of learning separated from life (classroom vs. apprenticeship models).
We are happy when others are blessed by our ministries. But the question has to haunt us, are we really helping? We only help others when we see them become equipped disciples of Jesus Christ. Are we reinforcing patterns that will make ministry in the future even more difficult?
Or it could just be that I’m an old guy who doesn’t understand the way the world works? 🙂