by Grady King –
A good friend, deeply committed to Christ and serving others visited a church where his parents worship. As he spoke about his experience, I said, “Doesn’t sound like it was very life-giving.” He said, “Exactly, that’s it.” How is it that a church who teaches the Bible, believes in Jesus Christ—his life, death, burial and resurrection could not be “life-giving?”
I hear it, often. “Yes, we visited that church and….” Go ahead. Complete the sentence.
“…people were nice but there was no energy…”
“…old, tired and dated…”
“…the singing lacked spirit.”
“…it’s like we were stepping back in time…”
“…its felt like something was missing… “
Life-giving is a way of describing the culture of a church and essentially, how the community is experienced. It’s not about the traditional vs contemporary tensions that characterize generational preferences about “church.” Rather, it is about intentional habits; of being genuine, honest and helpful as people called by the gospel of God’s grace.
Everyone measures a church differently. From the appearance of the building, the friendliness of the people, worship, preaching, demographics and/or spirit. Like it or not, your church resonates a certain spirit and behaves in ways that are formative and mostly hidden—good and bad, healthy and unhealthy. Why? Because you have grown accustom to the culture. Oh, you may realize at some level that something is missing, but it’s okay, because it’s “your church” and you love the people. Yet, a visitor or new member sees, hears, wonders, and brings fresh perspectives. When we are defensive about “our church” we merely propagate the same spirit and ways of being.
Engaging visitors and new members with open ended questions as soon as possible is essential. Being in an environment of hospitality is best. Restaurants are okay, but limited. A home or casual setting is preferred. Questions of likes and dislikes are secondary.
Here are a few questions to consider—
- What do you know or have heard about us?
- What is one thing that you appreciated?
- What did you notice immediately when driving up to or enter the building?
- What image, or metaphor would you use to describe the church?
- From your time here, what would you say is important to us?
- What is one thing you really want us to know and/or understand?
These are some of the open-ended questions that move beyond preferences (like and dislikes) and begin to help us consider our culture and spirit. Leaders who listen and discern, learn. Listening, discerning and learning is not passive, rather contemplative action.
Leaders who ignore the life-giving conversation relegate the church to patterns of lifelessness rather than being filled and led by the Spirit.
Here are some key characteristics of a LIFE-GIVING church.
- Thoughtful worship focused on God’s life, mission and character
- Gospel centered teaching and application to daily life
- Specific habits that reflect the hospitality of God
- Intentional emphasis on modeling the fruit of the Spirit
- Specific conversation about being disciples
- Christ centered teaching that equips people for transformation
- External focused, gift based ministry in the church and the world
Obviously, there are more characteristics that could be acknowledged. There is, however, a simple, but profound way of understanding what it means to be a life-giving church— love God and neighbor. It’s the top two according to Jesus. He’s the final word.
Is your church life giving?