Saturday, October 22, 2011

How to Evaluate a Church by Jeff Keeney

by Jeff Keeney of 
Gospel Centric
With a church on just about every corner in many parts of the U. S. and very few churches in other parts of the country, how do you know which church to attend? Why do people go to a specific church? Is it because of the building, or the programs or people? Is it because of correct doctrine, or solid gospel-centered preaching? Or maybe its just convenient? Maybe some of these questions seem silly, but what do people that are looking for a church to call home look for in a church? How do you evaluate a church?
While there are some great resources that are now available to help people find a Bible preaching, teaching and believing church, a quick evaluation can frequently be made based on the philosophy of ministry. What is a philosophy of ministry? This is the guiding principle that will influence and ultimately shape how the church – does church. It will guide the church in their preaching, teaching, worship, service and outreach – even the design of the building and parking lot.
A comparison of foundational philosophies of ministry:

Attractional vs. IncarnationalAttractional approaches to ministry are very popular today. Mega churches like Saddleback and its pastor – Rick Warren, and Willow Creek and its pastor – Bill Hybels, have exerted a tremendous influence on the Evangelical landscape in America. These churches, while differing in many ways, frequently take the basic approach that if we make our building, preaching and programs attractive – then people will come. The idea that drives this approach is that if you can just get the people in the doors, you can keep them there. However, this frequently leads to many problems – how do you preach and teach on sin, hell and the wrath of God? How do you practice church discipline? How do you handle church membership? The attractional model leads to a slippery slope where the clear teaching and application of Scripture must be either ignored or modified in order for this model of church to continue and flourish.

Many churches prefer to view things not from an attractional, but incarnational perspective. Instead of having the church focused on attracting people, many of which are unchurched or non-believers, this approach takes the ministry to the people. Like the Son of God condescending to leave His heavenly home and dwell among those whom He loved, this church wants to be known for their willingness to take the gospel from within the walls of their building to affect the lives of those they come into contact. The focus is on keeping Jesus high and lifted up, in the preaching, teaching, and worship, as well as in the application of members living gospel-centered lives in the community and work place.

Width vs. DepthIn polling various churches, the vast majority cite numeric growth as their driving evidence of success. Success is measured by quantifiable numbers of weekly attendance, small group attendance, Sunday school attendance, etc. Achievement is determined by the number of people with whom the message is shared. The Bible understands a primary purpose of the local church is to make disciples. Not mere attendees or even converts, but disciples – mature followers of Jesus Christ. In the end, the “Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be [Christ’s] disciples.”

Marketing vs. MissionSome churches exercise a marketing approach to ministry in which they hope to create a brand name to fit in a certain niche. Perhaps they are the church with good music, or a great drama team or a really excellent children’s ministry. Like the attractional approach, the hope is to market the church to bring people in. The problem that we see with this approach is that it is generally true that “what you win them with is what you keep them with.” If you win people with lights and smoke, then next year you need more lights and more smoke. You are always forced to better your resources and marketing of those resources to distinguish yourself. The challenge is that the culture is always changing and when you market a specific segment or ministry, then you inevitably teach that your church is not for everyone.

The missional church hopes to win people by the gospel of Jesus Christ. If they can do this, then all they have to do to keep them is continue to preach the gospel — what they should be doing anyway. They hope to accomplish this through challenging their people to have a missional perspective as they live a gospel-centered life. So, the church will experience growth because of mission rather than marketing.

Entitlement vs. Sacrifice
A deep and pervasive sense of entitlement exists in much of the evangelical community. Those who have such an attitude, though they might not articulate it, assume that the church exists merely to meet one’s own felt needs. Therefore, the church that caters to such an ideology is forced to create thousands of different programs to meet those ever-changing desires.

The Bible teaches not that the church exists to meet your needs, but rather that you exist to meet the needs of others. A heart of humility does not say “meet my needs,” but instead “do not cater to me. I am here to serve.” In the end, the greatest need, felt or not, is for the gospel. If we spend our time meeting peripheral issues, all we have done is dealt with symptoms without addressing the disease. Certainly we recognize the legitimacy of needs and are here to serve those in need, but an attitude of entitlement and true service are at odds.

Theology influences philosophy which in turn determines practice. The hope and expectation is that the church’s practice lines up with those beliefs.

- thanks to the Village Church for many of these points

Additional Resources:
IX Marks of Healthy Church

How Not to Grow a Healthy Church

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