While it is agreed you will see people with all sorts of different makeups in your church (socioeconomic backgrounds, races, personalities, jobs/careers, ages, etc.), all people attending can in large part be grouped into three major categories that have very little to do with any of those makeups.
- Observer (one who makes an appearance regularly or irregularly, has little to nothing to do with the function of the church and simply shows up for the show, so to speak, and leaves; it's not that they are not interested in the church, but that is their only desired level of involvement; this is usually a temporary phase as they will usually transition into one of the other categories over time or out of the church altogether)
- Participant/Contributor (one who understands the mission/purpose of the church and Scripture and wishes to be a part of it, both personally and corporately; it is a growing stage - as they learn more their participation evolves to fill needs and be part of the larger goal or vision)
- Consumer (one who is there to consume anything that means something to them; if they enjoy social work, then they serve at every function; if they love a good sermon, then they go to a church with a dynamic pastor; if music what moves them, then they go where the band is exactly their style; consumers are not big into changing, but would rather see the church evolve to fit their needs and often times assumes that others around them have those exact same needs; when the product well runs dry or stale to them, the consumer leaves and looks for another church able/willing to meet their needs)
While these are not fool-proof categories, they are good for our present conversation.
Of the three categories, churches need Contributors and Observers. They are vital to the life and growth of the church. Observers are people who do not usually understand what church or theology are and are observing as a way of learning and deciding. These are not the seemingly cold individuals who show up every week and leave before the prayer is over so as to avoid any contact. These are the individuals who new or old are showing up, observing the religious practices, rituals and beliefs of the church, weighing them with what they see outside the church (to include what is seen in the lives of the believers), comparing them to their own lives and deciding if there appears to be any merit or truth to God, the Scriptures, the church or its mission. The presence of a large number of observers shows participants/contributors are taking their mission and purpose seriously.
Contributors are the people of the church who at one point in their lives were observers or consumers and came to understand the mission of God the Father ("to seek and save that which is lost", to restore man to Himself, and to make possible a relationship between Himself and man). They then changed categories and sought to become regular participants in His church and His mission. How does such a change take place?
Simply put (harder to actually commit to or follow through with): repentance. They realized the folly of their faith/worship and turned away from self worship and self service and began worshipping God.
Consumers kill churches or, worse yet, breed more consumer-based churches. The idea that man is at the center of the Gospel kills churches. God did not seek to worship man by saving Him; Christ's death on the cross and man's subsequent ability to turn to God was all about God's fame, not man's. If churches place the burden of their mission, resources and efforts in reaching the consumers, they will either: (1) kill their church (in the long run), (2) burn their pastors/lay leaders out, (3) mislead thousands with false theology (because their theology is more anthropology, with theological overtones), or (4) create more consumer churches that will do one or all of #1, #2 and #3. Unless consumers repent, they WILL leave churches or destroy churches.
Which one are you?
A participant? Do you read for yourself in Scripture about God's passion for Himself and mission for mankind (to give them His absolute best - Himself)? Do you show up at church looking for ways to serve the elders, leaders and observers? Do you look for ways to be part of the vision of the church? Is repentance a key part of your life (turning from self centered worship and giving worship back to whom it belongs - God)?
A consumer? Do you read Scripture to help get you through the week or make your day a little bit better? Do you show up at church because it makes you feel better and meets some sort of felt need? Do you expect your pastors/leaders to be available to you around the clock (and compare them to other pastors you hear about in the community)? Do you participate in serving or long-rang vision plans of your church only if you think there is something in it for you or your family? Are you overly critical of the programs or ministries of your church?
If yes: Is it altogether impossible that maybe the centrality of your faith has been placed in the wrong place, and you've become one who worships the created instead of the Creator. If this is you, repentance is necessary and reordering your worship is key to becoming a real contributor/participant in God's mission for mankind.
An observer? Are you seeking truth? Looking for answers and trying to reconcile what you understand faith to be with what you read in Scripture or see before you? Trying to distinguish the difference/relationship between morals and faith? Do you have big questions in need of real answers, not just the typical Christian mantra "you just gotta have faith"?
Continue asking questions and seeking answers from true men and women of faith and a Bible-centered church. If there is anything I might be able to do to help you in this endeavor, feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or post a question in the comment section. If you'd like help finding a Bible-based church in your area, email me.
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Photo borrowed from Bilbeny.