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7 Inconvenient (Biblical) Truths for Churches

7 Inconvenient (Biblical) Truths for Churches

Part 1 of 2

Many instructions, lessons and examples in Scripture run directly counter to modern church growth models.  In today’s environment, implementing those truths in your church would be tantamount to yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater.  The balance of power has shifted – churchgoers are accustomed to expecting much of pastors, staff and facilities yet resist high expectations being placed on them – due to the combination of:

  1. America’s consumer culture where customers take their (church) business elsewhere if not completely satisfied, and dollars are exchanged for value received…and giving to churches is declining
  2. a shrinking pool of frequent attenders (demand) yet a significant number of church buildings and aspiring pastors (supply) graduating from seminaries each year

To navigate those market dynamics, church leaders find it tempting to draw attention to their “competitive advantages” – programs, buildings, messages and music.  However, as we discussed in “How Big is Our God”, our view of who God is shrinks as we ascribe greater importance to earthly religious constructs and representations of His Kingdom.  The more we acknowledge the magnificence of the scenery and sermon, the less clearly we may see the Lord’s magnificence.  Focusing on what we (or others) have accomplished can shift the spotlight away from what Jesus has accomplished.  Yes, our Americanized flavor of Christianity has introduced performance-based thinking into our collective psyches.

Living out the Lord’s prescribed church growth model involves significant (perceived) risk to an institutional church.  Therefore, many leaders suffer from selective amnesia or willingly compromise when it comes to advancing those essential principles within their congregations and communities.  However, stepping out in faith to abide by those truths, no matter the cost, would actually result in greater growth by attracting and developing the right people in the right ways.

In this blog post, we’ll review the first three of those “Inconvenient Truths”…

Truth #1 – Small Groups & Sermons Don’t Make Disciples

Why It’s Biblical

The Great Commission and other verses define disciple-making as the primary purpose of the Church.  Disciples ardently follow, imitate and obey Jesus.  Discipleship is a long and challenging yet glorious process.  The relationships Jesus had with His disciples and Paul with Timothy illustrate discipleship as ongoing, intensive and personal.  When pastors are asked about their church’s discipleship methods, most will cite sermons and small groups, which (in contrast with Jesus and Paul’s approach) are occasional, passive and impersonal.  Therefore, churches are producing far more cultural Christians than disciples.

Why It Seems “Inconvenient”

Few churchgoers today are willing to live up to Jesus’ expectations of His followers.  Unveiling the actual costs of discipleship and asking a congregation to surrender fully, following wherever God leads, would send most parishioners running for the exits.  Rightfully treating members more like (unpaid) “employees” than “consumers” and training them to pursue the real “customer” (those who don’t know Jesus) is more than they bargained for when they joined your church.  As we discussed earlier, the risks inherent in demanding so much of those who highly value convenience and customer service are magnified in this day and age.

Why It Actually Would Grow the Church

At the height of His popularity, Jesus preached His most challenging sermon, saying followers must “eat My flesh” and “drink My blood”.  Building into a committed few rather than appealing to the masses spawned the exponential growth of Christianity in the early Church.  Likewise, raising up a small band of true disciples will have a far greater Kingdom impact than filling seats with thousands of passive “pew-potatoes”.  Ironically, it is those efforts to attract and retain church members that is behind the rapid decline of churches in America in growth, impact, influence and perception.

Truth #2 – That Building Isn’t a Church

Why It’s Biblical

The Biblical ekklesia (“assembly of called-out ones”) does not refer to a place but to people.  Church is happening wherever believers are gathered in the name of Jesus for worship, teaching and fellowship.

Why It Seems “Inconvenient”

Redefining “church” to align with its biblical roots would threaten “church as we know it”.  Survival of the institutionalized, Americanized model hinges on maintaining an unhealthy dependence on pastors for evangelism and discipleship.  The sole task passed down to most churchgoers is to invite their non-believing friends to hear the Gospel from the “professionals”.  Would congregations be as generous in paying for the evangelistic services pastors provide if they knew the truth – that church is not a place or a preacher but themselves?  Each of us is the embodiment of “church”, personally responsible for leading people to Jesus, responding to objections, and learning how to answer difficult questions.

Why It Actually Would Grow the Church

In actuality, churches would grow faster and become healthier if each member were willing and equipped to boldly share about Jesus within their circles of influence.  Imagine the leverage created by raising up and deploying an army of individuals who live prayer, care and share lifestyles – infiltrating their workplaces and neighborhoods.

Truth #3 – Pastors Can’t “Outpreach” Jesus

Why It’s Biblical

Jesus had the perfect words and flawless delivery.  He spoke with more power and authority than anyone – ever.  Yet He rarely said who He was before healing or feeding – demonstrating His love first to open ears to hear His life-saving message.

Why It Seems “Inconvenient”

Few churches lead with compassion.  They extend invitations to attend a service, hear a relevant message, and participate in fun activities.   They do occasional service projects – transactional events with little lasting impact – largely intended, and frankly more effective, as “outreach” (i.e. marketing) than making an actual difference.  Telling people what to believe before showing them Jesus loves them comes across as proselytizing.  According to Barna Research, “almost half of Millennials (47%) agree at least somewhat that it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith.”  We haven’t earned the right to speak to culture, so what society hears when we talk (and don’t “do” first) is condemnation rather than genuine concern.

Why It Actually Would Grow the Church

To fight the culture war, launching a ground war with love as chosen weapon would be a far more successful battle plan than continuing an air war of (what comes across as) verbal bombs.

It’s Your Turn

Our next blog post will unveil the final four “Inconvenient Truths”.  In the meantime, come up with your own list of biblical concepts that directly contradict modern church growth models.  Also, begin to address any inconsistencies that were shared today within your own congregation.

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