What Makes a Church “Attractive?”

What really makes a church attractive? Stained Glass6

In our western culture, much of how churches reach out to prospective members is through marketing. Some churches even begin with a budget that devotes half of its assets to marketing!  Many of today’s worship services are driven by thousands up to millions of dollars in audio & visual production costs.

Buildings are also an “attractive” emphasis for some churches. Style and function are the focus on building programs that also require incredible amounts of money. Often churches seem to take on a “if you build it, they will come” approach to being attractive.

There are many other factors that can go into the conversation: worship style, preaching style, clothing style, service times, ministry programs, Sunday School or small groups, and so on and so on.

The truth is, many people in our culture are drawn to these things – what they find to be attractive. Our church culture has become consumer-driven, and the church members have morphed into consumers. As ministers we see people come and go, many times based on the factors discussed above. People want to go to a church that has the things they like and where they can feel comfortable.

Are we getting it right? What really makes a church attractive? 

Looking back at the first churches in the New Testament, what did they have? There were no multi-million dollar budgets, no buildings, no lights, no sound, and no marketing budget. They couldn’t advertise – they would get arrested! Still, they saw transformation, growth, missions, community change, and movements of the Holy Spirit that would shock the world today.

Acts 2:42-47: 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

For the early church, they were “attractive” because of the transformational community of the believers. People saw the change that Christ can make in a life, and they saw the true love of God between the believers. That’s what makes a church attractive – real change & real love.

Not only did the early church demonstrate this, but the New Testament writers continually wrote about it and instructed the believers to practice it. Here are just a few of many examples:

  • Acts 11:19-26: The church at Antioch demonstrated their transformation in such a way that those outside the church gave them the title “Christian,” identifying them with Christ
  • Galatians 6:10: Do good to all, especially the household of faith
  • Ephesians 4:26-32: Build up the community of faith, not tear it down
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:11: Encourage and build up one another
  • 1 Peter 4:7-11: Our love for one another glorifies God
  • James 2:14-17: How we take care of each other’s needs in our church demonstrates God’s love to others

Why is the transformation of the Holy Spirit and the love of God so attractive? Because everyone is created in the image of God, and deep inside of all of us we long to be a part of the way things God intended them to be. That is what changes people. Impressive marketing, grandiose worship production, and beautiful buildings do not transform lives.

I’m not saying that buildings, sound systems, lights, even advertising is a bad thing. Using these things to glorify God is smart and effective. They are great tools in leading people to follow Christ and be like Him. We must always remember, however, that what really makes a church attractive has not changed in 2000 years, nor will it ever be different.

Is My Faith a Joke?

IMG_1992The other night I was watching The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, a rerun from back in May, when he told this joke in his monologue:

“The St. Louis Rams made history on Saturday by drafting Michael Sam, making him the first openly gay player in the NFL. Yep, an NFL player who’s never been with a woman — or as Tim Tebow put it, ‘Eh, it’s been done.’”

After the first part of the joke, Fallon and the audience applauded at decision of the St. Louis Rams, and then laughed at reference to Tebow’s faith and belief.

I was fairly fired up, mainly because in a world today that raises the banner for “equality,” this joke was a microcosm of what reality is really like. I know, it’s just a joke on a tv show, but it got my gears turning. And then I got even more fired up, but this time it was directed at me.

This whole instance made me ask myself, “Is my faith a joke?” What does it say about me, other Christians, and the Church, when what we believe and so many have given so much for is the punchline in a joke?

What do others say about God because of me? Is my faith a joke?

Paul dealt with this very issue when he wrote the letter to the Romans. Actually, he was bringing up an issue that was a constant in Israel’s history. Their lives and actions did not match up with the God and faith they professed. Take a look at what Paul wrote in Romans 2:17-14:

17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself area guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

Verse 24 is a reference to Isaiah 52:5, when the prophet deals with the same problem. No one took God seriously because the Jews were no better than anyone else. Their lives reflected no difference, no desirable qualities.

Jim Putnam wrote about this idea regarding today’s Christians. In his book DiscipleShift, he looks at the fact that Christian marriages are just as likely to end in divorce, Christians are not healthier, in as much debt, are not more generous, and so on. Basically, overall, our faith really is a joke to those that look on. Many of us are trying to hold to the days when being a “Christian” was something that was respected or admired, but those days are quickly crumbling away.

