Church as an advertisement for the church

Mega-church Willow Creek has been drawing a lot of attention from bloggers passionate about the church as they’ve rolled out the Reveal study, as well as the changes they’re trying to implement throughout their institution as a result. The study (so far) has basically quantified what a lot of us who care about the church already suspected: the deeper you grow spiritually, the less impact church services and programs seem to have on your life in God.

Although I don’t resonate with the marketing they’re doing with this information (pay to bring your church leadership/staff team to an Event so you can have a conversation about it), I admire the Reveal team for choosing to wrestle with the issue of what the church is – and isn’t – supposed to be doing.

Focusing on the “why” strips away the obsessive focus on organizational/instititutional management that characterizes staff discussions at a lot of churches. Because promoting, managing and funding the institution becomes a focus, the church sometimes becomes nothing more than an advertisement for the church. If you drill deep enough in these places, you will likely find life – but you have to buy what the ad is selling, then perhaps hunt like crazy through the institution to find the (real deal, big C) Church in action. (Note: small groups in a big church are not the de facto place where you’re guaranteed to discover the Church. If you’ve ever been in a terrible, false small group, you know what I’m talking about.)

However, this is not a slam against Big Box guys. Small congregations are just as easily tempted to focus on building and selling their own corner of the kingdom and claiming its something its not.

I have seen the Church at her most beautiful. She is radiant, hopeful, generous and completely love-struck as she waits for her Bridegroom. She lives like this as she waits:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” – Acts 2:42-47

In fact, she lives like this because she waits. She knows Who she is waiting for.
You don’t need to market and continuously massage your institution to in order to sell people church.

The Church gives herself away – to God, to one another, and to everyone around them.

About Michelle Van Loon
  • Mar

    Michelle –

    This was absolutely beautiful! The picture of what the Bride is doing while waiting for the Bridegroom — that image added a lot to my day. Thank you!

    Because of Christ,
    Marcia

  • Michelle Van Loon

    Thanks, Marcia! :)

  • sheryl

    Michelle,

    Hello! I’ve read your comments at Jesus Creed for a while and saw your link. It says you live North of Chi-Town? I live in the same area in Great Lakes (Lake Bluff, Waukegan). I’m wondering if we are in the same neck of the woods??? What a coincidence that would be. Blessings, Sheryl

  • Michelle Van Loon

    Hey Sharyl -
    Yes, we are living in the same neck o’ the woods. We live in the Round Lake area, and I work part-time at Trinity International University.

  • L.L. Barkat

    I’ve never been comfortable with marketing the church. Plus, it’s always interesting to consider the way Jesus talked about “joining”. Take up your cross. Stuff like that. Hardly the thrilling advertisement. And yet, somehow there were people who were thrilled indeed.

  • Michelle Van Loon

    Amen and yup. There were people who were thrilled – and lots of others who wanted to kill Him.

  • Bob Hyatt

    Hey Michelle-

    Loved this- what would you think about us publishing it in this month’s Next Wave?

    http://next-wave.org

    Let me know: bob (at) evergreenlife (dot) org

  • Tim Aagard

    “The church gives herself away – “
    Only in very mediocre fashion when the prevailing system of church is where 85% of the giving is consumed to meet the needs of the givers – namely to hire professional experts and build buildings for crowd oriented gathering. This is known as the institutional form. There is a form, more clearly taught in the Word where 100% of the giving goes beyond the givers to reach all nations and serve the poor. Every gathering is 100% participation by the saints. God never asked for pew oriented gatherings. He specifically asked for one another oriented gatherings where “the richness of Christ dwells in believers as they teach and admonish one another with all wisdom… Col. 3:16. There are soooo many excuses for maintaining the old system, but in God’s time he may force it to be torn down by the removal of the wealthy economy that props it up. We have the power of the H.S. to help us obey the Word without trials to push us there.

  • Paul D. Adams

    “85% of the giving is consumed to meet the needs of the givers”

    This is better than the average Christian household who gives only 10%a and keeps the remaining 90% for itself. Hum….

    On a related note: see my The Blessing of Giving.

  • Michelle Van Loon

    Tim, I agree with you that voluntary obedience, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is preferable to the trials that are designed to break us and invite us to obedience. (And we know they’re coming.) I agree that we consume a lot of our own resources. If we are giving only so we can receive the benefits of our giving, it’s not really much of a gift, is it?

    Paul’s post about giving says this as well. Our churches are a reflection of us – and if we spend most of our personal income on ourselves (Honestly, 90% is probably way too low a figure for many of us)- then it is no wonder that a corporate gathering will look and act the same way.

    I need to change. I need to be different than…well, the 90% me.

  • Tim Aagard

    Paul, The 85% figure is from Leadershp Journal. The little chart they included that displayed “normal” church giving showed that all but a couple slivers of the pie were devoted to facilities and staff – 2 things God has not asked for and 2 things that distract believers from doing what the scripture says they should do. Another figure they give is that the average christian giving unit gives 2.3% of their income. I don’t think the Holy Spirit would convict anyone to give more than that when 85% of it is going back to the giver.

    In the article you link, you gave one scripture on giving from Acts 20:35 “It is more blessed to give than receive”. This is used by Paul to establish his teaching and example that leaders, overseers, pastors, should meet their own needs when helping people spiritually. In 1 Cor. 9 he teaches the right to be paid AND refusing this right or serving “free of charge”. It’s also taught in 2 Thes. 3. The folks who teach institutional church cross off these scriptures and only teach “the right to be paid”. I heard Chuck Swindol laugh off Pauls remarks and say “Paul only meant it for himself.” The household of faith shrivels itself, and emasculates it’s potetial eternal rewards when it follows these false teachings. The existing clergy and laity like it this way. They only roll their eyes and throw out a list of justifications when spoken to about it. We had to give up the whole system. God has designed a different kind of church. We won’t see it in the Word if we read only with tradition tinted glasses.

  • Michelle Van Loon

    I think many of us tend to weight some Scriptures more heavily than others – even if we claim to be sola Scriptura, all Bible, all the time. I’ve been in churches who’ve majored on minutae, focusing like militia on a few pet verses or themes (head coverings, home schooling, justice). Even the most radical, unchurch folks I’ve known tend to have their own (non-traditional) traditions, and lean on some Scriptures more heavily than others in order to support their practices or peeves.

    Perhaps the question is – How do we truly love those we disagree with at core levels?


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