Have you ever owned a magnet? During my growing up years I had several magnets. I would often set at our dining room table and experiment with them.
Here’s what I learned: MAGNETS ATTRACT!! They pull something in their direction!! Exert influence on outside objects! Specifically, they attract metal objects. A connection automatically happens.
Here’s another lesson I’ve learned about congregations: some of them attract. Others of them don’t attract. In other words, some congregations are magnetic, whereas, other congregations are non-magnetic.
Why the strong contrast? Why are some congregations influential and others not influential? Why do some congregations fill meeting places and others are more effective at emptying meeting places? Why are some church parking lots full, whereas other parking lots look like they’ve been deserted?
One major reason for the difference relates to what a church has become. In many instances today, congregations lack magnet power. The magnet draws from a power source that’s beyond it. Likewise, attractive congregations have a power at work inside that comes from beyond them: the Holy Spirit. Gods Spirit flows through them freely. And remember this: no church can give to others what it does not first possess.
Another reason some congregations attract more than others is because they care more about others than they do themselves. People are attracted by any organization that’s making genuine differences in the lives of others on the outside. For this to happen, however, congregations must first die to themselves before they can come alive to others.
A third reason some congregations are more magnetic than others is because they’re scratching where people around them are itching. Sermons and lessons that are taught will reveal Gods presence for meeting their needs. Ministries are in operation that give assistance and direction when suffering and struggling are present.
Reason number four as to why some congregations are magnetic is attached to people outside wanting to be part of their fellowship. In other words, when those outside see us, and realize they need and want what we have to offer. While Christians are often viewed by society as being weird and odd, they are really meant to be different. And it’s their difference that makes them warmly and contagiously magnetic.
Moving to a fifth reason why some congregations are magnetic: those outside see in these fellowships a liveliness and energy that’s literally enticing. Desirable. Greatly attractive. But while some congregations give continuous screaming evidence of their vitality, others are dead and have simply failed to realize it.
The biggest argument against God’s existence today by the world is the presence of an unattractive church. YOU hold an important key for having a church that’s attractive. But here’s the question: Will you be the vital key for personally portraying an attractive church in your community for this unhealthy age?? It must begin with YOU before the contagion can engulf others around YOU!!
Large jetliners are amazing, aren’t they? For example: How are they able to get off the ground? Fly into the air? And soar above the clouds?
The problem with flying becomes even more greatly complex when the size and weight of the aircraft is considered. Flying one of these huge machines just must be impossible. Yet, persons in the aviation industry have learned how such an incredible feat can enter into the realm of the possible.
Shift gears with me: How do congregations cease being grounded and begin to fly? How do they get off the earth beneath? Move upward? Important questions, aren’t they? And Scripture indicates that congregations were designed to rise! Soar higher! Grow! Enlarge!
What are the underlying building blocks though that enable a congregation to get off the ground and soar as God intended? Consider the following responses.
- As they lose sight of the ground. Jetliners fly as they move above ground level. Congregations that choose to remain on the ground must willingly lose sight of the ground if they are to reach the unrestricted air above them. Simply stated, ground level thinking will get you no higher than the ground.
- As they function by faith in place of sight. It’s possible that congregations will only do what they can see and think they can do. When they choose to remain on the ground like this, however, they become unable to soar to those lofty peaks where GOD wishes to take them. Flying takes one on a flight path of unequaled adventure and excitement.
- As they live by faith in the present and loosen themselves from bondage to past grounded ways. The eyesight of faith gives a church kingdom eyes which permit it to fly and soar into those new horizons of which they’ve never ever dreamed of before.
- As they begin and continue to fly in the face of adversity. Turbulence makes flying difficult. A church that begins to fly will also experience turbulence. Turbulence will come from those inside the aircraft who really prefer to remain on the ground. These detractors will work overtime to get a church down and out of the air. Even countless reasons will be advanced to keep a church firmly grounded.
- As they remain in the air and refuse returning to the landing pad. Granted, there’s often some great comfort with being on the ground as opposed to being in the air. But flying is only possible when those who fly choose to lose sight of the ground. Grounded thinking by of a few will eventually become the choice of the other passengers.
