When starting a church from scratch, you begin with a blank slate. It can be fun to plan and dream, but starting with nothing can also be daunting. Where do you begin? What ministries will you start? Will you have an active kids ministry? Youth ministry? The list goes on and on. Because resources are slim at the start, you have to focus on a few critical areas. In the beginning, this is easy to do. But as the church grows, it becomes more and more of a temptation to become something more than what the church was supposed to be.
Mark Dever defines a healthy church as “a congregation that increasingly reflects God’s character as his character has been revealed in his Word.” That means our job in every aspect of what we do as a church is to reflect God’s character. That means when we stop reflecting God’s character, we are reflecting some other character. I don’t believe that churches intentionally stop reflecting God’s character, however it can happen through a series of small decisions that transform and give the church a new shape and a new character.
Here are several, though not exhaustive, of the common misshapen character identities that churches embrace.
1. The Program Church
This church does not know how to function without some sort of program. If it comes in a package, a box, and a hip new marketing approach, they are ready to embrace it. The program church tries to solve problems with programs. That means if there aren’t enough kids at the church, the church implements a new kids program. This church might already have kids programs. Some might replace their existing kids program with a new one. However, others may just decide to add a Sunday night program if they already have Sunday morning and possibly a Wednesday night program. The program church does this with youth, mens, womens, evangelism, and discipleship. While many programs can help a mission focused church, they can have the opposite effect on a program focused church.
2. The Good Works Organization Church
Every church should be engaging their communities with the Gospel. Every church should be addressing the felt needs of their community because those people’s physical needs are also a concern to God. Both are valuable and necessary to reflect the character of God. However, a good works organization church places physical needs ahead of spiritual needs, and everything gets out of balance. Instead of presenting people the only hope for mankind, Jesus Christ, they give people false hopes and empty comforts. Again, good works ministries aren’t bad. They are necessary. However, they should not be the main focus.
3. The Concert Church
There has been a trend with churches today on having award-winning worship bands that write their own music. These bands perform at an incredibly high level, and they are often the main attraction to people coming to that church. Often times, at the concert church, the community, or even the worldwide Christian community knows the church for their music instead of their preaching. There is a reason churches gravitate to the concert church approach. People flock to concert churches to hear good music. If people are willing to pay money to attend concerts with good music all across the country, why wouldn’t they attend a worship service for FREE that had concert quality music? Having high quality concert musicians isn’t inherently wrong or evil. But, pursuing that end as the main thrust of your church is a recipe for disaster.
4. The Busy Church
The busy church is similar to the program church except busyness doesn’t have to just involve programs. It can be any event that fills up a church calendar. Oftentimes, in the busy church, each ministry acts like separate siloed towers that are constantly building up their individual ministries without seeing how they apply to the greater whole. They do this by adding more meetings and events. As each ministry does this, the church becomes full of things to do yet without any sort of unified approach and essential ministry offerings.
They have a hard time saying no to things that fill up the calendar because busyness is often seen as godliness. They equate attendance at events with spiritual growth. However, putting a butt in a chair is no more spiritual growth than a butt in a fighter jet makes one a fighter jet pilot.
5. The Conflict Church
This is the church that has had the notorious reputation in their community for years as the church that couldn’t get along. Pastors only last a few years because the church chews them up and spits them out. This church usually has a small group that retains control of the church, and if anyone ever confronts them or stands up to them, some terrible conflict breaks out.
6. The Bureaucratic Church
As churches are started, they rarely begin with bureaucracy. It’s hard to be bureaucratic when it’s only five people meeting in the pastor’s home. But as a church grows and through time, bureaucracy creeps in. It starts as a way to protect against abuses and inconsistencies in the organization. Initially, they are good changes, but over time, bureaucratic churches become stifling and impossible to make course corrections. To make the crucial change, you have to consult ten committees and many times, half of the committees aren’t even in operation anymore. Finding the balance with appropriate accountability structures and yet still retaining freedom to move nimbly to where God directs and leads is a difficult tension. Yet, the mission focused church must do this.