No such thing.
I am more convinced than ever. Despite the claims of this place (which seem to be grossly exaggerated), I am more sure than ever that there’s no perfect church.
While I’m at it, let me go a step further—because I doubt that many will dispute that there are no perfect churches. I’ve actually become fairly sure that most churches that are “successful” (whatever that means) aren’t even really sure why they’re successful and, conversely, most churches that aren’t successful can’t really be sure why they’re not.
Obviously, there are some sure-fire “church killers.” If you stop focusing on Scripture and the biblical gospel, your church is gonna die. Maybe not soon. But it eventually will. The biggest church in America is going to die. Even huge churches that stop focusing on Scripture and the biblical gospel are not immune. Whole denominations are not immune.
I was part of a conversation at lunch today that focused mainly on how to “do church” well. What does “success” mean? Is there one thing that is biblical success, or do different churches have different and valid meanings of “success”? What do “numbers” mean? How do you measure what’s really going on when you have lots of people at your church or have few people at your church? (Hint: You can’t.) What is “church”? Do programs work? Always? Never? Sometimes? What about these churches that have a charismatic (not that kind) speaker and a rockin’ band and they get thousands of people? Is that necessarily good or bad? Are huge churches doing something right or something wrong? Are small churches doing something wrong or something right? Is it possible to know?
Every week there is a new article or program or book that promises huge results and has promising people promising huge results from it. Just this morning there was another one. This one was all the rage not long ago. There’s also this one and this one and this one and everything from this guy. They all have good ideas. They all make valid points. And none of them will necessarily do much to help your church. That’s the truth that is never spoken. Sometimes you’re faithful and you get sawn in two anyway (Heb. 11:37).
Here’s what I’m (close to) convinced of: No one understands our culture perfectly. Therefore no one understands the subculture/demographic they’re trying to reach perfectly. And no one understands what reaches that subculture/demographic perfectly. And no one implements perfectly what reaches the subculture/demographic they’re trying to reach. And no one has a perfect grasp on what “reach” means.
So… where is this rant going?
Here’s what I think: I think church leaders need not be so frustrated. I think we need to think carefully about what we want to do. We need to come up with an imperfectly conceived, imperfectly thought-out, imperfectly implemented plan and then pray, submit ourselves to God, and see what the Holy Spirit does with it.
I deeply appreciate the humility of people like Matt Chandler, whose church has grown to 6,000+ in six years and he admits that he doesn’t know why. He’s actually surprised. And he admits that there are both a lot of committed followers of Christ as well as a lot of uncommitted “Christians” at his church. And he doesn’t like it (the latter, that is). I suspect that he’ll never try to write a book on how to “do ministry” because he and his staff don’t know what happened. Matt started preaching, he hired his friends, and the church blew up. He accepts conference speaking invitations with a certain amount of disdain because he knows he’s doing nothing differently than a thousand other pastors whose churches aren’t going as well. But no one asks pastors of churches of 200 people to speak at conferences—even if they are doing exactly what Chandler is doing.
On the other hand, I think it’s hilarious that so many pastors with big churches think they know why their church is big. I don’t think they do. I really don’t. Not fully. There are too many factors involved – some known and some unknown.
So, am I saying that “how to do church” books are worthless? Of course not. Am I saying that Ed Stetzer isn’t a genius. Of course not. Am I saying that the numerical “success” of megachurches is always hollow? Of course not. Am I saying that the smallness of small churches is always virtuous? Of course not. I’m saying that “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (3:8).