I can’t tell you the amount of times during my four years at Florida State that I would ask someone where they were going to church and they would respond in one of three ways:
- “Oh, I’m between churches right now.”
- “Well, there aren’t really solid churches in town. I just do podcasts or livestream my church back home!”
- “Oh, well right now I am meeting with Joe and we’re going through Acts together. It’s been really great.”
Let’s give the benefit of the doubt to college freshmen, who are learning what they believe and what sort of church family they want to be a part of. But these answers aren’t coming from them. They’re coming from people of all walks of life.
This got me thinking. Why should people go to church? Why can’t they meet at a hip coffee shop, learn about Jesus together, and call it a day? Or listen to a podcast instead of walking into a church building? Why should I tell someone to get off their butt, pick up their caramel-flavored latte, and get inside of a church building?
Can an internet preacher replace a live pastor? Can a group of friends replace a small group? Does “where two or more are gathered” really mean a night out with some Christian guys is more like church than church?
NewSpring Church in South Carolina has a handy video that explains that the church is not a building, but rather a group of people committed to following Jesus.
Greg Laurie also mentions that the church exists to glorify God, edify the saints, and evangelize.
Both wise and true, but both are often used as arguments as a reason to not be a part of a local church. If a church is not a “building”, why does one need to go? Can an individual only glorify God through church attendance? You catch my drift.
I believe in being a part of a local church and wanted others to be a part of it too.
So I opened up the book of Hebrews.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (24-25)
Then I opened up Acts because it speaks a lot about the early church. The church “is not a building” because they had no building to meet in at the time. However, we see in Acts 4:26-27 that they gathered to meet together anyway.
“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
So, what does that mean? What is the purpose behind the church? And what does this mean for us that are pastors or on a church staff?
I’d say you could read these passages and many others and come up with several reasons that the church exists, but there is one thing that stands out throughout all of these Scripture passages.
The church cannot exist without meeting together.
In the digital age, we have access to more teaching and resources than ever. Everything is quite literally at our fingertips. However, I can’t help but notice the passage in Hebrews. It does not say “let us consider how we may spur our [singular] friend on toward love and good deeds”. The passage clearly states “one another” [plural]. It also goes on to say Christians should not give up meeting together. And members of the early church met in temple courts when they did not have a formal “church building” to meet in.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says “The church exists for nothing else but to draw men to Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose. It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose.”
Some may find Lewis’ approach sacrilegious, but I think that the point he was getting at is that if all people do is stick their nose in their Bibles and don’t get out and do anything with what they’re learning, what’s the point? The whole point is (supposed to be) to make disciples.
Today, many churches have become more about social justice, entertainment, and even the preaching itself.
The mission has gotten muddy.
If a retail store has a bottom line (selling their merchandise) and they don’t hit their goals, they will go out of business. The church also has a bottom line. Making disciples. Maybe if churches are hitting their mark, they should re-think their purpose, before they do as well.
But how can we draw men to Christ if they’re meeting one-on-one or watching sermons online?
We can’t.God didn’t say he would build His 501(c)(3) organization or a parachurch ministry. He said he’d build his church. Click To Tweet
That’s why it’s important for people to be a part of a local church body. Here are a few things to help us with engaging people and encouraging them to explore the local church.
1. Know what’s going on in your community (and become a part of it).
Cities are like people. There are no two that are exactly the same.
If we’re trying to draw people to be a part of a local church, we have to meet them where they’re at. We have to go (Matthew 28:18-20). One of the most effective ways we can do this is by getting out of “church world” and into our communities.
For your church, that may look something like:
- Partnering with the city to put on an event
- Researching demographics and current events
- Attending city-wide events from book clubs to football games
- Volunteering at your local homeless shelter, senior home, library, high school, etc.
One way City Church in Tallahassee, FL, has done this well is by running concessions at high school football games so that parents can watch their kids play. They’ve also gotten involved tutoring, mentoring, and they’re now an integral part of local high schools in Tallahassee. As a result, several high school students (and their parents) have begun coming to the church that seemed to care so much about them.
Another thing we often see is when churches unnecessarily compete with the community. Instead of doing your own easter egg hunt, why not partner with the parks and rec department in your city? The same goes with a fall festival. Are our communities really asking for more events? Or do they need volunteers (*ahem* who know Christ) to aid them in putting on existing ones?
These are just a few examples of how relationships are made. And how we can encourage each other.
2. Evaluate the friendliness of your church.
We’ve talked about the four reasons people may visit a church.
For some, they are lost and searching for answers. For some, it is dutiful. But for most, we find people are visiting a church because they want to meet people.
And this is truly at the heart of why the church exists. We not only crave community, we are called to it.
So, if people are approaching churches hoping to meet people, they are going to be looking for friendly churches filled with approachable people. Most churches claim to be the “friendliest church”. But is that really the case? Are we approachable and welcoming to guests? Or are we just friendly to our insiders?
Anyone can smile and wave. How are we conveying to guests that our churches will be a place of encouragement? Where we will spur each other on toward love and good deeds? Read more about that here.
3. Pray, pray, and pray some more.
At the end of the day, we can be the friendliest, most involved church community in all the land. But God has to do His part and move people’s hearts.
Let’s remember to not get swept up in the busyness, but to pray for our lost people and un-churched people.
Set a reminder on your phone, make notecards, do what you have to do.
Let’s get some people involved in the local church. Let’s get them involved in a community of believers where they will be encouraged and spurred on where. In a place where they can learn. In a place where they’re held accountable and held to a standard of truth (not whatever their popular Internet pastor they’re listening to is saying). In a place where they can make disciples. And in a place where they’re not alone.
So What's Next?
Feel like your church should be growing, but it's not? From someone who used to be a pastor and church planter, I know it can be frustrating.
Ultimately, church growth is up to God. But are we doing everything we can to ensure our church is healthy? How do we overcome the barriers we feel are in front of us?
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