Church planters and pastors are attracted to tweaking and adjusting their worship services and churches like a moth to a light bulb. I’ve spent countless hours doing this. Many of you know the feeling.
One Sunday morning you look out and see lots of empty seats. You have this compulsion that says, “I’ve got to do something!”
And so you begin to tinker. You change the order of worship. You add that one awesome new worship song by your favorite artist that is sure to cause goose bumps in the congregation. You change the time you meet, come up with a new logo, adjust your mission statement, and look for a competent drummer who can give your worship music a “fuller sound”.
But for what? Is that the best way to steward our time? I’m convinced that church planters and pastors spend far too much time tinkering with decisions like this.
We need to spend a lot less time tinkering with the logistics of our service or the order of worship and a lot more time praying and disciple-making. How can you resist the urge to tinker?
#1 – Remember the Goal
Remember that your goal as a pastor or church planter is not to put butts in seats. Oftentimes the desire to tinker comes from seeing empty chairs or pews on Sunday. That’s when the pressure to make changes comes.
Getting people into church can be one way to reach our community, but in an increasingly post-Christian environment it’s less and less likely that unchurched people will simply walk in on a Sunday morning no matter what changes you make
Additionally, God did not call you into church planting or pastoring because He expected you to keep attendance up on Sundays. Pressure to do that may come from other people, but not from Him.
Not only is the pressure to get more people into your worship service not from God, it also is what often leads to misappropriated funds and focus.
What I mean by this is that when we begin to view keeping attendance up as our highest priority, it is inevitable that our funds and focus will follow.
Money will begin to be poured into making the Sunday service more appealing. Lots of money.
In a 2008 study called Passing The Plate, sociologists found that only about 3% of money given to churches and Christian ministries went to aiding or ministering to non-Christians.
The average Christian church’s budget allocates 85% of tithes and offerings towards the internal operations of the congregation.
While it may not be intentional, this subconsciously feeds into the already problematic and persistent mindset among many North Americans that church is a spectator sport.
I show up, you put on some good music and a good sermon so I feel energized/ uplifted/ equipped, and then I go home.
The point is that as long as getting more people to come to church is the goal, those numbers won’t budge in the right direction.
Not only will our funds shift in the wrong direction, our focus will also inevitably shift away from expanding God’s kingdom to growing the kingdom of my church.
I don’t know many pastors who would admit to doing this, and I don’t think many do it purposefully, but it’s common.
Many times, compromise is tied to this subtle pressure to increase attendance. Church membership requirements become lax, church discipline all but disappears, and the preaching starts to resemble vanilla pudding.
To be sure, if your primary goal is to get lots of people to come to your church, you definitely won’t be able to preach like Jesus! (see John 6:22-71).
Is this not why so many of our churches in North America have membership rolls filled with people who come to church twice a year or who live in open sin? Is it not why so many Christians are spiritually malnourished from living off vanilla pudding?
The warning signs of a straying focus are clear.
When we begin to be gun shy about planting churches, giving away resources, and sending out our best volunteers to help start other churches, it’s a sure sign that the focus is on growing the church rather than expanding the Kingdom of God.
The pressure to keep attendance up feeds all of this. That pressure could come from a sending church, from a mentor, from your own ego, or from the church’s shrinking budget.
Regardless, you need to remember the goal if you want to keep from letting it shift your funds and focus off of the Kingdom of God.
#2 – Remember Your God
To resist the urge to tinker, not only do you need to remember your goal, you need to remember your God.
Over and over again, Scripture reminds us that it is God who is sovereign and in control. God saves people and we just sow the seed. If you feel pressure to get more people in your church or see increased baptisms, it’s not coming from God.
“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6)
Now listen. Desiring to see more people baptized or more people at church is not a bad thing. Don’t misunderstand me. What’s problematic is when we feel pressure to create these outcomes that ultimately only God can create.
Do you really think that finding a better guitarist for your worship band is going to cause people to come back to your church, let alone cause more people to get saved?
It’s not that these things don’t matter at all, and if God brings along a gifted guitar player, that’s great! Do what you do with excellence.
But this is not impacting God’s bottom line in His Kingdom. Like, at all. Putting the burden of bringing in more people on our own shoulders causes stress & anxiety. What’s worse, pastors often carry it alone. It’s why depression and suicide are far too prevalent in the ministry today.
Sandwiching the Great Commission, Jesus said:
“All authority has been given to Me…. and I will be with you always” (Matt. 28:18-20)
It’s the assurance that Jesus has all authority that will take the weight of pressure off of your shoulders and back on God’s broad shoulders. He can handle it.
Let me invite you and your restless mind to rest in the arms of a sovereign God who sees your hard work and cares for you. He called you to the ministry for His glory, and He will see to it that He is glorified.
“Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” – John 12:28
I don’t know about you, but that’s good enough reason for me to set the incessant tinkering aside.