Church isn’t hitting the target.

Miss the target

Grace has been going to a new church for nearly three years now. It seems silly to call it her “new church” when she’s been going there for so long, but she still feels like a newcomer, like an outsider. If you knew Grace, you’d realize that’s quite strange, because she’s one of the most social, relational people you’ll ever meet. In any other social setting, she’s the life of the party, makes friends easily and builds relationships quickly. Grace loves the new church. The music is good, the teaching is great, and many of the people are exactly the sort she would like to connect with deeply and have strong relationships with. She has a small group of friends she already knows well from outside of church, and most weeks she ends up chatting to them over morning tea at the end of the service. But she’s frustrated that it is taking her so long to truly connect with the other people in the church, who could have such an impact in her life and be part of her journey growing in God. With two small kids and many other commitments in her busy life, she can’t make it to other church events such as small groups, lunches, camps and other meetings. She’d really like Sunday mornings to be more relational, to have the chance to go deep with people and get to know them better.

Grace wants to feel connected.

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 Josh struggles to concentrate through the Sunday morning service each week. He tries to listen, but he finds his mind wandering during the sermon. Like most people his age, he’s completely at ease behind a keyboard and an active user of social media, but he finds it hard to get anything out of a one-way lecture. He’s used to being a part of the conversation, not a passive listener. Outside of church, he usually gets to participate in the discussion and contribute his own opinions, even if it’s just by pressing “Like” on his Facebook page. At home, he gets to control what footage he wants to view, what music he wants to listen to, and what topics he wants to talk about. He is an active contributor to the online community, writing a regular blog and developing a strong following on Twitter. He doesn’t own a television set, and doesn’t need to, preferring to direct his own viewing and learning experience online and in collaboration with his social networks. In church, he finds that his voice isn’t welcome or invited, and that he is treated as a member of an audience, not as a person who may have something to contribute. He wants to be there, but he gets bored when he doesn’t get the opportunity to participate.

Josh wants to feel engaged.

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Michael is in his fifties, and became a Christian when he was 20. He’s been actively involved in church for well over 30 years, and has a deep love for God and his people. He is a highly intelligent man, a deep thinker, with lots of energy and lots to give. He recently approached his pastor to discuss his frustration with the church format. He said he didn’t feel comfortable anymore being told when to sit, when to stand, what to sing, what to think, and when to leave. He was told he needed to submit to God-given authority and change his attitude. He didn’t try to bring the topic up again.

Michael wants to be empowered.

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Grace, Josh and Michael are attending good churches. Great churches, even. Churches filled with wonderful people, solid teaching, uplifting worship services. The problem is, those churches are meeting the wrong needs. They are using a model which assumes God’s people need a weekly ritual of inspirational music and pep-talks. Until churches creatively rethink the format, they won’t be able to meet people’s deep needs for connection, engagement and empowerment.

7 thoughts on “Church isn’t hitting the target.

  1. All of the above people need to go to their inner room, shut down all communication means and stay in communion with God until they feel refreshed and renewed (Mat 6:6). Truly they are looking for God at the wrong place.

    When and how did God call Samuel (1 Samuel 3)?
    How did God talk to Elijah (1 Kings 19:4-13)?
    How did God speak to Moses (Exodus 3:1-4)?
    How did God call Abraham (Genesis 12:1-9)?

    When I want to find God, I always sit still and shut down my senses, or lay myself in bed just like Samuel did. I do not expect God speaks into my ears, but I know He will tell me at the most convenient moment to Him (not me).

    I have never been in church to find God, or expect anyone to show me God. We are call to serve others, not to be served (Mat 20:28).

    As you stated: “those churches are meeting the wrong needs”. The above people are expecting to be served not to serve. They are expecting something from other people, instead of offering what they have for the service of others. No wonder why they are deceived and frustrated.

    Their deep needs must be found in the store house of God (Mat 6:21; Mat 7:11; Mat 19:21; Luk 11:13). Only God can satisfy their needs, but only if their desires are to fulfill God’s Will (Mat 7:21 ; Joh 6:57; 1Ti 6:18-19).

    • God certainly can speak to us outside of church and away from all other people. The conundrum remains – why did he encourage us to meet together?

      – Kathleen

  2. Over the last few years I’ve come to think that there’s an underlying issue that is fundamentally twofold. When we think of church we naturally focus, as you have done in this excellent post, of meetings between people who are already believers.

    To really grapple with the issues that Grace, Josh and Michael are facing we need to dig even deeper. It’s easy to try to fix the symptoms when we really need to address the underlying cause. And it’s not easy to spot that cause.

    When Jesus was with the twelve he gave them a great commandment and a great commission.

