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Which Church Wins?

September 15, 2010

Church A: A Western Mega-Church

I would like you to please consider two Sunday morning services in two different countries.  At one, in a developed country, they have an 87 year old church building that sits in the middle of town.  It was declining, but now has been increasing and the church attendance has risen to more than 5,000 people.  The church has built new facilities and in planning a 7.3 million dollar worship facility with all the latest in media technology.  They do several mission trips a year involving more than one hundred people preaching the gospel, helping the poor and providing for orphans in Mexico.  Each Sunday they take a significant offering from among the members.  The monthly income exceeds $480,000.  Approximately 38% of the budget is spent on the facilities (including utilities), 41% is for staff salaries and 10% goes to a contingency fund (in case the economy dips, so they can still pay for the facilities and staff). Another 8% is for church ministries including their media ministry which broadcasts the Sunday morning messages on 1620 AM radio and cable channel 827 at 3:00am making their ministry truly global! The remaining 3% is set aside exclusively for missions.  Hey, don’t knock it!…  3% of $5.76 million is a lot of money! (Precisely $172,800)

Just so we do not focus exclusively on money, surely the most important thing is the impact the church is having on people’s lives.  Last year 238 people made a decision for Christ.  22 of them were even older than 18.  198 people were baptized, including one whole family.  Most of those baptized were children due to the vibrant VBS program held each summer.  Praise God for that.

Church B: A Small Rural Cambodian Church

Let us move onto the other church.  It is very poor and located in rural Cambodia.  The church is now about seven years old.  In those seven years, they have started six more churches in nearby villages which add more than one hundred people coming to Christ. All of the members and leaders were former Khmer Rouge soldiers and Buddhists.  Now they are Bible believing Christians.  On a typical Sunday morning they have about 15 adults and 20 children.  They all worship together, sitting on the floor in a one room wood church building/ home.  Last month they had a new family accept Christ as well.  On this Sunday morning it was pretty hot.  There are no fans, no electricity, and no worship band.  Today one of the boys brought a guitar from the city where he learned some Christian songs.  They sing about eight songs interspersed with fervent prayer.  Following the worship time is a time of corporate prayer where they all appear to be engrossed in their prayer; all praying at the same time and out loud.

For the sermon, one of the older women reads the entire chapter of John 15 and then they discuss it and its interpretation.  They again pray and thank God that the persecution Jesus endured was so far greater than they have ever experienced.  In their village they are daily mocked by others, rocks are thrown at them and their possessions stolen, all because they have believed in this foreign God named “Jesus”.  After the sermon, they take an offering which came to $5.80.  After they pray and commit the money to God, they count the money right in front of everyone so everyone can see.  I ask the leaders what they will use it for and they quickly respond, “to feed the poor who don’t have enough food to eat”. Their tone of voice sounded as if I should have known.

Then, they ask who has any special requests.  Two have cold, a third confesses to being hungry and a fourth hurt his back trying to catch fish to eat down by the local stream.  Everyone gathers around them and pray.  It lasts several minutes.  All those who are sick, except the back injury, say they are healed and move back from the group.  They continue praying for the man for several more minutes until he begin to sweat profusely from his body.  They give a shout of “Praise the Lord!” This manifestation demonstrates to them that clearly he has been healed.  He confirms a significant difference in his levels of pain and mobility in his back.  He is a new believer.

Comparing these two churches feels like comparing apples and oranges.  How can we compare the effectiveness of two entirely different churches?  I have an idea!  Let’s take a look at what the Bible says about the New Testament church.  Let’s list the Biblical characteristics of a New Testament church.  A good place to start is Acts 2:41-47 which describes the early New Testament church.  It says,

41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 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, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:41-47, NIV)

Now obviously, this passage does not cover the whole compendium of verses which speak of the Body of Christ, but it has a good description.  It describes the church as: 1) Baptized believers, 2) growing rapidly, 3) devoted to teaching, 4) fellowship, 5) breaking bread (eating), 6) Let’s go ahead and add the Lord’s Supper here because we know from 1 Corinthians 11 they should do that. We continue with 7) prayer, 8) signs and wonders,  9) living together in community, 10) sharing everything, 11) selling their possessions and goods, 12) giving to anyone as they had need, 13) meeting daily together, 14) ate at each other’s homes, 15) were glad with sincere hearts, 16) praised God, 17) enjoying favor (yet persecuted), 18) daily, people were saved.  Let’s also add one more: 19) missionary, because the whole book of Acts is about leaving Jerusalem and taking the gospel everywhere.  That is a pretty big list.  Now let’s try to rank the two churches:

Biblical Characteristic

Western

Cambodia

Your

Church

Church

Church

Baptized believers

1

1

Growing rapidly

0

1

Teaching

1

1

Fellowship

1

1

Breaking bread (eating together)

1

1

Lord’s Supper

1

1

Prayer

1

1

Signs and wonders

0

1

Living together in community

0

1

Sharing everything

0

1

Selling their possessions and goods

0

0

Generosity to others

1

1

Met together daily

0

1

Hospitality

0

1

Glad with sincere hearts

1

1

Praised God

1

1

Enjoying favor (yet persecuted)

1

1

Daily people were saved

0

1

Missionary

1

1

11/19

18/19

Totals/ Grades

(58% F)

(95% A)

Comparing ourselves to the New Testament Church in Jerusalem is very revealing.  Often what we consider “church” is not what the Bible considers “church”.  The Bible does not say anything about facilities, number of staff, medical benefits, style of worship, architecture of the building or the number of services per week; but, it has a lot to say about how believers interact among themselves, among the community and sets very high priorities for serving others.  Why not run through this list for your own church and see what you come up with?  Then I think you should pray about what God wants you to do about it.

Obviously, there is not a competition of churches with “winners” and “losers” in heaven, because it is people, believers, who are the church.  I just wanted to draw your attention to this lesson on the church. The Bible says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10, NIV). “Churches” (in their institutional form) do not answer to God. We, the believers, do.

So, which church wins?  Which church is more effective?  Which church is more biblical?  Which one would you want to be a member at?  What does God want you to do about it?

Note: The point of this blog is not to compare churches.  It is simply used as a tool for us to think about our own effectiveness and what we need to do better on if we are going to reflect a Biblical church as the highest standard.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. greg potthoff permalink
    September 15, 2010 11:01 pm

    Steve, good word this morning. In America it seems big churches with the huge worship facilities are attracting many. We need to come to terms that Church is not a feeling or a High we get by being raptured in music all the time Maybe its a necessary movement in this country to attract more youth. Its a season of growth which will grow into deeper service. Love you brother, Greg.

  2. Nel Dekker permalink
    September 16, 2010 6:20 am

    Amen to ALL of it! Love you Steve and please keep stirring……

  3. September 16, 2010 10:15 pm

    Hi Steve,

    You have made such a vitally important point here – Thank You for doing so.

    Churches do not need to be fancy or entertaining – they need to be effective in what they are meant to do. They need to lead people to Christ and help the poor.

    Do you mind if I post this on my own site with a link back to this site? This must be passed along.

    God Bless,

    Chad

    • September 16, 2010 10:39 pm

      No problem. I am glad it is stirring some hearts. God bless, Steve

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