Even though Christians are divided on issues in our culture today, the Bible is very clear on many things. It is also equally clear on how much the world rejects God and all that He stands for. We can never expect to tell the world that such and such is a sin and expect anyone to listen if our lives do not show that following Jesus is better than anything else in life.

Ask yourself, are people laughing at God because of my life? Is my faith a joke?

As long as there is sin in the world, people will always reject God – even if we lived incredible lives full of faith. But we must ask ourselves about the reality of our faith.

If we really want to change the world, we have to live in such a way that shows people that Jesus really DOES make a difference. Our lives at church and at home must be the same. We must love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Our marriages have to be better. Our business dealings have to be better. Everything should be better – because Jesus is better!

Christ, the Creator, Sustainer, Saviour, Redeemer, and Lover of His People // Colossians 1, Psalm 33

IMG_4826Psalm 33 could quite possibly be my favourite Psalm. It has a four-part movement to it that is just absolutely brilliant. Not only does it bring praise to the Lord, but it gives a great picture of Who He really is!

Before we go there, I want to look first at how Paul described who Jesus was to the people of Colossae, the Colossians.

In Colossians 1:15-23, we see a picture painted by Paul of who Jesus is:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven,making peace by the blood of his cross.

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

Jesus, the Son of God who came down to us as a man, shows us physically who God is. Paul describes that through Christ, all things were created, He holds all things together! Not only did He create, but He gave His life to save that creation from themselves. Through His blood, burial, and resurrection, we can be right with God. Our faith in that sacrifice, in Jesus, is what makes us right with God. Following Jesus is the only way!

That’s what this week, Passion Week or Holy Week, and Easter is all about. God’s plan to save us and His creation. And this whole concept is actually quite different from any other religion or belief that exists. Everyone else is searching for what we must do to get to God, but Christians believe God came to us!

Psalm 33 describes this very well. As we read through it, notice the four-part movement it makes in showing us who the Lord is.

The first section, verses 1-5, the psalmist gives an introduction to God and a call to praise Him. Singing is called for, as well as skilled playing on instruments. An overall picture of God and His faithfulness is shown here.

Verses 6-12 speak to the mighty power of the Lord. He created the universe by His words, and He holds everything together in His mighty hands. There is no nation or power on earth that is stronger than God. He never fails, never ends, and never gives up. God always wins; blessed are those that see that and know it to be true. These verses demonstrate just how big and mighty God really is. The next section takes a surprising turn.

The next section is verses 13-17, which demonstrates that while God is infinite, He is also intimate. He is not far away from His creation, but rather, the Lord is part of the comings and goings of all that happens. He is not a Creator separated from His creation.

Finally, verses 18-22 converge on all that has been brought forth to show that not only is God infinite and intimate, but He is faithful to those who fear Him. Those that hope in the Lord will never be dismayed, because He is always faithful. He love chases us like a lion chases its prey.

Psalm 33 is a great picture of how incredible God really is, and how much He really loves us. When we know a truth like this, we cannot help but worship Him! In so many of our churches today, worship is stale not because of style or setting, but because the Lord’s worshippers do not really know who they are worshipping!

It is simply awesome for me to think that the God who made everything I can see (and even what I cannot) by the words of His mouth is the same God who loves me, knows me, and will never leave me.

Verses 18-19 are very similar to something Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

One might think that God only hears or works in the lives of those that love Him. However, a theologian named William Barclay wrote in his commentary on Romans that God doesn’t just work in certain lives of those that love Him. Rather, when we love and trust God, we see Him working. If we don’t love and trust Him, we won’t see what He is doing in and around us, and we certainly won’t trust in Him!

God is not far away with a big beard looking down on Earth like a diorama, watching little people go to and fro. He created us, He loves us, and He works all in and around us everyday. Jesus Christ came TO us! He really wants the best for us, and is with us through the good and the bad and the ugly.

May this truth be written upon your heart, and may you love and trust Jesus today – for the first time or like never before. May the more you get to know the infinite God who made us and loves cause you to worship Him more and more.

Praise to the Creator and Preserver.

33 Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones;
Praise is becoming to the upright.
Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre;
Sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings.
Sing to Him a new song;
Play skillfully with a shout of joy.
For the word of the Lord is upright,
And all His work is done in faithfulness.
He loves righteousness and justice;
The earth is full of the lovingkindness of the Lord.

