Over the past 40 years or so I have been in numerous conferences, some of which I led, that were focused on defining the church. Regardless or whether or not I led the conference, I always left the conference with a sense of getting less than what I wanted or being totally frustrated. I have pondered this phenomenon on many occasions, but only recently have I begun to have an inkling of what may be happening.
Church is incredibly complex. Globally, it is multi-cultural, and more often, locally, it is multi-cultural. Urban churches are almost always socially complex. When a church is new, it is less complex than when it is old. Some churches recreate themselves as new pastors and leaders take the reins of leadership. Some churches refuse to change and send new leadership packing before any “permanent damage can be done” (sarcasm warning). Some churches see themselves as protectors of the faith; others see themselves as projectors of the faith. Some don’t have a clue regarding who they are or where they are going. And here’s the big one: Churches change with time and leadership, economics and social conditions; or they cease to exist.
The Bible is silent regarding much of what is considered normal church, today. As I examine churches I put them into roughly four categories. These are my categories and you may disagree or have other categories you like better. But since I am writing this post, I get to pick. The four categories are:
- Start Line
- Finish Line
- Revolving Door
Start Line Churches are risk-takers. They see their purpose as the starting blocks to put their members on the right path for each new race. As Christians mature they are expected to run longer and more difficult races. The church’s job is to prepare people for the next race and get them ready for it as soon as possible, and launch them from the training facility to real life.
Finish Line Churches are care-givers. They see their purpose as making sure believers make it across the finish line of life in good health – relationally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. They encourage, care, encourage, train, encourage, walk beside, encourage, admonish, encourage, bare burdens, encourage, discipline, encourage, forgive, encourage, redeem, encourage, welcome home.
Revolving Door Churches seem to only care about themselves, but they really are trying to reach their community or city. They are focused. The total number of people involved in the church is the metric. People are coming and going all the time. These churches often have lots of programs that are changing in order to get new people into the church as others are leaving the church. These churches have lots of activity, but the high turnover rate makes it hard to see what is being accomplished, but the numbers stay consistent. The people who make up the numbers are constantly changing. These churches are usually considered to be strong churches and do accomplish more than we might know as those who leave enter new phases of life and become more productive Christians.
Jail Churches are near death. They do all they can to make sure that when someone comes to the church they never leave. They don’t risk launching people into ministry or training people for the race of life, or even growing, because they might lose them. They just want to capture people and enslave them to legalism, fear of outsiders, and critical spirits to all who are not like them. They work at opening new jails as often as finances allow.
As you may have already guessed, all churches have a mixture of the four types of churches. It’s what we maximize and minimize that determines how relevant we are in Kingdom work. The economics of Urban Church may require a Revolving Door approach in order to encourage new people to place themselves under the influence of the church so that they may become part of a Start Line and/or Finish Line Church. There is also a constant consideration of what programs need to be shut down as well as who might have a Jail Church mentality regarding their programs.
All churches, when they find themselves dying, begin to act like Jail Churches. They try everything to keep the people they have, often without realizing that the very behavior of trying to hold on causes death to come sooner. If they learn some Revolving-Door Church tactics, it may help them pull out of their slump. But, real health is found in becoming more like Start Line and Finish Line Churches.
The incredible resiliency of the church is found in diversity and understanding which season the church is in. Seasons always change and always come around again, unless we succeed in killing the church. I’m not sure any church can be permanent. But I am sure that if we understand seasons and understand what it takes to move from one season to another, any church can have long-term impact on individuals, families, communities, cities, nations, and the world.
There is one other category of church – the one I work with the most. I call it the Frontline Church. These are churches that are birthed in incredibly hostile environments. Like any frontline situation in battle, these churches regularly get killed. The surviving churches learn how to be better survivors and how to even birth new churches in difficult situations.
Much of Kingdom growth these days is happening in Frontline Churches. Most of the people I mentor are in frontline churches. They experience the extremes of success and failure that leads to death of members, leaders, and sometimes, even the church.
The Lord’s Prayer instructs us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come…” I know and realize that there are under reached areas in all nations. But, under reached areas have local church who could, if they would, take on the responsibility of reaching those who are near and different from themselves. And this would certainly expand the Kingdom into places where it is not.
But, Frontline Churches take the Kingdom to where it is not, and where there is no opportunity to hear the Gospel of a Life with Jesus unless someone or some church takes responsibility for obeying the Lord’s Prayer, The Great Commandments, and the Great Commission.
Why are so many of us disobedient? I challenge all of us to rethink where we spend the money God has put into our stewardship. I’m not saying, “Stop what you are doing!” I’m saying, “Add Frontline Missions to your financial mix. Please!” Let’s help the Global Church become more aggressive and more resilient in sharing the Gospel where it is not.