When I tell people that we are traveling across the U.S. filming a documentary called 40 Churches in 40 Weeks TM I get one of two responses. “How cool!” or “Huh?” Both make me smile.
There are a lot of churches out there. Some are small, some large and some mega large. But the size is rarely a good indicator for what makes a good church a Good Church. It’s no use pretending that in our culture we don’t associate size with success. I’d go so far as to say that many of us think that if a church grows mega-large it’s because God is pouring out an extra heaping of blessing as a reward for a job well done. Hmmm… maybe, Maybe not. That’s like saying that Donald Trump is a better person than you because he has more money. It’s a safer bet to say that some churches grow large because they knew how to attract a crowd. But that in NO way guarantees that what’s growing is a healthy church or healthy Disciples. And the inverse is also true; because a church is small doesn’t mean that they aren’t doing a great job of leading people into deeper, life-changing relationships with Jesus Christ.
After years of visiting different churches of all sizes and different denominations I have come to believe that, as a group, we are failing the people who come through our church doors each week. The church has lost its influence not only in the community at large, but in the lives of its own members. We have bent and shaped the message and its delivery to please the crowd. We’ve settled for form over function. We think we’re doing it “right” so long as we’ve covered the list: 15-25 minutes of worship, greeting, a bulletin packed full of cool activities to entertain us, offering, a short lesson on life then a warm “See you next week!” We measure our success by the feedback we receive from those that attend. Did they like it? Did they participate in worship? Are they giving regularly? Is attendance growing?
But there is a much greater measure we must pay more attention to. It’s the invisible but transformational qualities that are present when –and only when – one has an authentic encounter with the Spirit of God. I’m not talking about Charismatic vs. Non-Charismatic. I’m talking about an internal connection not an external expression. I’ve seen way too many people mistake an emotional experience for a Divine Encounter.
Going to church doesn’t change us. Being connected with the Spirit of God changes us. If I had a nickel for every person who complained that they “weren’t being fed” at their present church so they left to find a place “where they can grow”, I’d have enough money to start a whole new church. Fed what? It isn’t scripture because they own the same Bible their pastor does and they can read it as well as their pastor can. It isn’t Sunday school or a Small Group because those are easy to find and join any day of the week. It isn’t a meatier message because we only retain 2% of what we hear anyway. Fed what? No one has a true heart-to-heart with the Spirit of God and walks away hungry. And that has nothing to do with size or denomination.
Let’s say the Holy Spirit is to spiritual growth as blue is to the sky. Now, imagine if tomorrow the blue was obscured from view. As far as the eye could see; a vast blanket of fog and clouds. Everything else just as it should be, but no blue sky. At first we’d miss it a lot but after a while we’d accept the constant clouds and fog as normal. After a generation or so we’d have children who’d never even seen a blue sky. They sing songs about blue skies and draw pictures of blue skies in Sunday school. Perhaps a time or two they glimpsed the blue sky but it was just a fleeting vision that left them hungry for more. Many Christians are living this way day after day, year after year. We’re meant to GROW Spiritually. Too many of us aren’t.
I’m not really interested in arguing how things got this way. I’m sure there are lots of reasons. Nor am I interested in placing blame. I am far more interested in finding churches that are living and growing under the blessing of the Big Blue Sky so we can learn from them. I hope you’ll come along as we hit the road. We have so much to talk about as we go!
In His love and service,