- As the joyful pleasure of flying is actually experienced. Many congregations have remained on the ground for so long, they’ve been unable to experience joyous life in the air. Blindness to the joy of air life has created more grounds keepers than it has flight attendants. Never forget that one must fly in order to enjoy the thrill of flying.
- As a congregation discerns the important distinction between life on the ground, and life in the air. Once this important difference has been experienced flyers will never be able to return to the ground again. Life in the air will consume and overwhelm them.
Let me end this way: To remain on the ground is to live and walk by sight alone. To soar high into the air, however, is to walk and live with GOD in the incredible environment of faith. Which will it be with you and your church?? On the ground, or, in the air??
Healthy congregations engage in the kind of ministry that will keep them well and on track. They will nonetheless avoid those practices that will cause them to go backwards and take a downturn. What are the kinds of things that will cause a congregation to SHRINK?
- As a church keeps doing things the same way they’ve always done them. Should a church continue in this recurring practice it will garner the same results. In short, it will get into a rut. And congregations are often guilty of falling into the trap of the seven last words of the church: “we’ve never done it that way before.”
- As members of a church expect the church to serve them in place of being a congregation that serves the Lord and others. Christian service is always unselfish. It never settles into being happy only on the receiving end.
- As a church focuses more on keeping numerous rules and regulations than it does on developing genuine Christian relationships. Caring and loving relationships help grow a church. Majoring on rules and regulations send a church on a downward spiral.
- As a church assumes that those outside their walls will come to them, without recognizing the importance of making many personal invitations to attend. If these invitations aren’t made those outside won’t attend!! You can count on it!!
- As you close your church off from the outside world. A church often becomes more concerned about its own activities than it does about seeking to draw outsiders inside their walls. When the foregoing happens, the church easily becomes a monument, monastery or morgue, more than being a movement.
- As a church becomes a fellowship of fewer persons being involved in a congregations life. A church grows its strength and influence as more persons become involved and serve in its life. Churches need to broaden their base, and cease trying to control everything by a few persons.
- As a church engages in ever growing gossip and negativity. When this happens a congregation becomes a slow but sure shrinking fellowship. Someone has well said that you attract more people with honey than you do with vinegar. Thus, become a “for” person, and not one who’s “against” everything!!
Now here’s the question: Are you helping SHRINK your church, or, SPREAD its influence??
Some congregations enjoy successful ministries today, while many others do not. The successful ones draw people, others only repel them. These successful congregations enjoy growth. Other congregations only decline.
Why this radical contrast? The notable notable difference? Why are some churches effective and growing? Why are others congregations ineffective and non-growing? While there is no one answer to offer, there are a number of recognized symptoms that serve to block a congregations influence. Here are some of the notable symptoms that are often highlighted to portray struggling congregations.
- These fellowships form a certain club mentality. In this context, certain members become the major focus and concern. Keeping these individuals happy and satisfied becomes the ultimate and ongoing goal.
- Red tape decision making is followed. Nothing can be done unless it has passed numerous control procedures. Individuals in these congregations are afraid to do anything in lieu of the existing red tape. The leadership of the Holy Spirit is replaced by a lot of time-consuming and official decision making.
- Internal fussing and feuding is ongoing. Sometimes this becomes so severe that members choose to leave. Even those who attend a church from outside will avoid it like the plague. This practice of fussing and feuding is fueled by focusing on us in place of God and others.
- The unwillingness of a church to get out of ruts. Things are done the same way without any alterations. Any attempt at doing something different takes these congregations out of their comfort zone and they are avoided. They believe it isn’t of God if you change things. These congregations wish to grow, but are unwilling to change their ways in order to experience a turnaround and growth.
- Public worship is more dead than upbeat. The music is traditional and overly ritualistic. The spirit and attitude in the services lacks enthusiasm. Formality is their posture. Most everything follows an order and is highly predictable from week to week. Such fellowships need to cease doing things because this is the way the church has always done them.