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
And by the breath of His mouth all their host.
He gathers the waters of the sea togetheras a heap;
He lays up the deeps in storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord;
Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.
For He spoke, and it was done;
He commanded, and it stood fast.
10 The Lord nullifies the counsel of the nations;
He frustrates the plans of the peoples.
11 The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
The plans of His heart from generation to generation.
12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
The people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance.

13 The Lord looks from heaven;
He sees all the sons of men;
14 From His dwelling place He looks out
On all the inhabitants of the earth,
15 He who fashions the hearts of them all,
He who understands all their works.
16 The king is not saved by a mighty army;
A warrior is not delivered by great strength.
17 A horse is a false hope for victory;
Nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength.

18 Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him,
On those who hope for His lovingkindness,
19 To deliver their soul from death
And to keep them alive in famine.
20 Our soul waits for the Lord;
He is our help and our shield.
21 For our heart rejoices in Him,
Because we trust in His holy name.
22 Let Your lovingkindness, O Lord, be upon us,
According as we have hoped in You.

Valentine’s Day: Is Your Relationship Real? // Deuteronomy 30:11-20

love-2Valentine’s Day: the celebration of the life of St. Valentine or the commercialization of affection in the world today? Whatever you might think, it’s on the calendar and it is nigh. And if you’re like me, you oft contemplated how silly it is to conjure up a day just to make you have to go out and buy a special something for that special something. Or maybe you’re like me and February 14 each year was the day you lamented the lack of homemade cookies from the pretty girls in your class at school. Wait, that wasn’t me…yeah…anyway.

Let us just move past the origins of the day and who the real St. Valentine was just for a moment and consider what February 14 really means. Yes, it’s a payday for retailers. Yes, it’s a stinging wound for those sans-valentine. But I think we lose grasp of the opportunity a day like Valentine’s Day provides – a chance to show that the relationships in our lives are real.

Do gifts in heart-shaped gift bags define a relationship? No. Well, at least, not on their own. Even though love is the heart of a real relationship, there must be evidence of that love. Maybe it’s a gift. Maybe it’s a genuine act of kindness. Maybe it’s heart-shaped pancakes with powdered sugar. Just saying.

Today, our post-modern approach to Christ and being a Christian can often push back against duty and commitment, which drove the Church in the last generation. Many of us today look back and see what we think are people committed to the Church but not committed to Christ personally. The danger of this is thinking that it’s ALL about love, a feeling. However, how we live shows how we love.

As I have said before, the Old Testament contains many laws and rules that we think defined righteousness. But throughout the book of Deuteronomy, we see that love ALWAYS came first, but what came next was how that love was supposed to be lived out. How the people of Israel lived was their relationship with God.

Deuteronomy 30:16, “For I am commanding you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commands, statutes, and ordinances, so that you may live and multiply, and the LORD your God may bless you in the land you are entering to possess.”

That entire chapter of Deuteronomy is worth your time right now to read. It even speaks of God’s faithfulness and love to His people when they don’t keep up their end of the relationship. Things may get really difficult, almost hopeless, but God will never leave them – and He will never leave us.

But how we do show God our relationship with Him is real? Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Not that we are earning God’s love, but we are demonstrating our love for Him.

On the eve of another Valentine’s Day, may you consider the reality of the relationships you have. They do not have to be romantic relationships necessarily, as I think Valentine’s Day has led us to see love in the context of.

Are you relationships real? With Jesus? With the ones you love? Show it!

Valentine’s Day may be over-commercialized and falsely romanticized. Those at Hallmark may not actually mean all those things they put in their cards that make you cry (if you work for Hallmark and are reading this, and you really do care, I’m just making an example and will still buy your cards).

Even if all that is true, that does not give us an excuse to “buck the system” and rebel against our relationships. May Valentines Day can serve as a reminder to make your relationships real.

What are ways that you show love to God with your life? What are ways you show love to those you have relationships with? And what are ways that you like to be shown love? Please comment below! I’d love to hear what you have to say!

Leaders Who Love Success Use Others, but Leaders Who Love Jesus Serve Others.

Reality TV is somewhat of a paradox. It really isn’t as real as it appears to be. Clips are cut, manipulated. Characters are directed and plots are produced. Still, its unscripted nature is supposed to validate the “reality.”

