Six Reasons Comparisons Hurt Churches
When I wrote I Am a Church Member, I noted the key role 1 Corinthians 13 plays in defining what should be expected of a church member. Of course, many view this “love chapter” without understanding that Paul wrote it in the context of speaking to church members about their attitudes and behaviors in a local congregation.
So I often propose “What if?” questions to church leaders and members with 1 Corinthians 13 in the background. What if I am patient with members and leaders in my church? What if I am always kind to them? What if I put their needs before my own? What if I viewed my church with all of its imperfections in light of unconditional love?
You get the picture.
Unhealthy churches have numbers of leaders and/or members who do not practice 1 Corinthians 13 in their local congregations. These persons tend to seek their picture of an ideal church rather than loving their current church, her leaders, and her members. They are thus constantly comparing some aspect of the church with some other church or members or leaders. As a result, six unhealthy consequences unfold when these comparisons take place.
- Comparison creates dissatisfaction among members with the pastors and staff. “The current pastor does not preach like the pastor at some other church.” “Our student pastor is not as dynamic as the other guy at the other church.” “If only our pastor would keep his sermons as brief as my former pastor.” “I know that the pastor at the other church visits the members more than our pastor.”
- Pastors and church staff can have the “green grass” syndrome when they compare their churches and its members with some other church. I once asked a friend to name his favorite church of the several he had served as pastor. His response was both amusing and sad: “The next one.” He would move from one church to another seeking that perfect congregation. Of course, that place does not exist.
- Comparisons create unhealthy expectations. Being a church member is somewhat akin to being married. How many of us have thought our marriage could be so much better if our spouse could become something he or she is not? No church is perfect. All struggle in some way or another. When we compare our church to some other congregation, we may be creating an expectation that is neither realistic nor healthy.
- When we compare, we become consumer members instead of serving members. The role of church members and leaders is to serve. We are to serve God first, and our fellow members next. When we compare churches, we are putting our self-interests and perceived needs ahead of others. We engage in “church shopping,” a phrase you will find nowhere in the Bible.
- Comparing creates a culture of criticism. Leaders and members constantly note where the church and its members fall short. They regularly assess the pastor and other leaders as to ways they don’t meet expectations. The natural outflow of such a mindset is unholy dissatisfaction and criticisms.
- When we compare, we don’t take time to “look in the mirror.” In my first church where I served as pastor, I became irritated and frustrated with the members. My experience was nothing like I had anticipated or hoped. When I started complaining to God about “those people,” God convicted me of my own inadequacies, my own sins, and my own problems. I had spent too much time looking at the splinter in others’ eyes rather than the log in my eye.
I have been guilty of comparisons in local congregations, both as a church member and as a pastor. But I have found the greatest joy when I stop comparing and start serving. I’ve got plenty for God to fix without spending an inordinate amount of time worrying about how other church members, pastors, and staff can become better from my own imperfect perspective.
Shel: being highly influenced by neo-anabaptism and pentecostalism I cannot help but ask some critical (in the sense of “is it to be blindly assumed to be good”) questions about technology and worship. Thom is a Southern Baptist, makes some great points here. What do you think? (see it all: http://thomrainer.com/2014/02/24/six-major-issues-regarding-the-digital-church/)
Six Major Issues Regarding the Digital Church
A point of clarity is in order. In this article I am referring to “the digital church” in a very specific way. I am not referring to the many uses of the Internet available to churches: church web sites; social media; and a plethora of training tools. Instead I use the phrase to refer to those churches that view a significant part of their constituencies to be online rather than in person.
The “digital church attendees” likely view the worship services online. They may be in some type of online small group. They have the ability to minister to others via the Internet. And they can support the church financially online as well.
Some churches now view these persons as integral participants in the life of the church. A small but growing number are willing to grant them membership. And many churches see the digital church attendees as an extension of the ministry of the church, even if they do not have full membership status.
This phenomenon is not transitory. It will be with us for the foreseeable future. As I speak with pastors and other church leaders across America and beyond, here are the key issues being discussed.
- There is a lively debate regarding the status of the digital church attendees. What are the ecclesiological implications of the digital church attendees? Are they really a part of the church? Is physical presence necessary to be connected with a church? Should they be granted membership? Should they participate in communion/Lord’s supper?
- Many churches are using a “both/and” approach to the digital church. They have worship services and small groups where people gather and meet in person. But they also have an extension of their ministry that includes the digital church attendees. Some church leaders have shared with me the particular effectiveness for homebound persons and military persons deployed around the world. Only a small number of churches today are digital churches only.
- The digital church movement is growing. My information at this point is anecdotal, but I hope to have some good data from LifeWay Research in the future. Still, I have little doubt that the movement is growing and will continue to grow.
- Church leaders are struggling to find meaningful metrics for the digital church. Do such metrics as pageviews or unique visitors have any meaning for the effectiveness of the ministry? Do donations from digital attendees have any implications for the health of the ministry? What metrics are possible and also meaningful?
- Many digital church attendees are faithful financial givers to the church. I’ve been somewhat surprised to hear from church leaders about the financial support the church receives from the digital attendees. From my conversations, I’ve learned that the financial support is proportionate to the effort the church expends in connecting to digital attendees.
- The digital church is rapidly evolving. In a few months, much less a few years, we will know more about the digital church. For now, we know it is both growing and changing. This movement, for better or worse, may be one of the most significant in churches across the world for years to come.
I almost always ask for feedback from the readers of this blog. For this post, I particularly hope to hear from you. I know that many church leaders will be looking to this particular article to get insights from others. Please take a few minutes to share with the readership any insights, experiences, or opinions you have about the digital church. You readers are incredibly bright. I look forward to hearing from you.