- Members are more into sitting than they are serving. They become more of a number on the attendance board, than fulfilling a God-given ministry based on their abilities/gifts. When persons are not serving they will shrivel up and die. Congregations are often guilty of killing people spiritually by their dead and formal nature.
- Congregations need to enlarge their base. Offer more opportunities that will enhance spiritual growth and development. When you widen your base of opportunities, an enlargement of ministry takes place.
- Move beyond simply fulfilling what is normally expected. Engage in going the second mile. Disarm the critics. Mobilize your church in an accelerated fashion. Add new things to your otherwise traditional schedule.
- Create the biblical attitude of giving in place of receiving. Our consumer society has led to the thinking that the church exists to do the same cultural things. When this happens, congregations fall into the trap of entertainment in place of enlarging spiritual experiences on the Christian journey. When giving is replaced by receiving, we lose sight of kingdom actions.
Much in congregational practice today is guided more by churchianity than it is by Christianity. As a result, congregations will always seek to resemble their culture more than they do Christ. Spiritual health emerges and energizes a congregation when it moves toward freeing itself from the existing cultural forms of church practice that have been enslaving it and nullifying an effective ministry for Christ.
Frequently one hears a lot of negative comments within congregations today. Things are heard like:
- “The services at my church are boring!”
- “I never get anything our of church!”
- “Our preacher offers little or nothing worthwhile in his sermons!”
- “The music needs great improvement!”
- “The congregation I attend is simply a dead church, and ready for burial!”
Congregations do often suffer from being stagnant and dead. That is a given. Furthermore, this disease serves to increasingly place its members in passivity, as well as turn a number of its visitors away.
Yet, while the spiritual condition of congregations is often regularly lamented, and understandably so, the solution to such ills will not be effectively solved by always highlighting the problem or problems. By always moaning and groaning about what ought to be, but isn’t.
Allow me to get things focused in a reverse direction. Here’s a most important question for those to consider who are perpetually unhappy with their church: “AM I PART OF MY CHURCH’S PROBLEM, OR PART OF IT’S SOLUTION?” Remember, no chain is stronger than its weakest link. It never is. Never will be. And YOU are one of the existing vital links in the chain of your church.
Over time I have learned that the answers for unsatisfactory congregations is not to be found in giving a lot of rational considerations for why a church is not what it ought to be. In other words, by endeavoring to set forth numerous principles that will make a church either healthy or unhealthy. While such principles have some importance, and need to be highlighted, I think we often miss other underlying spiritual issues that are ever at play. And these underlying issues relate to not a few, but every member in a congregation.
Consider the following as major examples:
- When you are present in the services of your church, why are you there? Are you present with the end in mind to GET something? Or, are you present to GIVE something of yourself? Times of worship have come to be viewed in the present day as being much like attending a sporting event, or, attending a movie.
- Additionally, are you coming to a church gathering for the purpose of offering praise and to glorify God? Or, is your heart and mind focused much more on a multitude of other personal things? Have you even gathered in a tired and unreceptive heart and mind? The manner in which you approach worship will either make or break the worship experience.
- Is it even possible that you are putting the emphasis more on those who are leading the worship time than you are on yourself? Those leading worship cannot possibly make the worship time a spiritually rewarding experience if those who’ve gathered to worship are not in a spiritual frame of mind, and ready for what God wishes to offer them.
Acts ten records a most interesting worship time. Peter has been summoned to the home of Cornelius to preach. Note the important words of Cornelius to Peter: “Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us” (Acts 10:33 – NIV).
Every preacher I know would be thrilled to be in Peter’s shoes. Why? Because the persons are present and ready for what God has for them.
Lord, we pray for this attitude and spirit to prevail once again in our congregations today!!
The failure of congregations to progress and move forward are numerous. Manifold. It would require numerous pages to describe the various reasons for congregational decline.
One major reason why congregations often fall into decline though stems from a most subtle and overlooked factor: abnormal negativity being in operation within a church fellowship. While negativity can emerge in any size fellowship, it will often occur in smaller congregations. With congregations that are more passive in their culture than they are active in ministry.
