We didn’t need Gallup to tell us this; we’ve know this for a while. You’ve heard of Gallup. They are the company that conducts all kinds of opinion surveys. From politics to popsicles, if you want to know what America thinks, Gallup has been the standard for a long time. Recently, Gallup surveyed church-going Americans about why they attend the church they attend. Their conclusion – Three in four worshippers say sermons a major factor in why they go. Apparently, what’s important is the content of the sermon, and sermon content cannot be separated from the person delivering the content.
I’ve not surveyed church going Americans, but I do have an opinion. While a church’s pulpit may be the initial draw for believers and seekers looking for a church, the pulpit alone won’t keep people at the church. Keeping them at the church will require connection beyond the pulpit to the whole of the church family.
Here in the Twin Cities, and I suspect in many more places, good preaching is available in a wide array of local churches. By good preaching, I mean preaching that is faithful to the text, delivered passionately and clearly, and calls the listener to respond. Conservatively, you can find that kind of preaching in dozens of pulpits around our cities. No doubt, geography and church size might play a factor in choosing a church, and other matters will contribute too, but the pulpit and the personality in the pulpit regularly are the clincher. While the pulpit and the personality in it may draw you to a church, the pulpit is not likely to keep you connected to that church over the long haul. Long term connection to a local church requires deep relationships within the whole church family not merely the pulpit.
Think about it: the pastor is not the church. He’s one part of the church. He’s one member of the whole body. Paul teaches us a church consists of many members, all of whom are critical to the life of the body. Connection to the church should be broader than one person or one ministry. If the connection is narrow, what happens if that connection goes away? What if your one connection becomes a foreign missionary or a church planter? What if your one connection is to your favorite children’s ministry whose shelf life has come to an end? What if your one connection is to a family who relocates to another state because of a career move?
Often when church members become unsettled in their church it is not because the content in the pulpit has changed, often the discontent is because of a lack of connectedness to the broader church body. Simply, there are no meaningful Christian relationships keeping people closely connected to their church. They are not discipling a younger Christian nor are they receiving mentorship from a more mature Christian. They experience few moments of shared prayer with others in the church. They do not engage with others in the mission of the church. They cannot point to anyone in the church as someone they’ve pursued with the gospel with whom they now worship and serve our Lord. A growing sense of emptiness takes over their minds leaving them wondering, “What’s here for me?”
Well known pastor and author David Jeremiah gets it right when he says, “Every believer is commanded to be plugged in to a local church.” Being “plugged in” means being connected to the people of the church and having the people of the church connected to you. When this is a reality for you, I think you’ll find much deeper satisfaction with your church, and I think you’ll find improving health in your church.
While I will always elevate the pulpit ministry of a church as key in the overall health of a church, I will also elevate the necessity of relationships in the church as key to the overall health of a church. Grown over time, these relationships will foster Christian maturity in all parties, can promote the fulfillment of the Great Commission, bring great joy to the whole church, and please our Lord as we pursue our love for each other.
1 Thessalonians 3:12 And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you.
As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.