I remember when the term “Reality TV” was starting to be coined. The first Survivor show was paving the way into a new realm of television. There had been other shows before it, but it was one of the trailblazers. Many people watched and became engrossed in the storylines of the show, and there was an interesting dynamic that rose from the interactions of the members of the cast: alliances to win.

You were “voted off the island” in Survivor. That’s how someone left the show. The idea was the weakest link of everyone would be the one voted off, but over time people started to form alliances with one another to assure votes would be stacked up again others and not themselves. These people did what they had to serve their own needs and stay in the game.

And that’s all it really was – a game. Donald Trump introduced us to “The Apprentice” and we saw an even more interesting dynamic as people were put in “real life” leadership positions. Still, it was a game where you had to whatever you had to do to win. Ultimately, success was about taking care of you first.

As Christians, we can get pulled in to this paradigm very easily. We want to see our churches, ministries, Sunday School classes, small groups, and whatever else grow and “succeed.” Some of us (mainly in the ministry) want to climb the ladder and get to bigger churches or be known as a Christian leader.

When we have this mindset, the people around us become tools to our success. They become numbers that we need to increase. They become strategies to develop and enact. They become the target of marketing and the validation of what we do.

But did Jesus operate this way? The time Jesus spent with people was not focused on building a ministry. He spent time loving the unloved, the sick, and the “unimportant.” And so often, He loved others that would not love back or give anything in return. These people were not beneficial in the way we might think.

Because of this, the “important” people sought Jesus out. They wanted to find Him. Nicodemus sought Jesus out in John chapter 3. A rich young ruler came to Jesus. The centurion came for healing for his servant. Christ did not neglect them either, but he was not focused on those who would help Him promote what He was doing. But when He lived His life the way He did, people came to find Him.

What was the motivation for this type of life and love? Humility. Jesus was so humble, even when He really did not have to be. But time and time again, He pointed to His Father and the Kingdom of God. Real success for Jesus that He showed to us was loving others and letting others see God through Him.

When we love others, people see Jesus through us. As Christians and ministers of the Gospel, we must lead people to love Jesus more than us. His love is what they (and we) really need.

Don’t love with an agenda to build yourself or your ministry. Love with the pure motivation to be Jesus to others. As Paul wrote in Romans 12, “Let love be genuine.”

We live in a world where we often do things because they will benefit us in some way. The alliances on Survivor were made because they would use people to get what they want. May it never even be close to that in why we minister and love people. Real Christ-like love is humble and expects nothing in return.

You know what is amazing though? There is SO much we get in return for loving that way. Loving others because we love Jesus, being the picture of Jesus to the world, is such a deep communion with the Holy Spirit. There is no greater place to be, no greater life than that.

If you love success, then you will use others to succeed no matter what it takes. And if you are leading people, they will live their lives in the same way. And some very big and “important” things may be built, but without love, they are meaningless.

If you love Christ, then love others because that is who we are and that is how He loved us.

Philippians 2:5-11, “5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus Is a Showstopper // John 6:22-71

This past weekend I went with a great friend to see the Avengers movie. We went to see the IMAX 3D Experience, all the bells and whistles. It was a great movie – still not sold on the 3D, but still it was fun.

It was a 12:15pm showing, and I didn’t think there would be a huge line, but I was so wrong. We showed up at 11:20 and there was already a line of people wrapped around the building. Still, the theater was ginormous so our seats were pretty good.

The folks at the front of the line had been there since around 9am. 9? Really? Wow! People really go out for a good show. I mean, I was there too, so I was drawn in to that same crowd.

I’m a huge U2 fan, and I’ve also gone to many of their concerts. The best spots were general admission where you had to stand in line for the first come, first serve spots. We would stand for several hours to get a good spot. Not only me, but about 40,000 others that would do the same.

A good show draws a good crowd.

Many churches and ministers today have adopted this mentality. Success has been defined by numbers, therefore, we must do what we can do get a crowd.

There is a good sentiment behind this paradigm of the more people at the church or at the event, then the more people that can hear the Gospel. And really, I think this is okay for special events where evangelism is the focus, as long as the Gospel is preached and the truth proclaimed.

Where this is wrong is trying to build a ministry, a church, or any type of discipleship mentality around this idea that numbers = success. Yes, numbers show growth and can validate in some ways, but that should never be the focus. The focus should be on the truth of the Gospel, the truth of what it means to be a disciple of Christ, and true committed followers of Jesus.