Certain members will begin to find fault with something that’s been said or not said; that’s been done or left undone. The supposed fault will be exaggerated. Blown out of proportion. Talked about to a point of exasperation. And like cancer it will grow like a rolling snow ball among a certain group who have been apprised of the supposed fault. The fault will then eventually be raised to a most unnecessary and highly elevated status.
Congregations fail to understand that such activities are highly dismantling. It damages a church on the inside. It nonetheless damages a church and its image among those on the outside. A church with negativity comes to inherit a reputation and image of being a fighting and feuding fellowship. People soon choose to avoid any connection with a church that’s like this. If I could portray its evil in the most effective way possible, I would refer to it as one of the, “sins of highly defective congregations.”
Problems like this need to be highlighted. Brought into the daylight. Exposed. But problems need solutions. Ways, that is, to avoid such a serious pitfall in congregational life. How may the evil of negativity be overcome?
- By persons asking themselves, “am I part of the problem of negativity? In other words, have I fallen into this evil and subtle trap with others?”
- By understanding that negativity is part of the devil’s strategy for disrupting a congregation’s unity.
- By eliminating yourself from the circle of influencers who major in negativity.
- By understanding that you are hurting the health and well-being of your congregation by being a participant in negative messaging.
- By recognizing and understanding that abnormal engagement in negativity is one of the “sins of highly defective churches.”
- By acknowledging negativity as a growing problem in your life, and making a departure from it, along with asking for God’s forgiveness, as you seek a renewed pathway.
- By planting positive seeds rather than negative seeds in the life of your congregation, as you develop a positive attitude with the use of your lips and life.
Negativity, I’m discovering, can easily become a lifestyle. A response to everything experienced. An ever developing attitude. It can be initiated much easier than it can be eliminated. Only as we look to God for direction through Scripture and prayer, and come to see its evil in operation, are we able to make a departure from its evil ways.
I like the following words from an anonymous source: “A bad attitude is like a flat tire. You can’t go anywhere until you change it.”
A frequent concern I hear from church folks is that public worship experiences today are disappointing. Depressing. A drag. For much of what goes on in Sunday services, I’m told, is highly predictable, lacks interest, and offers the worshiper little satisfaction and fulfillment.
This disappointing response to public worship may indeed be due to the nature of the services. That’s always a possibility. A strong possibility. But there’s another reason, often overlooked, for the disappointment. Simply stated, the disappointment may be due to the spiritual attitude and condition of the worshiper.
I’m discovering that many who attend public worship today do so for various reasons. Here are a few of them.
- One reason is that the church goer is in the mood to attend church. I’m saying there are days when church worshipers will openly acknowledge that they should have stayed home in bed.
- A second reason why persons say they attend church is because of habit or tradition. Sunday for these persons is church day. Other days of the week are for other activities.
- Reason number three relates to one’s spouse or family members. If a member of the family expresses a deep interest in attending church on a particular Sunday, that becomes the reason for going.
- Another reason for attending church is to be entertained. They want their attendance to be worthwhile. It’s viewed as being like going to a movie or sporting event.
- A final reason for attending Sunday worship is connected with fear. If the person fails to attend church on Sunday, he or she is afraid of being placed on God’s black list. Some congregations will even use the guilt factor to motivate individuals to attend Sunday worship.
Let me move my thinking toward what I believe is the ever growing missing ingredient in congregational worship. In other words, why there’s such a bevy of mixed and confusing reasons and motivations for attending church.
Scripture’s major theme, I’m convinced, is glorifying and praising God. This suggests worship is an act of giving, and is not to be an attempt to get something. A worshiper isn’t attending church for any other reason than for ascribing praise and glory to the One who has delivered him or her from the curse and penalty of sin.
What would happen today in congregations if worshipers were there to give to God in place of attempting to receive something from Him? If worship was an expression of giving love and praise, and not just done out of some form of religious duty? It would definitely remove the temptation to appease God through attempting to earn points of merit and popularity with Him?
Are you following the train of thought followed here? If so, are you open to being changed by the biblical understanding of worship? I’m endeavoring to point out for the reader that fulfilling worship, whether public or private, will necessitate a deep and growing daily relationship with God on the part of the believer.
