The things religious leaders focus on may not matter to God at all
The modern church measures success by attendance, offerings, and facility size. Perhaps this is because the world measures success by the number of people, amount of money, and size of buildings. We’re more like the world than we care to admit.
More people showing up for church each week is good. A larger campus impresses. Bigger offerings allow for more of the same. After all, churches with a sizeable attendance garner attention. They receive media coverage. Books celebrate them and elevate their leaders to lofty pedestals.
This is how the Western world defines success. And the church buys into it without hesitation. These measures of success become the focus. But this focus is off, even looking in the wrong direction. The triple aim of most churches—attendance, offerings, and facility size—doesn’t matter nearly as much as most people think.
Said more bluntly, most church leaders focus on the three B’s: butts, bucks, and buildings.
Butts: The greater the attendance, the more popular the church and, most assuredly, the more God has blessed it. Really?
Look at Jesus. After performing a miracle to feed over five thousand people, the multitude want to make him their king, by force if needed (John 6:10-15). Jesus could let them, but he doesn’t. Instead of playing to the masses to further his ministry and advance an agenda, he launches into a hard teaching that offends them, and most turn away (John 6:60-66). It seems Jesus is more concerned with the quality of his followers then the quantity. Maybe we should follow his example.
Bucks: The church institution needs money to operate. Ministers need their paycheck. Mortgage payments have monthly due dates. If the offering sags, the church leadership panics. Boards instruct their teaching pastor to preach more about money. Yes, it happens. I’ve seen it.
Yet Jesus says not to worry about the future (Matthew 6:34). This includes money. Although Jesus had people who financially supported him, he never took an offering. He never gave a plea for money. He trusted his Father to provide. So should we.
Buildings: Churches need a lot of people to give a lot of money to pay for staff, which is well over half of most churches budgets. Next up is their buildings, which is their second greatest expense. Together, salaries and facilities account for 80 to 90 percent of most church expenses, sometimes up to 100 percent. Imagine using all that money instead to help people and address both their spiritual and physical needs.
When Jesus said, “I will build my church (Matthew 16:18), he wasn’t talking about a building but a following. Jesus never said, “Go build me a grand building for worship, a multimillion dollar monument.” But he did say, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15). That’s hard to do if we’re stuck inside a church building.
The Right Priorities: Instead of an unhealthy, unbiblical focus on the three B’s, what if we and our churches instead looked to the three C’s of changed lives, community, and commitment?
- Jesus wants changed lives. He says, “Repent and follow me,” so that he can reorder our priorities. In fact, most all he says is about changing our perspectives of how we live.
- Jesus wants to build a community. He calls it the kingdom of God, but we made it into a church. Shame on us.
- Jesus expects our commitment. He desires people who are all in. He wants us to follow him, to serve him, and to be with him (John 12:26). That’s commitment, and that’s what Jesus wants.
If Jesus focuses on changed lives, community, and commitment, so should we. Let’s push aside butts, bucks, and buildings, because these things just get in the way of what Jesus wants for his followers.
[This is from the July issue of Peter DeHaan‘s newsletter, “Spiritually Speaking.” Receive the complete newsletter each month.]