I’m sure this is going to ruffle some feathers… well, maybe if I had been blogging here for more than a month and had established any readers it would ruffle some feathers. So, perfect timing! First, although I am the pastor of a church in our local suburban community of Katy, Tx this is not written in a way that necessitates people attending our church. We have some really great churches in our community as I am sure there are in your community as well. There are various options and rarely ever only one “good” church a community.
We have a fantastic athletic club here that is called Lifetime Fitness. It is a large company with locations all over the place and it is definitely the spot with the most amenities in our community. When someone moves to our community they will eventually look for an athletic club to join. They probably will not go with any regularity but you have to join… that is just what you do here in suburbia. These new homeowners will look around and try some of the options in the community but they will not doubt choose Lifetime. The people are nice, the trainers are knowledgeable, the amenities and plenty, and the place is beautiful. All the comforts and services they could possibly desire are found there and eventually our new couple will realize this is true and they will pledge their allegiance to this suburban mecca of fitness services.
This is all fine and dandy… Lifetime has done a phenomenal job of establishing themselves in our community. The problem is when that same new couple moved in they also needed to find a church. It just so happens that they looked for a church the exact same way they looked for a local fitness center. As a matter of fact, we could probably re-write that story replace church for fitness center and it would be a valid description.
When families move to suburbia, one of the items on their list is to find a church. Church could be a Catholic, Methodist, Episcopal, or Baptist church, but there is a social pressure present which necessitates them having a church. Just like the fitness center, they will not likely attend regularly but they will have their membership card available when the topic come up in conversation. Everyone in suburbia “has a church.” Here is an easy test you can deploy… you have probably noticed the activities of your neighbors on Sunday. They might be letting the kids play outside, walking the dog, washing the cars, or maybe stretching for a weekly golf outing… either way you know that they aren’t loading the family up for church each Sunday. Yet, when you talk with them and church comes up in conversation they seem to “have” a church. You often hear phrases like “our church” or “my church” from them when things like that come up. It is just part of being a suburban family – “having” a church.
If we have established we are all going to look for a church, then I would like to offer some guides as to what the suburban family should look for in that church. A church is so very different than a fitness club. Matter of fact, church is different than anything else in which we might participate. For church to be for us what it is really supposed to be, what do we look for in a church? As much as I hate the idea of “church shopping”, it is a reality. People search or “shop” around for churches. You can think of these ideas as Church Shopping 101. You should demand that all 5 of these things be present in church…
- Bible Teaching – Yes, sadly they all are not that way. If we believe that the Bible is the book of truth or God’s word, then we want it to be the source of what is talked about at church. Also, it can be a little tough sometimes to figure out if a church is a Bible Teaching church. I would suggest you listen to the pastor and ask yourself if he is sharing his thoughts and supporting those thoughts with various pieces of the Bible or if he is sharing the Bible and letting his thoughts support or apply what it is already plainly saying?
- Participant Oriented – This one is often the hardest to understand because it is one of the characteristics that make it different than all the other things we would look to find in suburbia – such as a fitness club. A Participant Oriented church is a church that is deeply concerned with how you can participate in seeing the mission accomplished. This church is more about how you can participate than how many services you can consume. By definition the church is a group of people working together to accomplish a mission or goal.
- Life Changing – This one is a little more obvious but maybe harder to swallow. This type of church doesn’t want you to just find a level of comfort in where your life is today. This church wants to see a constant change in your life including your family, career, finances, and everything. If you can see being exactly the same person you are today after attending a church for years than it is definitely NOT a Life Changing church.
- Externally Focused – We’re talking about a church here that is compassionate towards the local community as well as the global community. Whether on their website or on a Sunday (or even through talking to the pastor) listen for way in which they are leveraging their people resources and financial resources in local and global ways.
- Jesus Talking – If you can attend a Sunday meeting and not hear the word “Jesus” then you are at the wrong place. Through song and spoken word you most definitely should hear about Jesus. If a group can gather together on Sunday and not mention Jesus then you should be very afraid… or maybe you just walked into Lifetime Fitness by mistake.
Obviously there is so much more that can be added and nuanced here, but this is a good foundation. The really great thing is that if these five items are present then so many other important things will be a by-product of these five. So, how does your church fit into this list of thoughts? Remember, this is just the basics, the introductory class. I don’t want to hear from all of you banner waiving contemporary worship evangelists or choir robe gospel devotees. That is not what this is about! Oh, and I love Lifetime Fitness. I’m a member and I go anywhere from 3-5 times per week. It is just not a church.