Now allow me to be a bit more personal and direct. Is this ingredient missing in your own worship experience? Is it missing in the worship experience of your congregation?
Most congregations I’m aware of today put great emphasis on their attendance board. To them the attendance board reflects the impact their congregation is making on their community. If the numbers are up, the congregation is doing well. If the numbers are down, weeping and gnashing of teeth is set in motion and can be heard throughout the congregation.
Additionally, the attendance board is predictably placed in a prominent spot. Congregations want everyone to see it. To view it carefully. For the attendance board will perhaps be a cause for current boasting and pride. At other times it will set off an urgent alarm that calls for some immediate attention and remedial action. Something such as, another new church program to motivate church members and visitors to attend more regularly. Or, an effort to begin what I call the “blame game.” Penning the problem for declining attendance on someone such as the preacher or preachers.
In other words, concern with the attendance board enables congregations to incorrectly measure success or failure. Progress or retreat. Making headway or moving toward the cemetery. Knowing how many are present on any given Sunday is also joined to a concern with who’s there and who isn’t there.
It may sound like I’m making fun of the attendance board. Belittling it. Making it appear unnecessary. Making an urgent appeal to transport it to the junkyard. But that isn’t my position here at all. My concern is that we make more of the attendance board in a congregation’s success than we do anything else. It has become the reigning king. Yet, nowhere in the New Testament do I see any such over-emphasis and fanaticism.
A preacher of years past has made the following excellent statement: “Sometimes we are more concerned about the absence of the people than we are the presence of the Lord.” Was Vance Havner on target? Is what he’s saying true of your church? Does your church place the majority of its concern on the people who are there and who are not there? In the process, has your church overlooked the more most important reason for gathering: TO ENCOUNTER GOD IN THE PUBLIC WORSHIP TIME? HAS GOD BEEN INCLUDED ON YOUR ATTENDANCE BOARD?
Allow me to make a few observations at this juncture.
- Could the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of congregations today be attributed to this wrong use of the attendance board? Have congregations given more attention to the people who are there than they have God?
- Do congregations need to remove the attendance board from public view as a helpful means of getting the focus more on God than who is or who is not there?
- Is it possible that our hearts have been positioned in the wrong place when we arrive at church gatherings? If the attendance board is our main concern and focus then this has happened.
- Should we remove the attendance board, keep track of figures, but utilize the figures more in a wholistic way, as only one of many means of measuring a congregations success or failure? A congregations progress is not attached to the attendance board alone.
One church leader shared with me his concern and sense of guilt about using the attendance board as a lone measuring device. Thus, he indicated that when he counted attendance he would add the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to the number. Why? Because if God isn’t there, have we missed the major reason for why we’ve assembled and exist as a church body??
With few exceptions congregations enjoy informing me that they are a friendly fellowship. And I must add here that they are friendly with me about highlighting their friendliness. They even go so far as to engage in bragging about being friendly. Yet, their friendliness is really all about the crowd with whom they’ve become familiar. They enjoy their private activities, like being together often, and eventually evolve into the assumption that friendliness isn’t a quality that’s lacking among them.
What’s amazing to these inside folks, however, is when they learn the feelings of those who enter their church for the first time from the outside. These individuals see and experience a totally different picture than what the insiders experience. In place of friendliness they are aware of what I wish to designate as the operation of a “holy huddle.” This “holy huddle” group seldom ever breaks the huddle long enough to welcome newcomers who walk inside one of their congregations services. That is, those who are outside the normal crowd that the insiders are used to seeing.
Another thing that often happens in established congregations is small interest groups. They do form. And they enjoy being together. In fact, they stay together. Hang together. They enjoy doing things in which common interests pervade. They erect their own programs, establish marginal mindsets, and structure comfortable zones in which they seek to maintain and control their turf. But an outsider, even a member of the same congregation, cannot join their elitist group. They won’t let them. And anyone who endeavors to crack into their group will be ignored. They will even go so far as to try and exclude those who attempt to challenge their “holy huddle.”
