Carey Nieuwhof is a pastor and church thinker with a world-wide ministry. I receive a daily email from his ministry and have shared articles from his website before. Here's another one that is thought provoking, this time about the "perfect" church. You can find the full article, complete with links, at its original website here.
Any church leader who’s been in ministry for more than a few months has heard different variations of it:
I'm looking for a church that meets my needs.
What are you going to do to better meet my needs?
I'm leaving this church to find one that better suits my needs.
The longer a Christian has been in church, the more likely it is that they've uttered a phrase or two like this from time to time.
I'm not against changing churches. I think everyone has one or maybe two church changes in them. Leaders change. The effectiveness of churches can vary in different seasons. And occasionally a church is downright toxic. I get that.
One or two church changes (when living in the same community) is understandable. And it's completely different from serial church shopping, which for reasons I outline in this post, is a colossally bad phenomenon.
The problem is deeper, though, than changing churches (as big a decision as that is). It's about the purpose of the quest. Should the criteria of a church meeting your needs be the reason you change churches? Well, what if the church was never intended to meet your needs? What if the furthest thing from God's mind when he created the church was to meet your needs?
Here are 5 reasons why I believe trying to find a church that meets your needs is futile.
1. A Church that Meets All Your Needs is probably Off-Mission.
If a church ever meets all your needs as a Christian, it’s probably off-mission. Because the church was never designed to meet all your needs. It was designed for glorifying God and showing his love to the world.
A church that is only about meeting your needs is a church that’s focused on insiders while the world is quite literally going to hell.
The attitude that the church exists to meet the needs of members is one more remnant of consumer-Christianity, which is a strand of Western Christianity that continues to die. I outline why here (along with 5 other church trends to watch in 2017).
2. You'll Uproot All Your Non-Christian Friends.
If you're drifting from church to church to satisfy your needs, what happens to all the non-Christian friends you're building into? Oh wait… that almost never comes up in conversations with Christians who demand their needs be met. Because they usually have zero non-Christian friends. Their idea of church isn't about the mission. It’s about them.
Think about it. If you're living out your faith and sincerely praying for friends who aren't in a relationship with Christ, theoretically there are at least a handful of non-Christians who will be impacted by your move.
But usually, that's not even on the radar screen of Christians who move to satisfy their needs. Because there are zero non-Christians involved.
3. Christianity was Never about Satisfying Yourself.
The heart of the Christian faith isn't about satisfying yourself, it's about dying to yourself. If Christians stopped indulging their preferences and starting focusing on Christ and on helping others, the church would be so much healthier.
It’s strange, but the happiest and healthiest people aren't those who are focused on meeting their own needs. As this Harvard Business School study shows (Note: Link not found), there is a demonstrated correlation between giving away time and money and experiencing a feeling of happiness.
Perhaps it's because that's exactly how God designed us. Because when we give, we get.
4. Your "Needs" aren't usually Needs.
To be fair, we all have a few basic needs. A church should be biblically faithful. It should be reasonably healthy. And it should focus on the true mission of the church, which is to make disciples (not just be disciples but make disciples, which means reaching out).
When someone says that a church doesn't meet their needs, what they usually mean is a church doesn't suit their preferences.
When you drill down, 'needs' often means:
Is this my kind of music?
Did the people notice me?
Do I like this place?
A lot of Christians these days ask, "Did I like it?" And the moment they don't, they're done. When no church meets your needs, maybe you should check your 'needs.'
If you really boil it down, because of the rise of consumer Christianity, too many church members think their mission is to criticize. A church member's mission isn't to criticize. It's to contribute. Criticizing has never been the Gospel. And that's never the best contribution we can make.
5. Your Needs are Never Satisfied.
Needs are like appetites. They grow when you feed them. You probably already know this, but if you're always trying to satisfy your needs, you'll never be satisfied.
We all roll our eyes at the guy who 'needs' a new car, or a new computer, or a vacation, or a new phone when he pretty much has the latest (okay…confession…I can be that guy when it comes to tech….).
The truth? Those aren't needs. But that's the problem with what we call needs. They're never completely satisfied.
Stop Spinning Your Wheels…Reach People Instead!
So what should you do if you feel your current church doesn't 'meet your needs'? Maybe the best thing you can do is focus on the mission God has given you. Which happens to look an awful lot like the mission God gave all of us: to love the world for which he died.
Chances are there's a pastor who loves that mission, and maybe some other Christians in your church who are committed to that mission too.
And if you give your life to it, you’ll discover your needs don't matter nearly as much as they once did. In fact, you might even find them satisfied.
If you take your eyes off what you want and begin to see what other people truly need, it will change how you live.