As His Father’s Servant, Jesus came to earth to bring heaven to earth. He came to serve those in need. The universal church was established to continue His work as the Body of Christ. Let’s take a look at how different churches (congregations) have developed a local culture of doing this.
We can look at how congregations fulfill the Great Commission as a sort of continuum. To some degree, all congregations have elements of each of the things I will describe below. But each tends to develop a culture that shows the face of that church to the world. As we examine each of these, we should look at the reality of what is, not the statements of what that church family expresses itself to be.
Culture of Closure and Discouragement
Few congregations would promote themselves as being closed to others and discouraging, but in practice many are. When we make others uncomfortable when entering our church buildings, we are doing just that. We can do that when those attending services or wanting to otherwise interact with the congregation must dress a certain way, be of a particular ethnic or racial group, be of a certain social class or lead a strictly defined lifestyle. We do this when we don’t want to rub elbows with those in need, would never get their hands dirty.
Jesus did not come to attend to the well, but those in need of healing… the sick, the poor, the sinners. He came to serve in places where the pious leaders of the Jews would never dare to go.
Whenever we barricade ourselves (literally or figuratively) in our church buildings or exclusively in our congregational circles, we become a congregation of closure and discouragement.
Culture of Exclusion
To a degree, this applies to every Christian congregation. Being a genuine Christian is not without restrictions or qualifications. Nor is it without obligation. One can’t be a Christian, for example, without accepting Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior! Seems clear enough, yet for many this still remains unclear.
Culture of Welcome
This is the church family that warmly welcome all that come to them. They have greeters, welcome signs and such for any who find their way to the church doors or into congregational activities. “We’re glad you joined us today, welcome! My name’s Joe. What’s yours?”
There are those who are seekers. They range from those who are looking for a new church for a wide variety of reasons to the new seeker who has never before set foot inside of a church.
Of course, we should give a warm welcome to all people. but is it enough to really grow the Kingdom?
Culture of Invitation
At its basic level, the culture of invitation says “Come to our church. Worship with us. Come hear our choir or see our children’s holiday program.”
Basically at this level, the church openly, even warmly, says “Come to us, join us.”
After years of losing our way, my wife and I returned to being active in our church just because of this sort of invitation.
While this is a huge step above just waiting for people to show up and then welcome them, it is frequently ineffective… even for those who are seekers. Why? Well, for some the concept is confusing and uncertain, or for many it’s scary. For others they want to be involved.
Culture of Service
Also described as a “Missional Church,” at its basic level the congregation of service moves outside its building to take service into the community. This ranges from financial support to outside agencies to getting individuals and groups from the church to go out for service/mission work. In essence, the church goes to the community to spread the Good News and/or do good work.
As an example, my own church did this last May. Over 400 people went out in small groups, mostly members of our congregation, for various community service projects. It was immensely successful. Lots of organizations do this.
And many congregations have ongoing projects where members go out into the community for mission work, either locally or world-wide.
This is really good stuff.
Culture of Open Participation
This congregation combines the invitation and service concepts as they go into the community or into the world. There are thousands who seek to contribute to others through community service, but don’t quite have the motivation to get started, feel awkward in just going or don’t know where to start. The open participation congregation invites non-members to “come along” as we do such and such.
A very simple example: “I’m going to serve at the XYZ homeless shelter Wednesday. Want to come along?”
No preaching, no pressure evangelizing… just doing God’s work!
Isn’t this what Christianity is about?
Amazing how effective it can be.
No church really fits neatly into any of these roughly defined categories. And there are good things about all of them except the first.
So, what do you recognize that defines your own local church?
Is this where you want to be? Is this where we should be in creating God’s Kingdom here on earth?
Alive in The Word
Please watch this video with Casting Crown’s “We are the Body” as background: