Jesus Loves “Mediocre” Churches (And So Do I)

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  • Out of date information (church sign, uploaded sermons, etc.)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.


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16 comments

  • Thanks for a cogent message and one about which I have been considering for some time. “Any time the church attempts to mimic the world, in any way, it comes off as a terrible parody. It just doesn’t work.” is a something to really think about. Paul tells us “not to be conformed to this world” (Rom 12:2) and James instructs us “to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” (Jas 1:27). There is no delicate balance there.
    My experience in “house churches” and small groups has shown there is a humble and sincere faithfulness to engaging in worship and prayer and study without the distractions of entertainment and bad coffee.

  • Sunday Mornings in my church is a time of
    prayer..praise..worship…fellowship
    It appears that in the article written
    about “mediocre churches” and the classification of the same was based on his or her persinal wants of what a church should be….
    Every mega church evolved from a quote… “mediocre church” ..Hello!
    Starting out with just ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary things just middle of road people inspiring others by faith to believe in God and not the production…that we are privy too today….Ordinary people….To come togetger to pray…worship…fellowship as a body no matter the size of it….Is being “Mega” better then “Smaller”….
    Is there more power….
    In the first-rate church (Mega)then mediocre one (Smaller)…
    What is the difference if souls are not being saved and restored and redeemed….Thanks Stephen for this article and your response…
    definitely a “Think on These Things Moment” for me..Amen

  • After “church-hopping” for two years, I found a small Messianic synagogue that I fell in love with. They do have slides for the songs, and they do have a worship team, but it’s not big. It’s comfy. And the messages are dynamite!

    All the churches I hopped through before varied in size from 2000. Regardless of size, they all had big rock band stuff, slides, videos, and more. One church even used clips from the movie “Cool Runnings” to drive its point home (about finishing the race, of course). One church was starting a huge “Discipleship Program.” That’s what they called it, anyway. I instantly got involved, thinking I’d learn more…and instead got bombarded with forms to fill out and it was all numbers–how many homes did you visit, how many people did you witness to, how many people committed to visiting the church, how many joined the church. I quit the program and the church. I thought a discipleship program was about growing in my walk and faith, but this thing was just something to fill a spreadsheet.

    • Don’t know what happened to line one of paragraph to, but that should be 2000 (and in English, that’s “less than 100 to greater than 2000”). Why the “less than 100” did not show up…hmmm.

  • It’s not just millennials who are sick of such labored, obvious performance. This gen X household fled the gaudy shows of suburban professional “worship experience” only to find it had just arrived in the small rural city we moved to! We are repulsed, not drawn, by glossy shows designed on marketing principles.

    One of the strongest “first impressions” ever made to me in a first church visit was by a portly, balding man leading singing by himself. He had no youth or sex appeal to offer, but he could not disguise he loved the Lord Jesus and the sheep who follow Him.

    Thank you for pointing to a better way, Stephen.

    You pastors and leaders of small “mediocre” churches, thank you for your service to the Lord. May we all learn from you.

  • Well thought out…well considered…well said
    I have still yet to find a place to call home. I am Stryder searching for his Fellowship…I don’t need to feel the bass or bass drum in my chest to get closer to God.
    I want to worship with fellow beleivers..not attend a rock concert

  • Another fine article. Spot on. Call me old fashioned but I’d prefer to look to the Holy Spirit as the attracting Force in a local church rather than thinking that a cool interior design, coffee bars, playing pop music in the lobby, smoke machines and low lights with spotlights on a hip worship team can be better.

  • My church has 3 services- classic, family and contemporary. I am a baby-boomer but I attend the contemporary service. I like the upbeat music and the band. But others attend the style that suits them. The main thing is that no matter what the type of service or church, the love of Jesus and preaching the gospel are at the centre. No church that does this is mediocre.

  • The church I had been attending for 6 years until recently, somewhat fits the description of the “non-mediocre” church in the article you referred to. It has 3 campuses and a total membership of about 3000, and all the bells and whistles associated with a glitzy Sunday worship. It also seemed obsessed with attracting folks who are perceived as “leaders” in the world of work. I felt like a total misfit there.

    Recently, I’ve been attending a church that has lower production values (especially in terms of its Sunday services) and could thus be considered more mediocre than the 3000-member church. But because the folks in this new church have been so welcoming, both my wife and I feel more comfortable here than in our previous church setting. As such we’re looking forward to participating in their small group ministry and missional initiatives.

    So I’m with you on two main points you’ve made: What really matters in doing church is Preaching, Prayer, and Fellowship, with reliance on the Holy Spirit; there’s a place for mediocre churches in God’s redemptive plan.

  • Right on point, Stephen. I Thought I was the only one bothered about synthetic Sunday services in church. Been so downhearted throughout last week, and been crying out to the Lord to lead me to a place where Jesus takes prominence over everything.

    Apart from canned music and “fabulous” productions, church has become more like a Personality cult revolving round the pastor, the wife, and other rich and famous members of the congregation.

    May the Lord help us all.

  • Very interesting topic. I do not have a church at present, looking. I worship him, Holy Jesus, for now alone on my own every chance I get. When I am reading his word, praying, singing, studying him and I feel the Holy spirit stirring me to tears and joy and bliss because I feel him while listening to some of my favorite Preaching & teachings of him on line, I want to listen to you and learn more, learn more, learn more about him, so that I can draw closer to him and please him, so I can share him with a stranger, that is exactly all I want to feel in any church I decide to attend, together with others doing the same thing and all the rest of that stuff..the screens, the Musical instruments, lighting, coffee, the Great singing with words I can not make out or join in with, the personal test taking to see where I fit, please stop I just want Jesus. I’ll take a small one preacher, one piano, limited parking church over Mega any day..just give me Jesus! I’m sure there is a place for those and that’s good too, but I’m good with listening under a tree.

  • This post is like a drink of fresh water. So many churches (including those in our small town) are known for their Sunday morning productions, whether its concert-quality music or diluted teaching that wouldn’t offend the worst sinner. I love good music; I’ve played on worship teams since the early 1980s, including most of my 25 years in pastoral ministry. During a few seasons I had some really good musicians and vocalists on those teams, and it was wonderful, but not more wonderful than a handful of lesser abled musicians and vocalists who worship the Father in Spirit and truth.

    Our website is pretty basic. And live streaming? Is that a thing?

    In the end, the Lord isn’t going to ask whether we were popular or attractive, but whether we were faithful. I seek to be faithful.

  • “Cheesed off” dates you, Steve, but the article is spot on, which probably dates me.

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