    Commandment – Love one another as I have loved you.
    Commission – Go into all the world and make disciples.

    The commandment is about community, the commission is about growing. The commandment is inward, the commission is outward. For healthy church life we need both. Grace, Josh and Michael need both.

    But what we really miss is how connected these two things are. If either one is missing, the other will be broken too.

    When we take risks and reach out we grow closer in community. If we don’t have community we put our effort into trying to find it and forget to reach out. The exciting thing is that if we start by taking the risk and being active in mission, community will blossom and flourish through shared effort and danger and success. We become like a small band of soldiers, knitted together by living and working and facing danger together, even ready to die for one another.

    Grace, Josh and Michael could band together and reach out in the coffee shops, bars, and shopping malls of their local town. Grace would feel connected, Josh would feel engaged, and Michael would feel empowered. Grace has a shepherd’s heart, Josh has the heart of an evangelist, Michael might be somewhat apostolic. They might not see it like that or put it in those terms but in the adventure of reaching out together they would begin to discover their giftings.

    And out of this a new and greater oneness would develop, real community. This is the way church works in dangerous places like China and the Muslim world. In the West we have lost our way. In looking first for community we have lost mission and in losing mission we have lost real community too.

    This is what Jesus did, healing, teaching, reaching people in their ordinary life situations. And the disciples became a real community as they travelled and watched and listened and worked with him and then went out in pairs to try it for themselves.

    For much more on this approach I’d recommend Alan Hirsch’s book ‘The forgotten ways’. It’s a good place to start for anyone prepared to consider the challenge. Or, just get out there and do it – lots of good ideas at ‘Be the light’ – http://duffett.wordpress.com/tag/creative-evangelism/

    Happy travelling!

    • Fabulous comment, Chris – you’ve written an inspiring post yourself.

      I love the notion of Grace, Josh and Michael creating vibrant, missional community together. However, in real life, I fear they will just give up on their dreams and settle for second best. They’ll learn to live with the constraints of the system and make the most of it.

      – Kathleen

      • Thanks Kathleen 🙂

        You’re quite right of course. In real life they would just accept things as they are. It’s a great tragedy, isn’t it, that the appearance of authority prevents people from challenging the status quo – we don’t like to appear disobedient or trouble-makers.

        Especially here in the UK, people will put up with things for years rather than have a disagreement.

  3. The conundrum is SELF within us. This is the blockage for all relationship and communication not only in church, but also in family, at work and wherever we are.

    That SELF is also the “Only Son” to be sacrifice to God, just as Abraham has to do (Gen 22:2). God has offered His Only Son as a sacrifice of redemption for humanity. In our turn, we too, we need to sacrifice our “Only Son” to God for the sake of our love to Him. When Jesus said:”The one who doesn’t take up his cross and follow me isn’t worthy of me” (Mat 10:38), he gave us an implicit condition that SELF must also be crucified and died before we can be reborn into the Kingdom of Heaven.

    Grace has excellent interpersonal skills and communication skills, she can be friend quickly with other people but she also expect the affection in return from them. When she notice that other people in the church don’t have the same enthusiasm as she has given out then it hurts her. The SELF within her get hurt for that reason and she is struggling to stay connected with people in the church.

    Josh is also an excellent social communicator and he is very successful in public discussion. He is eager to contribute great idea in the church too, but he doesn’t hold a position of a Pastor, hence speaking and preaching in church doesn’t come to him. He get bored with the talk of the pastor the sole authorized voice. In this case, the SELF within Josh continuously annoys him every in Sunday service of the church. That SELF keeps telling him that he can speak better and make much greater sermons. While the SELF is alive with Josh, he will always struggle to grow his virtue of humility.

    Michael can be seen as an elder in his local church. It is hard for him to accept the way the church is running. He has expressed his frustration but was told to stay humble by the pastor. Within Michael, his SELF has been nagging him with the idea of changing the format of the church service. His SELF was offended when he was told to submit itself to God’s Will.

    In all three cases, SELF is the mountain of pride to be removed within the heart of those people. If they want to follow Christ then let them take up their cross and crucify that SELF, their “Only Son” to the cross.

    Wherever we are, whoever we are and whatever the role we are playing in this world, SELF is our first target to be conquered before we can fully dispose ourselves to the service of God. It is not what we can do for God or for the church, but how God can use us to fulfill His plan through our life.

    Whatever the format of the church service can be, SELF is always the blockage that stops us from giving ourselves to God and worship Him humbly.

    God bless.

  4. The church in America is a business, that’s why it is the way it is. You have puppeteers running the “show” and it virtually has nothing to do with the Lord. These three would do well in a house church environment where they can serve and be known. And where the Lord is more involved. The business church model is self centered and most of those who go there are too.

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