By Andy Waits, Associate Pastor, FBC Springville
Every week or so I will get a text message from a friend or church member calling my attention to another Facebook thread. Someone has gotten on What’s Happening in Springville/Argo/Odenville/Moody/Pell City/Trussville and is asking for recommendations for a good church. Like most millennials, I get my popcorn ready to enjoy the show.
It seems innocent enough at first. A new person moves to town and wants to get involved in a church. Or, a person is going through a tough time and needs the support of Christian people around them. Or, sometimes our Lord has gotten someone’s attention, and they are simply looking to take the next step in their relationship with God. This is great news!
However, the concerning aspect begins when they start putting conditions, preferences, and limits on their worship. You’ve seen it. “I want a church that sings from the hymnal, has choir robes and only has a piano and an organ.” “I only attend a church with contemporary music and a pastor that wears skinny jeans.” “I don’t like big churches so I am looking for a church with fifty people or less.” It seems the common thread here is the word “I”. Many churches today are extremely man-centered, not focused on the worship of God. Their focus is my tastes, my preferences, my feelings, tingling my emotions, and my comfort level. God doesn’t smile at this.
The entertainment factor always comes in the comments. I call them “the vultures”. They swarm at any mention of someone looking for a church and act like high-pressure used car salesmen. Whatever church gets the most comments wins the game and secures a lifelong commitment in the form of a new church member, right? I speak for most millennials when I say the number one way to get someone never to visit your church is to invite, put pressure, or visit us at our home.
One thing I see churches doing is revealing their desperation for members. From “We’re giving away free iPads this Sunday” to “You will never be offended at our church because our Pastor doesn’t preach on sin,” I’m concerned too many churches care more about filling the pews with people than lifting pure praise to our Heavenly Father. Drawing a crowd doesn’t mean you’ve grown the church. Outreach and evangelism is vitally important, but not at the expense of a healthy congregation. Games and gimmicks might work temporarily, but the masses will walk away when you stop giving them free stuff and start ministering to their soul. If you think I am crazy, just ask Jesus if it’s true (John 6:66).
Church attendance is on the decline in the US. We all want more people to be involved in church. We all want their lives to be forever changed by the gospel. However, there is a right way and a wrong way to approach outreach. I take the long view. People still choose a church because of relationships: people they know and trust. They see through quick-pitch evangelism and a worldly sales presentation. It may take longer, but building relationships works.
As a Pastor friend told me this week: “I’d rather have a few with God that a multitude with the Devil any day of the week.”