At the beginning or March, our church had a Vision & Values workshop to jumpstart the conversation regarding our vision as a church.  Vision is so important because it gives us an idea of where it is that we want to be – or, more accurately, where it is that God is calling us – in the future.

So, for the last few weeks, I’ve been sharing in our weekly eNews some of the discussions that we had during the workshop.  Below is what I shared in today’s newsletter, and I’ll add a few more comments afterwards.

What is the purpose of the church?

That was one of the questions that came up during our Vision & Values Workshop at the beginning of March.  In a survey that was shared with the group, there were four possible responses.

  1. To Teach the Golden Rule
  2. To Be the Moral Backbone of Society
  3. To Make Disciples
  4. To Provide Fellowship and Love One Another

Those all seem to be good responses, and I think there would be people that could make an argument for each one.  In fact, here’s how it came out:

  1. To Teach the Golden Rule – 3.4%
  2. To Be the Moral Backbone of Society – 4.1%
  3. To Make Disciples – 35%
  4. To Provide Fellowship and Love One Another – 57%

That’s right, 57% of the responses said that the purpose of the church is to provide fellowship and love one another.  Now, nobody is going to object to a church that does that, right?  But that wasn’t the question.  The question was: what is the purpose of the church?

As I read through Scripture, I don’t see anywhere that Jesus tells his disciples to get into little groups and just care for one another.  That’s because he doesn’t.  So, why do we do it?  Because it’s safer that way.

It’s safer to stay in our little group and not be intentional about making disciples.  We don’t have to fear rejection or the occasional snide remark about faith when all we do is take care of ourselves.  But that’s not exactly the life to which Jesus calls us.

Like his disciples in Matthew 28, we are called to make disciples.  To be intentional, to reach out because we have something that the world lacks – the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ.  That’s the purpose of the church.  Any other group can provide fellowship and love one another – get some friends and go fishing if that’s all you want.  But if you want a life-changing encounter with the living God, and to share that experience with other people… well, that’s what the church is for.

I think too often, we forget that the church doesn’t exist for itself.  I’ve heard it said that the church is the one institution that exists for those outside of it, and there is so much truth to that statement.  So, what happened?

I’m not an expert, so let’s just clear that up right away.  I’m just a guy who does some reading, thinking and observing when it comes to churches.  But I think what happened is that we got lazy in the church.  There used to be a time when Sunday morning would roll around, and seemingly everybody would get up and go to church.  Nothing else happened on Sunday morning.  It became part of the routine, and we forgot why we were there in the first place.

We had a conversation in Bible study last night along these lines.  The staggering statistic is that as many as 80% of youth (maybe more) drop out of the church after high school.  And look around – how many college-age people have come to church in the last month (and don’t count Easter, that’s cheating!)?

Is the problem that there are atheist professors in college who influence people into dropping out?  Is the problem that they spend too much time partying in college that it doesn’t seem like church matters any more?  Is the problem that there are no “cool” churches around their campus for them to attend?  Or is the problem something else?  Is it because we have, for far too long, left ministry to “the professionals”?

“I don’t have to be involved with the youth because that’s why we hired a youth pastor” – that’s the mentality that I have seen from some people.  Somehow, we have decided to specialize and “professionalize” the church to the point that we aren’t making disciples any more.  Pastors are expected to be little more than chaplains – be there when I’m sick or going in for surgery, do my grandson’s wedding, and make sure I have a nice funeral… oh, and make sure you put on a good show this Sunday too – entertain me.

The picture I put at the top of this post was shared for a reason.  Notice: there’s a graveyard outside the building.  It’s actually very nicely kept.  I do wonder, though, what’s the inside of the church like?  Is the graveyard the only thing that is well-tended?  Or is it a place where the dry bones are coming to life?  Where God is glorified?  Where disciples are being made?

We no longer live in an age where people automatically come to church on Sunday morning.  There are a hundred other things vying for our attention.  And, you know, I’m okay with living in this new era.  It reminds me of another time when people didn’t automatically just go to church because it was the thing to do on Sunday morning.  In fact, calling it a new era isn’t really all that accurate.  It’s simply a revival of an old era – the era that started when Jesus told his disciples to go and make disciples.

If we, as the Church (notice the capitalization), return to our main purpose of making disciples, then perhaps we’ll see something special once again.