Allow me to openly say here that nothing is more damaging and divisive to having a healthy congregation than that of the existence of a “holy huddle” mentality. It’s wrecking many congregations in this day. How do I know? I’ve witnessed it. Have even heard church visitors who are extremely unhappy with it.
I’ve described the problem. Tried to describe it vividly and genuinely. But it’s not good to present a problem and offer no corrective. No solution. How can congregations break the “holy huddle” practice?
- By highlighting the problem. This practice often continues to raise its ugly head today because no positive efforts are ever put forward to identify and describe its evil presence. It becomes a vicious growing snowball as it continues rushing downhill.
- By each member committing himself or herself to being a solution to this existing problem. This will happen as he or she rufuses to become a contributing member to this “holy huddle” mentality.
- By the effort to prevent any marginalized or private group or groups from forming and creating divisive cells within the larger church body.
- By a faithful teaching and preaching of the Scriptures that attempts to focus on the dangers of such groups forming and disrupting a congregations unity.
- By faithfully loving all of God’s creation, everyone He’s created, regardless of their ages, appearances or backgrounds. The human body has various members, but these members must work together rather than work against each other. This important lesson needs to be continually learned within the body of Christ.
The next step involves YOU. Will YOU be a contributor to the “holy huddle” clan? Or, will YOU choose to be the problem solver by faithfully and responsibly huddling with all God’s people in God’s great work in YOUR larger community and world??
As a result of my life I wish to eventually leave a legacy. Leave something behind me that will make a lasting difference. My intention is to not take everything with me to the grave. Bury my blessings. Silence everything on which I’ve based my life.
Allow me though to share a concern I have right now. This concern is church related. About the church and its future. The church in relationship to my children and grandchildren. The church in relationship to your children and grandchildren.
In several different instances of my church health ministry I have encountered some discouraging remarks. They go something like this: “Bill our church is dying. We no longer have young folks. They’ve left us. Moved on somewhere else. As a result, our church is one of the last of a dying breed. Once our few members die, this building will be locked up and become part of the past.”
Several times I’ve been the listener to such open acknowledgments. I wish I could tell you that I’ve received these words without them having much effect on me. But I haven’t. For tears have welled up in my eyes. I’ve become intensely heartbroken. Depressed. Overwrought. Unable to believe what I’m hearing.
These church bodies began one day long ago with the highest intentions. The highest purposes. Motives. They were focused on ministering spiritual things to their families as well as reaching their communities. But the fire is gone. The hot passion is missing. They no longer are driven outward toward those around them. Instead, they are keeping the folks among them happy and pleased. They have become dried-up spectacles of a once exciting day of ardor and zeal for the Lord.
What has happened?
- There is no longer a heart remaining for continuing what once began in great earnest. It’s now about maintaining what’s left. What’s available. What these folks have to work with.
- There is no interest in perpetuating what was once so important. With having a vibrant church body of believers. Leaving a legacy. They do not see the church as an ongoing relay race, in which they pass the faith on to those who will follow them. Instead, everything is about to be taken with them to the grave.
- There is no sensitivity about the Lord’s final commission of “making disciples.” Passing the faith on to others. They now have the only disciples the church will most likely ever have. It’s no longer about others, it’s all about us. JUST US!!
- There is no awareness of the impact and influence God meant for these congregations to continue making. They’ve pulled up the tent stakes so to speak, and are ready to close down business. Their prayers are for their own. Prayers for the salvation and transformation of persons around them is non-existent.
- There is an established attitude that the church now exists for them. Them alone. Their own little crew. Even the sermons and lessons and activities are meant to be about them. What they want. What they believe is necessary.
- There’s a great bit of lamentation being heard these days about what’s going on in our country. The loss of biblical morality and precious spiritual values. Everyone is tuned-in to the latest disheartening media news. But they’re not equally tuned-in to the current demise of the church.
Allow me to raise a question in closing for doing some further intense praying and soul-searching: IS IT POSSIBLE THE CONDITION OF OUR COUNTRY AND WORLD IS THE RESULT OF A PASSIONLESS CHURCH IN THESE DARK DAYS??
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