Sunday, March 22, 2009

Thinking About Churches

I spent time with three churches today. The visits were very enjoyable and a great blessing. Two were to smaller, rural churchs (or, rather churches in small towns), and the other was a large, urban church. One was somewhat progressive, the other two quite conservative (and which was which might surprise you). One sermon was given somewhat unorthodoxically by a youth minister (who did a spectacular job), another was given by a seasoned preacher (who delivered a rather traditional, by the book, but effective sermon), and the third was a rather routine mission report given by someone named Jeff Foster. All three churches, however, were vibrant, friendly, and certainly settings where God was proclaimed and praised and the worshippers encouraged.

I've said it before, but among the great blessings I have in life are the opportunities to visit so many congregations. On most Sundays (those on which I am away from Gallup), I worship with at least two churches, and occasionally, with three! The churches I have visited cover the spectrum (at least, the spectrum within the fellowship of Churches of Christ) of size, theology, vibrancy, etc. My visits in the past 18 months total over 100 during times of general assembly (worship), and I've been blessed to personally speak to approximately 70 churches (in 14 different states) during this time. During these visits, I've made some observations.

Chiefly, the key to church growth is NOT found in mechanics (or, how we "do" or "don't do" worship). Growth, in my humble opinion, is MUCH more about attitude and passion.
  • Cheerfulness means so much more than whether or not a church sings contemporary or traditional, and supercedes any of the other debatable issues of our time. (And, by the way, a soulful "Amazing Grace" is just as stirring as a soul-pounding "Days of Elijah," and vice-versa.) Cheerfulness is communicated in the smiles that fill an auditorium, and in the eagerness to welcome visitors, and in the full-throated singing of those gathered (among other ways).
  • Genuineness can be communicated as effervescently by a "stuffed vest" church as it can be a shorts and t-shirt clad group of worshippers. Genuineness is not rooted in arrogant condescension, but in a humble faith that yearns for the well-being of others and the earnest desire to share God's great love with all. Genuineness is seen clearly in the fruit produced in the lives of believers and NOT in methodology.

Oh, and one more observation . . . about church architecture. I am tired of performance halls (where the attendees look straight forward toward the stage). I long for a "theater in the round" setting, where worshipper and leader alike are together and the eyes of all are on all and the voices of all blend as offering raised to God.