Leadership in a post-Christian culture demands alterations to common conceptions of ministry. One “rule” I’m encountering more often is the methodology to grow churches. There seems to be two predominant ways to build resilient or growing communities. The first is to build excellence in the service and programs. The second is to use the same effort of excellence, but in the direction of establishing deep relationship.
The former is exhausting and once you stop upholding excellence, you lose. The latter is exhausting, yet hopefully becomes reciprocal and lasting. Someone at this point will try to argue that you can do both. But I’m noticing there comes a point in every community where you can’t do both. When that happens, which one will you choose?
The Problem With Excellence in Service
Chasing excellence drains resources that should be going to more important things.
I know a large megachurch in Canada (where I’m from), that was looking to extend their successful multi-site model into a new city. Their primary motivation was to replicate their success, which relied on great preaching and growing through church transfers.
Successfully replicating their attractional model meant they had to maintain excellence in service delivery. They made this point explicit in their launch messaging. To them, “worship [music] wasn’t worth doing unless it was done with excellence”. Not an excellence of a contrite heart, but excellence in production. That’s why both preaching and music were beamed into the new city location.We need to pursue excellence of a contrite heart rather than excellence in production - Rohadi Click To Tweet
Needless to say the flash and attraction only lasted a few months as the format only brought in curious Christians shopping around for the next cool thing. I don’t know how much longer the church itself will last but unfortunately I don’t see longevity in a model that devalues the local church in such an explicit way.
Here’s another story from my recent church plant. At Cypher Church we have turned worship gatherings on its head. Where most churches have an 80/20 problem, (where 80% just watch a service without participating), we have the 90/10. 90% (sometimes 100%) participate in some way. It has created a unique and successful gathering to connect a generation that would otherwise never set foot into a contemporary church expression.
But there’s a problem.
Almost two years in we’ve noticed something. How we gather may have an expiry date. As I wrote earlier in this post on the expiry date of Sunday worship service, we have found our new expression is running its course.
Here’s our revelation. We could continue what is for all intents and purposes a successful service, BUT, we would have to increase the level of excellence. Bigger shows, better bands, cooler ideas. To do so will take more time, resources, and thrust us into a never-ending cycle seeking ways to update and “wow” an audience.
We don’t have the energy for this. But more importantly, increasing excellence and keeping the services won’t suitably answer our desire for a deep discipleship culture.
At some point every gathering runs past its expiry date. For example, the average contemporary Sunday service works but only for the remaining faithful. In order to keep people happy the level of excellence must increase. That’s an exhaustive enterprise for a church with limited resources, and one that heavily values the mission beyond care for the already churched.
What Really Counts?
A recent blog post from a megachurch pastor labeled seven ways other churches could be like his. His measure of success was size where bigger is better. In the process of making other churches “great”, he decried smaller churches, calling them “mediocre” if their existence wasn’t rooted in the delivery of excellent church services complete with awesome bands, relevant talks, and stage presence. He’s not the first to make such comments, and he won’t be the last.
What he reflects is a contemporary mode of what counts, and the fact is many current leaders are formed in this way of thinking. This means if you are interested in connecting beyond the faithful flock that attends a service, and participate in the unfolding mission of God in the neighborhood and city (that extends beyond the safe confines of the church walls), a process of deconstruction must happen. Leaders have to discover new ways to measure success and where to put limited resources in a post-Christian universe.
Where To Now?
Thankfully, God isn’t after our excellence. A mediocre church isn’t the one chasing a flashier Sunday service. It’s the one who faithfully answers “yes” to the unfolding mission placed in front of them in neighborhood and city.
There’s a difference between excellence in production, and excellence in living out calling to love one another and our neighbor. For leaders the pragmatic response is two fold. First, teach what faithful incarnate presence looks like for the church (and no, it’s not faithfully coming to a Sunday service). Second, demonstrate in your own lives what counts: the pursuit of imperfect excellence in life on life.
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