Wednesday, November 24, 2010

America's Best Churches

In January, ChurchRelevance.com came up with a ranking and listing of the most influential churches in America today (HERE). I read the lists several times recognizing many of the churches based on their pastors, name recognition, and authors of books.

I thought to myself that yes, these are very big and very well known churches. But something bothered me about knowing this. It was the criteria that they used to come up with their lists.

The author of the website states,
"If you are looking for some top churches to watch in America, I have created mashups of the top churches to study in the areas of
(1) growth,
(2) innovation,
(3) church planting,
(4) size,
(5) influence, and
(6) overall."
(I added the numbers--these are the 6 lists they came up with.)
These lists sound like they could be for companies on a Forbes list or businesses to watch in the stock market, not churches. It really bothered me. Is this the litmus for identifying good churches? Are these the criteria that make us healthy churches? If so, I know of many churches using these models that aren't growing. I also know many, many churches that, according to this criteria, would not be considered "top" churches. Yet I know many "better" churches based on other criteria.

Here is my list of the things I would like to see "top" successful churches identified by:

1. Faithfulness to scripture/contextually and hermeneutically sound. I believe strongly that this should always be the #1 reason a church is considered good. Too many churches grow by twisting scripture in order to scratch itching ears. They tell people things that God never promised and that Jesus never said. To me, teaching the Gospel truthfully and soundly is the way the church grows. It is the example we find in scripture. For more, read Acts.

2. Leaders who don't seek to grow large churches, but because of the way they model Christ, their churches grow. I know an abundance of church leaders that never thought about money when it came to their calling to ministry. They are ministering because they want to see the world come to Christ. Some of their churches are growing by leaps and bounds. The important thing is that they are modeling Christ in their daily walk and sometimes they still don't grow. But they continue to walk with humility and respect and do not seek for themselves, but for the lost world around them.

3. Churches that are in small population areas that might not grow, but people recognize as Christlike bodies. There are places where, no matter how much you do to be relevant, no matter how faithful you are to scripture, no matter what, the church is small. It is because the population is small. I see men faithful to the Gospel and live in these places because they are called to be there and know that they may not see numerical growth. Yet, they do not think about the day they will be able to move away to a "better" city in order to make more money or see their church explode in growth. The people matter to them and that is it.

4. Church members that know the Gospel and scripture and share regularly with everyone they meet and show the love of Christ during the week in their interaction with others. It is awesome to hear church members walk away knowing what God's Word says and have the ability to quote it when they are in a time of trial. It is amazing to hear church members help someone dealing with a crisis by quoting the words of Scripture. It is a blessing to see members share their faith daily with their neighbors and to share the good news of Jesus with friends and family and making disciples. Disciple-making is the purpose of the Great Commission. This is our ultimate goal.

5. Churches that have made good financial decisions and aren't constantly in debt because of new building projects and new pastors. Too many times, we rely on tax exempt status to keep us in a particular place. I see too often churches take on building projects when they aren't financially capable. I also hear of churches that hire new staff members every week to do the work (that I guess) the ministers already on staff don't have time to do (which to me is odd considering all the roles I have held at one time in churches). It is hard to see that happen when so many are in need of money today.

I don't claim to know the churches on the lists. I don't know all the church pastors. I don't know everything they teach. There are a few of the churches on the lists in which I admire their pastors. But by these definitions, I cannot agree with the churches placed on these lists. Too many churches spend so much time focusing and creating a business model that leaves out the things that matter more to Jesus.

I do not believe the church should be run like a business.

I believe Jesus would have used a list more like mine if he were to list the "top" churches if he were to make such a list. To Jesus, it wasn't about ranking churches. Although if you read Revelation and the way he judges the churches of Asia, you would see that his list would look a lot more like mine and a lot less like ChurchRelevance.com's.

I know too many great, faithful churches that struggle day-to-day to afford the space they use, pay their one or two ministers on staff, but reach their city in powerful ways. I know of a church today whose demographic they aim for are the homeless. They are less than 200 people regularly in attendance, but to me, they are doing God's work better than any 10,000 member church is.

But it isn't for me to judge. I just thought this was something relevant for me to share today. I would love to hear if you would add anything to the list of criteria. Do you think I am off base? What would you say makes a successful, "top" church?

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