Most churches begin with the cause, then grow to a community, then become a corporation, and, if not careful, end up as a club. While these seasons are not scientific, they do offer a broad brush snap shot into the lives of many congregations.
Let me explain.
Cause. (Luke 5:4)
Most churches begin with a cause. For example, it could be as generic as “We want to Baptist influence in our town” or as specific as “We want to reach the fine arts community,” or “We want to reach college student at the university.” Here church’s focus is on them—those outside the church. It is an external focus with a strong emphasis on mission and vision. It’s been said the church is the only organization that exists for those outside its walls. This is very evident when a church is in the cause life stage. Purpose is highly valued. The metaphor for the church is army. It’s marching song is “Onward Christian Soldiers.” The Pastor’s primary responsibility is leading.
Community. (Acts 4:34)
In time, the church will become a community. As a community it develops relationships and commitments to one another. This is not all bad. But the eventuality is the church in the community life-stage will focus on us—those within the body. The emphasis is on relationships. Comradery and collegiality and fellowship are prevalent. People love to be together; they love to socialize; they desire to study the Bible together. People (fellowship) are highly valued. The metaphor for the church is family. It’s campfire song is “We Are One in the Bond of Love.” The Pastor’s primary responsibility is shepherding.
Corporation. (Revelation 3:17)
In time, the church becomes a corporation. It happens as the community grows, usually through the multiplication of many small communities within the congregation. As a result, the church adds programs, builds buildings, and hires staff. The programs take a life of their own and become the primary emphasis of the church. The buildings have to be maintained. The staff have to justify their salaries. The focus in this stage is on it—the programs, the personnel, and the place. If not careful, the mission of the church will be on buildings, budgets, and personnel. It requires all three to maintain the machinery of the corporation. Programs and the buildings and staffing to carry them out are highly valued. The metaphor for the church is building. It’s banner reads: “The Church’s One Foundation.” The Pastor’s primary responsibility is managing.
Club. (Revelation 3:1)
In time, the church becomes a club. A club exists to serve the needs of its members. Now the mission has gone from outward and external to inward and personal. The focus in this stage is on me—my wants and my desires. Personal preference takes precedence over corporate mission. Personal comfort and personal convenience are the norm. The membership is more interested in “what’s in it for me” and “how will the church serve my family.” The emphasis shifts to management. With great effort, the church tries to regain its past laurels. The past is highly valued. The metaphor for the church is clique. Its mantra is: “Us Four and No More.” The Pastor’s primary responsibility is chaplaincy.
What is missing? Two things: One, the call. Two, Christ. The root word for church is ecclesia: the called out ones. The church is made up of forgiven people who have been called out from the world by God to bring glory to Christ. True church is about Jesus. It is his church, after all. He died for it, paying for it with his own blood. The church’s need in any season is to heed the call to magnify and glorify Christ. When the church is about Christ, it’s size does not matter nor its location nor its denominational affiliation. What matter is Jesus.
Obviously there is a possibility and probability that any of the seasons can be overextended. And, an overextended strength becomes a weakness. And, it is possible that any size church can be at any season. And, it is possible that all or some of the seasons are present in every church. Though, a quick analysis will reveal what is the predominate season of any church.
What is needed? To change the church’s focus onto the call of Christ requires intentionality and purpose. The longer and farther a church has drifted from the call of Christ the harder and more difficult it will be to return to the main mission. But it is possible.
At what seasons is your church? What intentional steps are needed to take for your church to focus on the main mission of the call of Christ?