The issue is, the truth doesn’t draw a crowd. The truth isn’t very showy.

What is so interesting is how so many of us get caught up in this mentality that we need to draw a crowd, when Jesus never operated that way. He never intentionally tried to draw numbers to his side. It just happened, but it didn’t stay that way.

When Jesus stopped the show, the crowds walked away.

John chapter 6 has the famous account of Jesus feeding the 5,000 (which was only counting the men, not the women and children). The reason there were so many people is because they were coming to see Jesus “do his thing” and perform miracles and other miraculous signs. They were coming for the show. Jesus feed them in a miraculous way, and they He actually takes off.

The crowds come after Him the next day and He calls them out saying, “Truly, truly, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” (John 6:26-27)

When Jesus starts to teach and preach to them, people start to get unhappy. When He tells them the truth about eternal life and following Him, the crowds leave. Verse 66 says, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.”

All that remained at this time were the 12 disciples. The numbers went from over 5000 to 12 in one day. If that happened in a church today, the preacher would probably be fired and disgraced.

What’s the point of all this? As ministers and churches, our focus should be on reaching people, but it should be in making disciples (Matthew 28), not growing numbers. We should not sacrifice the truth for a show. We should not “water-down” what the Gospel is to keep people around. Jesus didn’t, why should we? The power of ministry and the power of change come from the Holy Spirit.

For Christians, our focus should be on becoming more like Christ and following Him. We should not be so obsessed with the showy aspects of worship or whether or not being a part of a ministry is fun. Our endeavor should be to grow in the truth of the Gospel. As Christians we should also support our churches in ministers in striving for this goal.

Should worship services look good? Yes. Should ministry be attractive? Of course. But that should not and must not be the focus of everything we do. Our focus should be the Cross and the One who paid the price for us (1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5)

God’s Graffiti // Romans 1:18-23

Graffiti is such an interesting thing. It’s been around since ancient times. Someone left their own mark behind for others to see.

Have you ever heard a song, seen a movie, read a book, caught a glimpse of nature, or something like that has inspired you? Has something just struck that chord inside your soul and you just couldn’t it out of your head?

There have been a few things like that for me. Many songs, a few movies or stories, a couple of video games, characters on a TV show, the sky, and the greatest of all – Christ and the Bible.

As Christians, we often think that these sources of inspiration can only come from aspects of Christian culture – like Christian songs or art. And while this may be true for some, it’s not for all. There have many things that have really connected to my heart that are not specifically Christian.

However, part of why I get so inspired by these songs or scenes is because of my faith in Christ. What I see or hear has a deep meaning that connects to the work that the Holy Spirit is doing in me. Why is that? What causes this deep, meaningful connection?

It’s God’s Graffiti.

Paul wrote some amazing words in Romans 1:18-23, “18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”

Paul’s intent with the first part of Romans is to set the stage of why man needs God for salvation, and he is explaining the problem of sin in our lives. In these verses, Paul describes how we are made in God’s image, and He has left his signature on our hearts – sort of like graffiti.

So often we will be inspired by something made by a non-Christian because His nature is breaking through. Our sin distorts this nature, and fallen man doesn’t understand it and even rejects it. Still, we can see it so often.

The question now is, what do we as Christians now do with this? What should our response be to God’s graffiti in the world?

I was visiting with a friend of mine who started the 9th Continent, a community of people trying to share the Gospel in the video gaming culture. There are some people who are really inspired and moved in aspects of some video games. It’s more than just Pong and Pac Man anymore.

Basically my friend Zac Workun (@zacworkun) said there were three responses Christians could have. The first was “sword,” which sought to totally dismiss or destroy, the second was “shield,” trying to guard against outside culture, and the third was “salt,” working with the culture trying to “enhance the flavor.”

We as Christians have a hope in Christ that gives us a much different worldview, a perspective on how life is and should be. We can see these messages of inspiration shining through and engage them head on.

If something strikes that chord, tell people about it, but also tell them why. Use it as an opportunity to talk about the Gospel. Don’t run away from what God is telling you or what He is giving you the opportunity to do.

How many of us will tell everyone we know about a song we just heard, the movie we just saw, the book we just read, or the restaurant we just tried? That same passion can be applied to how we share Christ with others.

People see graffiti all the time in all sorts of places, but God’s work stands out. Take some time to tell others the messages He left us.