One of the first summer jobs I can remember was working on a bridge crew. It was a tough job. You know, the kind where you arrive before the sun comes up and leave as the sun sets. Exhausting. But I learned a lot about engineering bridges that summer.
Here’s what I learned the first day on the job…building bridges starts with driving pillars in the ground. No pillars = no bridge.
What is true of bridges is also true of the church. There are values and ideals that shape the culture of every church. Not all pillars are the same. But all churches have pillars.
Here are 10 (pillars) that are vital for a church culture to grow.
1.) Christ is more important than denominational allegiances.
My denominational background is Church of Christ. I love the heritage and core principles of my fellowship. But my allegiance isn’t to the Church of Christ. My allegiance is to Jesus. The church isn’t a denomination. The church is the body of Jesus Christ. If a particular fellowship of Christians hinders you from maturing and sharing the gospel, abandon them.
2.) If the church isn’t a safe place for everyone, it’s not the church.
The church is a hospital. I heard this a gazillion times growing up. But is it, really? I have been in hospitals. And there is a consistent theme in every hospital I have seen…people are prepared to treat sick people. They look for sick people. They expect sick people to show up. Hospitals don’t turn people away.
But the church? Is the church really a hospital?
Whether your church accepts and treats the sick, the marginalized, the oppressed, here’s the reality. The moment any church stops accepting and treating the lowest of the low, that church ceases to be the body of Jesus Christ. If the church isn’t a place for the gay couple, the racist, the abused mother, then it’s not the church. Call it something else. Safe Houses For The Saved. Escape Rooms For The Already Equipped. Doesn’t matter what you call it. But don’t call it the body of Jesus Christ.
3.) Churches should do anything short of sin to spread the message of the gospel to the world.
The message of the gospel is a message of life and death. And not just physical. Eternal. This is serious stuff.
Traditions, selfish ambitions, fears, and even our own earthly lives must take a back seat to the spreading of the gospel to every person. Until this shift in perspective happens, churches will fail to live out the purpose our Savior left for them in Matthew 28.
God won’t honor our attempts to fulfill the Great Commission if those attempts dishonor his name. But God will also not honor our attempts to hold tight our traditions and selfish desires at the expense of spreading his name.
4.) Churches that value evangelism and discipleship must value social media.
If churches see evangelism and discipleship as important components of church mission and vision, they must engage on social media.
Social media gives churches a platform never imagined 20 years ago. Churches that don’t value social media and don’t see the enormous importance of reaching people through it aren’t doing everything they can to spread the gospel to the world.
5.) Churches should never settle for anything less than excellence.
Growing up, my parents gave me the same speech every time I went out of town for a field trip or athletic event. “Now, Frank, remember, you are not just representing yourself. You are representing this family.” Anyone else get this speech?
Maybe my parents were overly concerned I would tarnish the Powell name. Anyway.
Every weekend, churches are representing God. This is a huge responsibility. And when church buildings are poorly maintained, worship and sermons are poorly presented, and programs are poorly thought out, what message is the world receiving about our God?
The standard is excellence. When those who don’t know Jesus step into our churches and pay attention to our lives, they should see something different.
6.) Discipleship and evangelism are ways of life, not programs.
I am tired of hiding behind endless discipleship and evangelism programs. I fear they have crippled the church. Here’s why: when churches offers a “fill the streets for Jesus” program once a year, it allows Christians to use that event as their yearly evangelism effort.
I am not against these events. They can be a catalyst for something great. But the message must be that discipleship and evangelism are not events to be programmed, they are mindsets for the people of God to live out everyday, everywhere.
At work. School. Restaurants. The goal of church leaders should be to equip the saints for ministry (Eph. 4:12). And it is church leaders’ ability to do this that will determine the impact the church has on the world.
7.) Church growth means focusing on the next generation.
Churches that focus time and energy on reaching the next generation will remain vibrant and growing in the years to come. This means pouring into children. It means valuing the opinion and insight of the teens and college age at your church. And, yes, it means re-orienting your philosophies and missions to reach the next generation. The men and women of the next generation are not the church of the future…they are the church of the present.
Carey Neiuwhof, a blogger focused on reaching the unchurched said this, “As a rule, if you can design services that engage teenagers, you’ve designed a church service that engages unchurched people.”
This is why focusing on the next generation is enormously important. Churches focused on the next generation = churches focused on non-Christians. Churches that value reaching the lost must value reaching the next generation.
8.) Church leaders should constantly raise the bar, not lower it.
When I was in junior high, I often lowered my basketball goal to make playing more fun. I could dunk…backwards. I could alley-oop my friends. The goal was only 7 feet high. Who cares. It was awesome.
But lowering the goal didn’t help me become a better basketball player. It actually hindered my game. If I ever played competitively, the goal was going to be set at 10 feet. Period. Lowering the bar might have been fun. But it didn’t challenge me.
The same is true for the church. Churches are going to continue to lower the bar until the bar is resting on the ground. And when the bar rests on the ground we no longer need God. The church will be nothing more than a collection of feel good clubs with some “Jesus” principles.
And when I say churches should raise the bar, I don’t mean church leaders should use more Greek, Hebrew, and big “churchy” words in sermons. I mean the messages should be unapologetically centered on the offensive message of the cross and Christians should be challenged to live counter-culturally.
Christianity is not easy. And I am convinced “easy” is the only reason churches lower the bar for worship, christian living, etc.
“No offensive messages. Shorter sermons. More pizza…less Jesus.” Everybody stays happy.
Lowering the bar won’t transform lives. And as stubborn as I may appear, I will never let go of this truth. What God’s people need is an expanded, convicting view of Jesus. What the world needs is men and women that will constantly raise the bar and invite people to reach higher.
Lowering the bar might be easy, but it won’t transform. Which is more important?
9.) Growth should be measured by conversions to Christ, not transfers from another church.
One reason churches don’t have a greater sense of urgency towards non-Christians is because transfers and converts are seen as two sides of the same coin. In other words, attendance on Sunday is the primary metric for success. If Sunday morning attendance is growing, the church is healthy.
But it is entirely possible for a church to be growing on Sunday while having no impact on the world. In today’s culture, people swap churches because the pastor wore a striped shirt instead of a solid one. The “hot” church often vultures Christians who want to follow the latest fad or cool thing. This is not growth. At least not Great Commission growth.
Churches must be focused on reaching the lost, not reaching a certain attendance on Sunday morning.
10.) The church should focus on pointing people to Jesus, not pointing out a list of sins.
The traditional model for churches is behave-believe-belong. Here is why that model is flawed. It asks those who don’t know Jesus to magically transform their lives to fit a certain standard prescribed by the surrounding Christian community. God is capable of magical transformation, but Paul tells us transformation happens incrementally, over time (2 Cor. 3:18).
And when the church forces non-Christians to conform to a standard of living before being accepted, the church becomes a club.
The better model is belong-believe-behave. Here, the church becomes the hospital described above. A place where broken people (just like you and me) have a safe place. This model treats people as individuals, taking them where they are and placing them on a path towards Jesus.
I am learning. I am growing. At no point will I ever know everything there is to know about God or his church. But these are some pillars I have. They are not the only 10. Yours might be different. Regardless, we must all agree Christ is the cornerstone. Without him, nothing is possible. With him, nothing is impossible.
I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!