John and Tammy volunteered to start a new ministry to reach out to the community. It worked. Every week they drew 20 to 30 people who experienced the love of Christ. But their church leaders shut them down.
The problem? John and Tammy could not prove that any of these people from the community were migrating to the church’s regular worship services.
At this church, Sunday morning attendance had become the single qualifying factor for church activity or investment. “Since this church is not growing, we can’t afford to spend money or effort on anything that doesn’t strengthen our base,” a leader told John and Tammy.
I’ve run into this line of thinking throughout my work with the church. My first youth ministry tended to attract lots of kids from the community–kids whose appearance and behavior sometimes ruffled our church board. An elder asked me, “Don’t you understand we support this youth ministry for the kids in our congregation? That’s who you’re here for–not these kids from the community. Besides, those kids’ families will never support this church.”
It comes down to a matter of mission. What–really–is the mission of the local church?
Can the modern church, in its present form, afford to spread the love of Christ even if it gets nothing in return?
Jesus calls us to love our neighbor. But what if our neighbor never enters our house of worship? It’s a question that needles most churches–even if never discussed aloud.
Kids Hope USA, a Christian organization that pairs churches with local public schools, provides a path for churches to love their neighbors. The program organizes adult mentors from congregations to spend an hour a week with at-risk children at local elementary schools. It’s wildly successful in affecting the lives of vulnerable kids. But there are many more schools that want the program than churches willing to become involved. Churches struggle to see any worthwhile connection between classroom desks and church pews.
“Is our collective heartbeat for children strong enough to beat for kids who will not ever attend this church?” asks Kids Hope president David Staal. “Do we love all children, or do we only love the kids of the families who attend this church?”
An expert in the law wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)
Hear a refreshing conversation with Kids Hope’s David Staal in today’s Holy Soup Podcast here:
This statement in the article is the key “Can the modern church, in its present form, afford to spread the love of Christ even if it gets nothing in return?”
The question it is really asking, in my opinion, is “Can the modern church, in its present form, afford to NOT spread the love of Christ even if it gets nothing in return?”
I can tell you that in my dealing with millennials, the ones who will be supporting the church in the future, the answer is NO. The modern church HAS TO spread the love of Christ no matter what it gets in return. That is what the millennials I talk to think the Bible teaches (and I agree).
We are here to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Nowhere in there does it say “only go after the ones who will fill your pews and put money in the plate”.
Wow Thom. Thank you for sharing this. This needs to be addressed in the church today…are we going to be the “sent” church to a lost world and a culture that increasingly marginalizes the church, or sit on our hands in the pews refusing to be salt and light because we are self centered in our supposed ministry? I have felt in the past that if my vision for ministry is larger than the local church I am a part of and doesn’t benefit it, then leadership is not as interested in supporting or encouraging it. I currently have vision to reach some local schools in our community, a no agenda “we just want to give and love in the name of Christ” sort of vision. I don’t expect to grow a mega church out of this vision because that is not the goal. The goal is to eventually grow the corporate church through lives being changed simply because we are reaching and loving, and living out the gospel of the kingdom authentically.
Ann commented on Facebook: “We had a Pastor tell us the “church isn’t some sugar daddy for missions”. Nausea in my spirit. Of course, he lied and told others something different.”
A question that has been percolating in my mind for months now, is whether church marketing has replaced evangelism within the church. This article is giving yet another example that seems to be answering yes.
This is exactly what happened at the previous church I belonged to. Successful ministry started organically by one of the pastors on staff. Had enthusiastic participants who may have previously not been involved in more officially sanctioned ministries of the church, was reaching people in the community and meeting needs, and those who ran the church did little to support it, opting instead to try to force it into the mold of all the traditional ministries of the church. It really seemed to boil down more to jealousy and territorialism than interest in mission. In fact, in one elder’s meeting, one of the staunch opponents said, “We’re not called to save the world”, in a discussion regarding this ministry.
Rick commented on Facebook: “Yet another excellent, thought provoking discussion starter. I experienced this firsthand at two of the churches I’ve worked at, and it is nothing short of an evangelical atrocity. The only “return” these churches should concern themselves with is Christ’s return! Again, seems like the focus is on attendance that leads to giving. And we justify that by calling it “growth.”
Phillip commented on Facebook: “Don’t sell the Gospel out for 30 pieces of silver.”
Sad and unfortunately true in many cases. The love of money is the root of all evil. You don’t have to have money to love it either.
Wow! “You don’t have to have money to love it either.” That’ll preach.
Although my church has traditionally been a missions oriented church, I know we could do more. I lead a team of facilitators into an inner city church each week after school. We do two faith-based programs with the children. Growing Seasons helps children in single-parent or no-parent families. Empowering Kids for Life teaches children ages 8-12 the biblical principles to help prevent addictions of any kind. The children love it. If you are interested in learning about these curricula, go to LivingFree.org/onlinestore.
