Archive for May 5, 2012

The Purpose-Driven Church

I have been reading a book titled, “The Purpose Driven Church” by Rick Warren, a Southern Baptist minister. Although we don’t call people to give their life over to Christ as the Baptists do, there is much that can be learned from Warren’s experience. He started a congregation in California that grew from one family to 10,000 in fifteen years even though they did not have a building. They also planted twenty-six other congregations. Most people think of “vision” as the ability to see the future. But in today’s rapidly changing world, vision is also the ability to accurately assess current changes and take advantage of them. Vision is being alert to opportunities and responding to them.  Using his experiences, successes and failures, he has taken what he has learned over twenty years of ministry and put it into a book. I will paraphrase and summarize what he shares in his book.

The church is a living organism, so it is natural for it to grow if it is healthy. The church is a body, not a business. It is an organism, not an organization. It is alive. If a church is not growing, it is dying. The key issue for churches in the twenty-first century will be church health, not church growth. Focusing on growth alone misses the point. When congregations are healthy, they grow the way God intends. Healthy churches don’t need gimmicks to grow – they grow naturally. “It is from him that all the parts of the body are cared for and held together. So it grows in the way God wants it to grow. (Col. 2:19)

God’s Spirit is moving in waves around the world. God is sending waves of church growth wherever his people are prepared to ride them. We need to stop praying, “Lord, bless what we are doing” and start praying, “Lord, help us to do what you are blessing.” The wrong question is, “What will make our church grow?” The right question is, “What is keeping our church from growing?”

Healthy, lasting church growth is multidimensional. Genuine church growth has five facets. Churches grow warmer through fellowship. Churches grow deeper through discipleship. Churches grow  stronger through worship. Churches grow broader through ministry. Churches grow larger through evangelism. In Acts 2:42-47, these five facets of growth are described in the first church at Jerusalem. The first Christians fellowshipped, edified each other, worshipped, ministered, and evangelized. As a result, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Church growth is a natural result of church health. Church health can only occur when our message is biblical and our mission is  balanced. Each of the five New Testament purposes of the church must be in equilibrium with the others for health to occur. Balance in a church does not occur naturally; we must continually correct imbalance. It is human nature to overemphasize the aspect of the church we feel most passionate about.

Every church is driven by something. There is a guiding force, a controlling assumption, a directing conviction behind everything that happens. It may be unspoken. It may be unknown to many. Most likely it’s never been officially voted on. But it is there, influencing every aspect of the church’s life. What is the driving force behind our church?

Churches Driven by Tradition
In the tradition-driven church the favourite phrase is “We’ve always done it this way.” The goal of a tradition-driven church is to simply perpetuate the past. Change is almost always seen as negative, and stagnation is interpreted as “stability.” Older churches tend to be bound together by rules, regulations, and rituals, while younger churches tend to be bound together by a sense of purpose and mission. Tradition can be such a driving force that everything else, even God’s will, becomes secondary. The seven last words of the church are, “We’ve never done it that way before.”

Churches Driven by Personality
In this church the most important question is, “What does the leader want? If the church has a history of changing pastors every few years, a key layperson is likely to be the driving force. One problem with a personality-driven church is that its agenda is determined more by the background, needs, and insecurities of the leader than by God’s will or the needs of the people. The personality-driven church comes to a standstill when its driving personality leaves or dies.

Churches Driven by Finances   
The question at the forefront of everyone’s mind in a finance-driven church is, “How much will it cost?” Nothing else ever seems quite as important as finances. The most heated debate in a finance-driven church is always over the budget. While good stewardship and cash flow are essential for a healthy church, finances must never be the controlling issue. The greater issue should be what God wants the church to do. Churches do not exist to make a profit. The bottom line in any church should not be “How much did we save?” but “Who was saved?” Many churches are driven by faith in their early years and driven by finances in later years.

Churches Driven by Programs

The Sunday school, the women’s program, the choir, and the youth group are examples of programs that are  driving forces in some churches. In program-driven churches, all the energy is spent on maintaining and sustaining the programs of the church. Often, the program-driven church’s goal subtly shifts from developing people to just filling positions, and the nominating committee becomes the most crucial group in the church. If results from a program diminish, the people involved blame themselves for not working hard enough. No one ever questions if a program still works.

Churches Driven by Buildings
Winston Churchill once said, “We shape our buildings, and then they shape us.” too often a congregation is so anxious to have a nice building that the members spend more than they can afford. Paying for and maintaining the building becomes the biggest budget item. Funds needed to operate ministries must be diverted to pay the mortgage or repairs, and the actual ministry of the church suffers. The tail ends up wagging the dog. In other situations, churches allow the smallness of their building to set the limit for future growth. Staying with a historic, but inadequate, building should never take priority over reaching the community.

Churches Driven by Events
A calendar of an event-driven church might give the impression that the goal of the church is to keep people busy. Something is going on every night of the week. As soon as one big event is completed, work begins on the next one. There is a lot of activity in churches like this, but not necessarily productivity. A church may be busy without having a clear purpose for what it does. One needs to ask, “What is the purpose behind each of our activities?” In the event-driven church, attendance becomes the sole measurement of faithfulness and maturity. We must be wary of the tendency to allow meetings to replace ministry as the primary activity of believers.

Churches Driven by Seekers
In an honest attempt to reach unbelievers for Christ and be relevant in today’s culture, some churches allow the needs of the unbelievers to become their driving force. The primary question asked is, “What do the unchurched want?” While we must be sensitive to the needs, hurts, and interests of seekers, and while it is wise to design evangelistic services that target their needs, we cannot allow seekers to drive the total agenda of the church. God’s purposes for his church include evangelism – but not to the exclusion of his other purposes. Attracting seekers is the first step in the process of making disciples, but it should not be the driving force of the church. While it is fine for a business to be market driven (give the customer whatever he wants), a church has a higher calling. The church should be seeker sensitive but it must not be seeker driven. We must adapt our communication style to our culture without  abdicating to it.

A Biblical Paradigm: Purpose-Driven Churches
What is needed today are churches that are driven by purpose instead of by other forces. The purpose-driven church is a biblical and healthy alternative to traditional ways that churches have organized and operated. There are two essential elements of this paradigm. First, it requires a new perspective. We must begin to look at everything our church does through the lens of the five New Testament purposes and see how God intends for the church to balance all five purposes.

Second, this paradigm requires a process for fulfilling the purposes of the church. Our church can become healthier, stronger, and more effective by becoming a purpose-driven church. Paul said that God will judge whatever we build on the basis of whether it will last: “But on the judgement day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, the builder will receive a reward.” Paul also tells us that the key to building something that lasts is to build it on the right foundation.
Strong churches are built on purpose! By focusing equally on all five of the New Testament purposes of the church, our church will develop the healthy balance that makes lasting growth possible.  “You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.” (Proverbs 19:21) Plans, programmes, and personalities don’t last. But God’s purposes will last.
Nothing precedes purpose. The starting point for every church should be the question, “Why do we exist?” Until you know what your church exists for, you have no foundation, no motivation, and no direction for ministry. An existing church needs to redefine its purpose, to recapture a clear vision of what God wants to do in and through the church family. Absolutely nothing will revitalize a discouraged church faster than rediscovering its purpose. Strong churches are not built on programmes, personalities, or gimmicks. They are built on the eternal purposes of God.