Yesterday I republished my 2013 pastoral newsletter article in which I discussed three types of Christians and how they relate to Eeyore, Rabbit, and Tigger. Every church includes all three of these believers. However, not all churches are the same.
After reading countless articles and church-related research work by individuals and groups such as Thom Rainer, LifeWay Research, and the Barna Group, I’ve determined that there are three types of churches. Each church type is characterized and defined by their perspective: looking in, looking out, or looking up.
Looking In: Me-Centered Churches
Churches that are “me-centered” look inward to themselves in order to please themselves. Their perspective is skewed by the congregation’s overall desire to be personally satisfied.
- Self-serving attitude. Members make their desires and being served a high priority. Everything from church organization, worship styles, and leadership methods are about pleasing the members. As such, church is all about them.
- Conformity. Not in the sense of a cult. Rather, those who come in, whether leaders or laity, are encouraged to change in order satisfy the church’s self-serving attitude. Leaders are often told “We are this type of church,” “You should be like this,” or “You should do what he or she did.” People are accepted for who they are so long as who they are conforms to others.
- Possessiveness. Me-centered churches exhibit a sense of possession, e.g., my church, my way. Members often highlight how long they’ve been at the church and reminisce about days-gone-by (cf. idolizing the past). As such, those who try something new are met with resistance from possessive members.
- Idolization of the past. There is a difference between honoring the past and idolizing it. Honoring the past means learning from it while welcoming needed changes. Idolizing the past means trying to retain or regain the styles, approaches, and attitudes of the past.
- Judgmentalism. Me-centered churches (and me-centered Christians) are quick to condemn others. Often couched in spiritual terms, those with a differing approach, other denominations, or anyone who doesn’t fit the person’s predetermined spiritual mold are somehow less Christian or less righteous.
- Power struggles and internal politics. Sadly, there are always those who want more power. However, me-centered churches are often plagued by individuals struggling to gain or maintain power or influence. Sometimes these struggles are clearly visible, but sometimes they merely fester under the surface. Regardless, they do exist.
Curing the Condition
The cure to me-centered churches is a radical paradigm shift. Members need a spiritual heart transplant (or a spiritual lobotomy, you pick). Confession of sin, repentance, and a total submission to the Holy Spirit are required to cure this type of church. In short, they need genuine revival (not revival services).
Looking Out: Church-Centered Churches
Looking outward (i.e., the horizontal view) can refer to two things: (1) seeing others as individuals in need of God’s love or (2) seeing others as opportunities to expand the church’s size, influence, and notoriety. The latter idea is in mind here.
Churches that are “church-centered” look outward for opportunities to grow the church. They are interested in self-promotion more than kingdom growth. Although their intentions may be good, they misconstrue promoting the local church with promoting Jesus. Some church-centered churches have fallen victim to the “evangelistic delusion.”
- Numbers-driven. Leaders and members place a high priority on quantity, often to the detriment of quality. The goal is numerical increase, and everything is geared toward that end.
- Evangelism is replaced by church outreach. Church-centered churches spend time and resources promoting the church. Evangelism (sharing Jesus) either becomes a secondary issue or is seen as synonymous with church promotion.
- Social ministry outshines gospel ministry. Meeting the physical needs of others is biblical, but it should never replace nor be made equal to meeting spiritual needs. However, church-centered churches often focus on physical needs rather than spiritual needs.
- Program-driven. In order to promote itself and generate higher numbers, church-centered churches often implement programs designed to bring people in (cf. numbers-driven).
- Fad-driven. Many church-centered churches follow ministry fads such as being purpose-driven, seeker-sensitive, and other popular movements.
- Denomination usurps the kingdom. Sometimes church-centered churches expand their self-promotion to the denomination. They wish to grow the man-made institution’s numbers, influence, and popularity instead of—or in the name of—Christ.
Curing the Condition
Whereas me-centered churches need a radical paradigm shift, church-centered churches only require a renewed focus on the gospel. The purpose and message of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection need to be re-emphasized, and ministries need to be restructured to become evangelistic.
Looking Up: Gospel-Centered Churches
The ideal church is one that looks up toward the risen Savior (i.e., the vertical view). Thus, they are gospel-centered. Their focus is on glorifying God and ensuring that every aspect of the church’s ministry emphasizes the gospel message of Christ. Caring for the needs of others, personal and corporate evangelism, and spiritual growth are the natural byproducts of gospel-centeredness.
- Emphasis on the gospel and kingdom growth. The gospel not only permeates everything the church does, it defines all the activities and ministries (Matt 6:33).
- Personal evangelism is a priority. Many churches talk about personal evangelism, but gospel-centered churches develop strategies to encourage and improve it among all congregants (Acts 1:8).
- Authentic, biblical worship. Worship is more spiritual, more genuine, and more meaningful when the gospel is emphasized (John 4:24).
- God is exalted. When a church is gospel-centered, it gives all glory to God, submits all it does to the Holy Spirit, and emphasizes the risen Savior, Jesus (1 Chron 29:11).
- Engages is evangelistic social ministry. Gospel-centered churches participate in social ministry, but do so evangelistically. That is, social ministry is a tool used to show God’s love and to share Jesus’ message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone (John 6:22-69).
- Disciple-makers are developed. Every church wants to make disciples, but gospel-centered churches make disciple-makers. In gospel-centered churches Christians grow in their relationship with Jesus and help others do the same (2 Tim 2:2). Furthermore, these disciple-makers seek ways to get engaged in evangelistic ministry (Eph 2:10)
Maintaining the Condition
It can be difficult to maintain gospel-centeredness within a church because a church is made up of imperfect humans (Isa 53:6). They key is to regularly evaluate every aspect of the church and ensure that the gospel is the focus and purpose in all the church does. This requires daily prayer, surrender to God, and biblical study.
Which of these three describes your church? Every church is different, but each falls into one of these three categories. Furthermore, every church has the potential to be the ideal!