I recently read an article that, for lack of a better phrase, really cheesed me off (I think that’s what the kids are saying these days).
Titled “7 Signs Your Church Is Honestly Mediocre“, it highlighted the following seven things that characterize “mediocre” (in the author’s opinion) churches:
- Non-singers and players on the worship team
- Bad production (sound, lighting, etc.)
- Poor quality live streams
- A lame website
- Out of date information (church sign, uploaded sermons, etc.)
- A resignation to mediocrity
- Fear of change
The heart of the article can be summarized in this quote:
When your church is mediocre, it should be no surprise unchurched people aren’t lining up to join you and that you’re not attracting and keeping the amazing leaders who might attend your church but don’t want to get involved because things are so sub-par.
Two things in particular really bothered me about this article.
The Early Church Was Seriously Mediocre
First, none of the marks of mediocrity have anything to do with the things that matter most. When I look at scripture and at what caused the early church to thrive, it wasn’t the quality of the “service” (not that they would have ever called it that).
They met in homes and in the temple. There was nothing flashy about the gatherings, no pageantry or glitz or hoopla (a word that needs to be used more often).
Rather, the meat and bones of the early church were preaching, prayer, and biblical fellowship, all fueled by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The church exploded because they preached the revolutionary message of a crucified and risen savior. They resolved to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified. Contrast this with the “Super Apostles” in 2 Corinthians who relied heavily on their oratory skills, credentials, and overall flashiness. Paul flat-out condemned their approach to ministry.
The church was sustained and even grew in the midst of persecution because they were dedicated to prayer. They knew that they couldn’t survive apart from the supernatural power of God, and so they pleaded with him for intervention.
E.M. Bounds puts it this way:
What the Church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use—men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men—men of prayer.
And the early church attracted the “unchurched” (again, not a term they would’ve used) because of the way they radically loved each other. There’s a reason Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The defining mark of Christians and the thing that makes the Christian life truly attractive is the way we love each other.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe in pursuing excellence whenever possible. But I know a lot of pastors who are faithfully (and fruitfully) laboring in small, “mediocre” churches. Because the churches are small, they don’t have an incredibly talented band or the budget to afford high-quality live-streaming equipment.
But because they faithfully preach the word, pray, and love one another, God blesses their efforts. The unchurched get saved, leaders are raised up, and all the members grow together in Christ. It’s weird. It’s almost as if God cares more about those things than the skill of the lead guitarist.
If you’re laboring in a small, “mediocre” church, keep at it. Don’t buy into the lie that you need to up your production value before God will bless your efforts. Focus on the things that matter and let God handle the growth of your church.
Most Young People Don’t Care About Production
The second thing that bothered me about the article is that most Millennials (myself included) don’t care very much about production. We don’t go to church for the quality of the music or the smoke machines the coffee (why is church coffee almost always so terrible?). We don’t go to church because of the cool sign out front or the sweet podcast.
We go to church because we want to meet with God and fellowship with his people. We want to hear the word preached, not see a preacher do a poor imitation of a standup comedy routine. We want to sing songs that stir our souls, not hear the band cover “Enter Sandman” by Metallica.
Given the choice between one guy with an acoustic guitar leading “A Mighty Fortress” and a flashy band with elite musicians, I’ll take option number one.
See, here’s the deal. Any time the church attempts to mimic the world, in any way, it comes off as a terrible parody. It just doesn’t work. And Millennials, perhaps more than any other generation, can see right through these attempts. We’re a very cynical generation, and shiny church services simply aren’t very appealing.
So, again, if you’re laboring in a very uncool, normal church, don’t stop. Don’t try to become something you’re not.
Should you try to do things well? Of course. I’m not saying you should intentionally try to turn people off. You’re not the Smashing Pumpkins.
But stick to what matters most. Preach well, pray well, and love well.
I think you’ll find your church growing, but even if you don’t, God will be pleased.