Have you ever thought about why you like a church or why you don’t?
I’m guessing that if the average churchgoer thought about what criteria was important to them in a church, it would look something like this:
- Does the sermon consistently speak to me?
- Does the pastor encourage me yet also challenge me?
- Do I like the pastor’s personality?
- Does the pastor preach from the Bible in an insightful and expository way? (for an above average churchgoer)
- Do I agree with his doctrines and beliefs?
- Does the worship team sound good?
- Does the music match my preferences?
- Is the length of time the right amount (not too long, not too short)?
- Do they sing songs I know or would like to know or can easily learn?
- Do I feel welcome?
- Do I relate to the people who go to the church?
- Quality of ministry to children/youth/college (as applicable)?
- Length of service
- Location and Size
- Was it fun to go?
- Is it easier to get out of the parking lot than after a Braves game?
I find this view of church to be… well… self-centered. It’s the largest reason why so many churches feel so much pressure to accommodate people’s desires… if they fail, they will be a bad church and they feel that fewer people will come. I’m also concerned that those same churches are encouraging this self-centered attitude by catering to it.
When I was living on the road, I decided to grade every church I went to. I started out by giving letter grades and including comments and then went back and graded on a 0 to 10 scale for each criteria and averaged the results for a score. I attended 50 churches ranging from 5 people to 5000. Here was my criteria:
- Spiritual Depth
- How deep spiritually are the people who attend this church? Do they know the Bible?
- How much have they integrated God and His instruction into their lives?
- Have they walked with God long enough to walk through thick and thin?
- Hunger for God
- How satisfied are the people who attend the church? Do they look to and pursue God?
- How much are they willing to abandon to pursue God?
- Is their hunger burning within them?
- Seeks Risks
- Does the church as a whole play it safe or take risks to obey and pursue God?
- Are the individuals who attend the church willing to trust God and take risks of personal loss for Him?
- This criteria does favor new or recently invigorated churches as old churches tend to be set in their ways.
- Focus — Inward or Outward?
- An inward focused church will be concerned about caring for and growing itself. It will spend its money, time, and energy to do the ministry of that church.
- An outward focused church cares for and grows other people, churches, and ministries. It promotes the rest of the body of Christ and is focused on reaching the world around them for Jesus, not for that church. Its money and energy flows out of the church in ways that do not directly benefit that church or the people who attend.
- How much are the services produced?
- Is it clear that the church is trying to produce the most refined Christianity?
- Does everything seem like it has to be “just right?”
- Is there anything raw/uncensored that is part of the service?
- Does the church grasp the reality of life and what it is to be human?
- Does the church understand the culture around it?
- Is the church open and honest about its failings and its own ebb and flow?
- Are the people living a different life at home?
In the latter set of criteria, the worship style/length/quality and preaching quality/words are rather irrelevant other than they can provide hints into some of the answer and hopefully will improve the church so it rates better. Most churches focus on the first set of criteria that it actually harms their score on their second set as they become distracted from what really matters.
I propose that what should be really important to a church and its pastor(s) is the second set of criteria. The focus of the church should always be to improve their score in the second set and not focus on catering to the first set. After all, what does God care about? We could consider His word as an example, which is clearly not as produced and far more real than pretty much any Christian book in the church bookstore, for starters. (excepting the coloring books, of course)
How would your church score?
How would you score?
As a footnote, you might think it is impossible for a large church to score well. Surprisingly, almost all of the extremely high scoring churches are large churches of 400+, most over 800, and the highest score of 8.67 average was a church of about 2500. The smaller high scoring churches were new church starts. However, just because you were large didn’t make you great … one of my lowest-scoring churches was a church of several thousand.