A Great Church

My mentor and spiritual dad is Dr. Bob Lemon. He has spoken a lot of things into my life over the years. After a service years ago we were enjoying a meal and he said, “This is a comfortable church.” I knew immediately that this was not a compliment. He was relating that we can get too comfortable where we are, and stop moving ahead to where we need to be.

Later Dr. Lemon challenged us with this statement: “If your church was suddenly gone, would anyone notice?” In other words, are we having any impact on the community around us?

In my mind I’m merging those observations with images from a book I’ve started reading. The premise of the book is that we may be focusing too much energy into being BIGGER, when we should be endeavoring to be BETTER. Bigger is not necessarily better! We shouldn’t be comfortable sitting where we are. We are responsible to have an impact on the community around us. If our focus is primarily on numerical growth, we may not do either of these things well.

Here’s an interesting quote from the book: “Jesus didn’t wake up this morning depressed by the size of your church. You may have; sometimes I still do. But Jesus isn’t worried even a little bit.”

Consider this: in churches of every size, from the mega-church to the house church, there are good and bad, sick and healthy, friendly and unfriendly, etc., etc. Obviously we all want to be good, healthy and friendly. But none of those things are dependent on size. There’s nothing wrong with being big … or small! But no matter what the size, there’s no reason to be a sick, unfriendly congregation.

John Maxwell, among others said, “People don’t care how much you know till they know how much you care.” A great church is a caring church. We should not only care about the community around us, but the brothers and sisters in Christ who congregate with us each Sunday. It really is easy to get lost in our own tribulations and totally block out hurting people around us. The good news is that as we care for a wounded brother or sister, our own needs have a way of either being met or not seeming as important.

I guess in all this rambling what I’m saying is let’s focus on excellence. Let’s take the next step – whatever that may be – to live like true disciples of our Lord. While doing that we just may get bigger!

The Good Old Summertime!

When I was a teenager our local radio station used to play an ad at this time of year that went something like, “In the good old summertime, in the good old summertime. Keep your radio on for more fun in the sun, to WARM radio.” Without a doubt we have hit the time of “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.” Yesterday’s temperature was in the 90’s!

I think most of us are happy that the seasons come and go. I know I am. Bring on the summer, but I’ll be more than ready for fall come September. I have aged to the point where I’d be satisfied with a shortened winter season, though. Then back to spring and around we go again.

The summer is vacation season for many. It’s not difficult to understand why. We’ve been “cooped-up” inside over the cold winter months. Now the sun is warm, the pools and beaches are open, the aroma of steaks sizzling on the grill is wafting through the air and the great outdoors is beckoning to us! No more “cabin fever!” In Pennsylvania a local TV newsman used to say we should get outside and “Enjoy, enjoy!”

We all need time to relax and be refreshed. My wife and I didn’t have a lot of money for family vacations when our kids were small. So we had to be creative. We found inexpensive things we could do as a family and in the process created some wonderful memories. We had picnic lunches, went to museums and historical sites, took drives in the country, and the like. There are always things you can do.

Having been a full time pastor for the past 38 years I’ve come to understand that summer season affects the local church also. Church attendance and participation tend to move down a few notches in our sense of what is important. It’s an uncomfortable subject to bring up. On the one side, as I said, we all need some rest & relaxation. But on the other side, we all need the strength that comes from community and worshiping together.

Someone will surely say, “Yes, but I can read my Bible at home.” My comment would be that we should all be doing that AND worshiping together. Another statement I’ve heard is “I’ll just watch Christian TV!” My concern? Christian TV is not a viable substitute for worshiping together. The biblical principle is “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together,…” [Hebrews 10:24, 25a] We all have responsibilities to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We need each other.

My recommendation then? Enjoy the summer. Take a vacation. Get outside and enjoy some summertime activities. Just make your home church a vital part of your summer too. Attend, participate, give, sing, worship, serve, and fellowship. You won’t regret it!

Is Sunday Morning Service Only For Adults?

I grew up in church. Sunday School was an important part of our lives. Our church met at 10 AM for Sunday School, followed by the “regular” service at 11. (And the pastor was required to be saying “Amen” by noon, or else!) The Sunday School was divided into age-group classes. For each age group our church provided a teacher’s manual and student manuals. It was very organized and built on the best of intentions.

Not only did I grow up in this system, but, after attending Bible Institute, I was elected our church’s Sunday School Superintendent. So naturally, when we pioneered our church, we developed a similar system for training our children. We were meeting in a home that was built to be a doctor’s office, so there were some available rooms. We assigned some adults to teach and sent the little ones off to their classes.

Having Sunday School and church requires a lot of volunteers and space, so we shifted quite easily into the Children’s Church model. We could then meet at 10 AM, and send the kids to Children’s Church while the adults had “big church.” Again, all this was done with good intentions. Plus we had some good results. I think I can truthfully say that we had one of the best ministries to kids in our area. Life was good.

However, there was one glaring deficiency to this model: when our kids reached 12 they graduated to “big church.” Sadly a huge percentage of these were dropping out of church all together. By that I mean that as soon as they could decide for themselves, they stopped coming. Church was no longer a part of their lives.

There’s a quote attributed to Einstein, Ben Franklin and Mark Twain which says, “The definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result.” Evidence can’t be found to prove any of these men authored the phrase, but the truth remains. Insanity for us would be to do children’s ministry the same, yet expect different results. Not being willing to give up on this generation, we began to look for different ways to minister to children.

Recently I came across a quote by Tim Wright in his book, Sunday Schooling Our Kids Out of Church: “Kids who attend Sunday School but not worship are unlikely to be a part of a church as adults.”

Mark Holmen gave the following statistics in his book Church + Home: The Proven Formula for Building Lifelong Faith:

  • 60-90% of children enrolled in church programs will disengage from the church when they become young adults. [70-90% of boys will leave the Christian Church in their teens and early 20’s and most won’t come back.]
  • Only 12% of youth have a regular dialog with their mother on faith and/or life issues.
  • Only 5% of youth have a regular dialog with their father on faith and/or life issues.
  • The greatest faith shapers by large margins in the life of kids: Mom and dad, followed by grandparents.

We cannot overemphasize the importance of parents and grandparents in the lives of our youth. The truth is that, as parents, we are affecting our children wherever we are. Parenting isn’t limited to time at home. Our offspring are observing us always. They watch how we react to life around us as it transpires. And having them in the “adult” service with us affords wonderful opportunities to demonstrate what church is all about. They get to see us as we hear the teaching, sing praises to the Lord, and fellowship with the body of Christ.

As parents and grandparents we want the best for our kids. We want them to do better than we’ve done. We want our “ceiling” to be their “floor.” So we’re bringing them into “big church” with us. Our hope is that as they get older they’ll decide to continue with God and demonstrate genuine Christianity to future generations.