Monday, June 8, 2009

What makes for a great church?

Another good Sunday at church this weekend has set up some reflective thought about what exactly makes great community of faith: How can some churches be flat and uninspiring - and then the simple fact of walking into other houses of worship produces a tingle of anticipation or the unmistakable warmth of coming home?

There's an unmistakable electricity in the air at my church; it's as if people can sense the presence of God, even when walking in before the service starts. What exactly explains that?

Believe it or not, I have a theory. Here goes:
  • First and foremost, it's about Jesus, not us. People at our church are Jesus-followers before they are anything else. It shows.
  • It's not the great preaching - although I don't think I've ever heard more consistent sermons or better teaching or entertaining messages than we enjoy every week from Rebekah and Tim...
  • It's not the music - even though I believe our Praise Band is phenomenal and the choir at 11:00 is excellent. Mark and Brad do a phenomenal job leading worship.
  • It's not the people - but I do have to say there's a genuineness and a welcoming spirit it would be hard to replicate anywhere else.
  • And it's not because we're a packed-out house or there's energy from a huge crowd - Attendance is good but it could be better.
So what is it that makes the difference? Presbyterian pastor and author Graham Standish (click his name to read more) talks about the idea of "Blessed Community" in one of his books. He argues that every congregation, even the smallest, has a key group of folk (sometimes maybe only 2-3 people) who pray for the church on a regular basis. That core is the "blessed community."...

... My theory about First Presbyterian of Brandon (click the photo for the church web-site) is that we have an absolutely HUGE blessed community. It starts with the elders - who work together as a ministry team before they are administrators. Then, any given week, between ten and thirty small groups meet, each with anywhere from five to twenty people who pray with and for one another, study the Bible, care for one another, do mission, and pray fervently for the whole church.

... Additionally, a high percentage of church members take plart in mission, outreach, service and other projects every day of the week. Serving meals to the homeless, tutoring children, visiting the sick - reaching out all the time and in scores of different ways.

Consequently, by the time the community gathers together for worship on Sunday morning, the Spirit has been active and engaged all week long! That's why the electric spirit present in worship has very little to do with the quality of the preaching or the music or anything else. It has everything to do with what happens Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The "blessed community" drives our life as a faithful congregation.

That's why, even though we'd like to see an increase in attendance, around 70-80% of the church is in worship together any given Sunday (the average for churches our size is 35-40%). We have membership a little over 500 but weekly attendance around 400.

I firmly believe that the membership statistics for a church are maybe the least important number when it comes to understanding the health of a given church. The real question is how deeply do members love Jesus? And how does that love translate into service?

If church members are living authentic lives of self-giving faith, following Jesus as active and faithful Twenty-first Century disciples - then everything else that matters will fall into place.

Then - when anyone walks into church on a Sunday morning - the presence of God will be obvious. God's people, being the people of God and doing the work of God - because we love Jesus.

Love and blessings - DEREK

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