Alice commented on Facebook: “Wow! This is so sad. I must say my church is very good for reaching out to the community. Their Vacation Bible Camp is open to all kids in the community regardless of whether or not they attend church there. Most of them do not. Actually the majority do not attend church anywhere but they are still welcomed in! The same is true of their Friendship Club which happens on a weekly basis. Even our Sunday School is open to all kids. I often have to add new names to the attendance when visiting families are in town and their kids come on down for Sunday School! Welcome!!! 🙂 🙂 :)”
So what if your church doesn’t grow, but you have an impact as a leader or pastor? My personal opinion is that if indeed you are “spreading the love of Christ,” and if you say that love is unconditional, then it is your duty to spread it wherever you can, not where it will make you money or give you prominence or build your church. There is a balance, too, though, because the church does exist so that people can fellowship and minister together, but ministry success can’t be measured in church growth. I’ve attended small churches that were disproportionately influential–members became missionaries, started other ministries, and so on. This is the design of ministry–as Mark said, “Jesus appointed 12, that they might be with Him, and that He might send them out.” the purpose of Jesus’ sending His apostles was not to benefit a particular congregation, but to build and bless the entire church.
Nausea overwhelms me! Tears well up, unbidden!
Such a statement reeks of pride and and a quest for money.
Tell me again ‘whose’ Church this is…???
I’d like to think that such sentiments are the rare exception but I know that the pressure to pay the bills and keep one’s own salary coming or to have more resources to enable additional staffing is pervasive. It’s a by product of the issues raised in a previous Holy Soup blog about part time and co-vocational pastors…. and more reason to reexamine our practices that are so dear to us.
As I recall, we are all commissioned to “Go, and make disciples”. Paying someone else or supporting facilities where believers can be ‘fed’ and the ‘lost’ can be encouraged to poke their heads in, probably wasn’t quite what the Master had in mind. Oh, yes, it’s easy to point at a few success stories from the results of our methods but perhaps, just perhaps, they are in spite of our methods, not really because of them. The Master is adept at making all things work together for good, but that’s no reason to ignore His words and try to just do it our way.
James commented on Facebook: “People don’t go to church because they don’t want to….. The church needs to wrestle with this truth.”
David replied on Facebook: “I find it fascinating that the article suggests worship attendance and offerings are something the church “gets” from people. That doesn’t strike me as true. Who “gets” the outcomes of worship? There is a lot more reflection here. Someone above commented that many people do not want to attend our churches. The real reflection work is there I think.”
Joseph commented on Facebook: “This article demonstrates the very reason a business model does not fit the church.”
Not all churches are going to be big. That’s reality. Several small churches in an area can be just as great – or even better – that one large one. Allow people to develop their spiritual gifts and see if the idea of launching a church is better than adding on. I got evil looks because I said, “I don’t care how many people come to church. I care how many people come to Jesus.” I got so tired of hearing that we would be doing things to get people to come and give, and not so much about salvation. The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. Jesus is the main thing. We forget that when we search for people to become members, but not forgiven. Things like this are why we can’t stand church anymore.
Dan commented on Facebook: “Preach the whole gospel and give the church over to God. Don’t just go to church, BE the church. That’s the attitude the church needs.”
I even had some people join the church and attend worship but was told by “church leaders” that I was bringing in “the wrong kind of people.” The vast number of people at the meeting where this was said remained silent or agreed. It was at that point that my ministry at that congregation was very close to its end.
Did they say what was wrong with these (kind) people?
Thom, I appreciate what you are saying. But I do have one concern. Churches need to make sure what ministry they are involved in does advance the kingdom of God. What churches are involved in doing should not just be doing good. It should also share the gospel. Whether that sharing of the gospel advances the attendance of the church should not be relevant so long as it is effectively advancing the Kingdom of God by sowing, watering or harvesting gospel seed.
I battled the same thing for 28 years as a prison chaplain. They didn’t mind me doing the ministry but offered little help in the way of material and manpower. And they certainly didn’t want any of my converts to come when they got out of prison.
Can the modern church, in its present form, afford to spread the love of Christ even if it gets nothing in return?
No. The modern Church has adopted the modern business model . Just as new Casinos, Shopping Centers/Malls, Cruise Ships, Vacation Resorts, Sports Venues keep pushing the boundaries of opulence, the Church will follow. Affluent Evangelicals will lead the way on following that path.
I am the founder of a Student Youth Ministry in the Greater Tampa Bay Area called Legacy. I was the former director of Fellowship of Christian athletes for 20 years. We are entering our 10th year in Zenon Ministries. Our mission is to disciple the student leaders of each school so they can be the missionaries on campus. We train them in all areas of ministry so they feel confident to share their faith, teach a Bible lesson, pray, serve and other key areas of the Christian faith. There are many churches in the area that have been invited to attend our meetings during school hours and the majority do not participate. Some have told me that their pastor does not approve of them entering the public schools, others state that their priority is their own students. I must add that there are about 5 churches that financially support us on a monthly basis that we greatly appreciate. I have come to the point that we do not count on the local church anymore for support, although there are a few churches that occasionally attend our meetings. I have tried to meet with pastors and youth pastors, attend their events in support and indicate to them youth that attend from their churches. I believe that many churches have retreated from ministries outside their boundaries and looking only to minister to their members. Mark 16:15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”
A very good article for us who are in Christ to understand what is mission work. Sad for those, many who are blinded by falsehood in most mega churches who cannot see what is bible truth.