People usually go to worship because they want to, and by the same token, people usually avoid going to church because they choose not to go. Apparently more people are deciding not to go to Sunday worship services today. At the same time, churches are encouraging people to come. So, why the disconnect between what churches want to accomplish and what many people are willing to participate in? A number of answers to this question are being offered by well-intentioned church leaders.
There are some who say the basic mission of the church is to attract new members, to “grow.” One preacher recently wrote that we are living in a “left-brained” generation, where people are looking for an emotional experience in religion. According to this idea, people are no longer interested in sermons that carefully exegete and expound upon the Biblical text. “Everyone is sick of people arguing about who is right,” he says. A case in point: the preacher for a mega church in Houston no longer preaches on sin. The thousands who throng to his church prefer emotional excitement with lots of music and motivational sermons that avoid “guilt trips” about sin. They want to “feel good” about being there.
In another Bible-belt city a preacher gives the following formula for growing a church today:
1. Use video throughout, especially videos with instrumental music in the background. (“Its the least that we can do to be culturally relevant,” he says.)
2. Use a three projectors screen set up. (“If you really want to create an experience, then add additional screens on the sides.”)
3. Dim the lights in the audience and brighten the stage. (“This creates the experience atmosphere.”)
4. Use testimonials
5. Make preaching biblical, culturally relevant and applicable. (“People are not going to be wowed by our exegesis,” he writes. “They will be wowed by a person who can tell them how to live this biblical truth out in their daily lives at work, in their homes, with their family.”)
6. Use “pre-worship” music and “post-worship” music.
7. Engage the body, mind, and heart in worship. (“Be joyful. Clap. Shout for joy. Have a praise team…and give people permission to really engage their whole being in worship for God.”)
8. Emphasize community, by “sharing stories of God’s work amongst his people and by displaying Twitter feeds with a church’s hashtag.”
When asked “whatever happened to biblical preaching” that identifies the nature of God’s church, convicts of sin and calls sinners to repentance?” the answer many are ready to give is, “People are not interested in doctrinal preaching today.” Preaching doctrine requires listeners to listen, to evaluate, to make judgment calls, to recognize false teaching and to expose the darkness of the world by the light of the gospel.
I, for one, am not ready to abandon the biblical mission of the church of Christ for the sake of “church growth.” If the Bible is right, the primary work of the church is not to make people “feel good” or have a “religious experience,” or even to “draw a crowd” but to uphold the truths of God’s word. In spite of what some people believe, God’s church is still the “pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). What is needed today is not dumbing-down the preaching of great Bible doctrines, but stepping up to the plate to “proclaim the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27). What we need is not less Bible knowledge, but more. What sinners need is not a “feel good experience” but conviction of sin, a call to repentance and an urgent plea to obey the gospel of Christ. If the ancient people of God were destroyed “from lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6) why is it any different today?
The truth of the matter is that many people are not looking for churches that put their beliefs and convictions on the “back burner,” or remove doctrinal messages from the pulpit and restrict them to the Sunday School hour. They are looking for churches which courageously and clearly define themselves by what they preach, how they worship to God, and what they expect of their members seven days a week.
The Gallup Organization discovered the following 13 top reasons why unchurched people chose a church,:
1. 90% – Pastor/Preaching
2. 88% – Doctrines
3. 49% – Friendliness of Members
4. 42% – Other Issues
5. 41% – Someone at Church Witnessed to Me
6. 38% – Family Member
7. 37% – Sensed God’s Presence/Atmosphere of Church
8. 25% – Relationship Other than Family Member
9. 25% – Sunday School Class
10. 25% – Children’s/Youth Ministry
11. 12% – Other Groups/Ministries
12. 11% – Worship Style/Music
13. 7% – Location
Research conducted by Thom Ranier.
The Gallup Poll showed that preaching and doctrine are the most significant factors leading to church growth. People are still interested in solid, decisive Bible preaching!
In the long run, what really matters is not how many people are attracted to a church, but whether that church is faithfully proclaming the full-gospel of Jesus Christ. If you are shopping around for a church, look for one that lovingly and courageously teaches what the Bible teaches without addition or subtraction. Look for one which honors the Bible as God’s final message for mankind, and respects a “this is what the Lord says.” Look for one whose members are loving and humble, who live what they profess. Look for one whose minister is “a good minister of Jesus Christ, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching” you read about in your very own Bible (1 Timothy 4:6). Look for one which challenges you to see sin for what it really is, calls you to change the way you live and points you to loving faith-obedience response to Jesus Christ who gave His life so you could be forgiven of your sins and go to heaven in the end.
The New Milford, Connecticut Church of Christ is a church just like that!