Wondering if the seamstresses at Nike headquarters in Eugene, Oregon are busy today sewing together Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony puppets…………
Philip Yancey and his wife recently visited all 24 different churches in their town on 24 consecutive weekends. They just went through the phone book (does anybody use the phone book anymore?) and went in alphabetical order. They visited churches with organs and choirs, churches with praise bands and electric guitars, and even a Church of Christ that featured acappella singing of songs projected on PowerPoint slides. They found churches full of suits and ties and others with blue jeans and cowboy boots.
Based on what Yancey is calling an unexplainable intuition, he says he could tell the “aliveness” of a church within just about five minutes. He bases some of this on the noise level in the foyer, laughter in the conversations, and activities promoted in the bulletin. He’s trying to put this “health-of-a-church-formula” into better organized thoughts and words. But most of it, he admits, is just a gut feel.
So far, Yancey’s come up with three main attributes of a healthy church, a congregation that’s alive. I’m quoting now from his November ’08 article in Christianity Today:
1) Diversity. As I read accounts of the New Testament Church, no characteristic stands out more sharply than this one. Beginning with Pentecost, the Christian Church dismantled the barriers of gender, race, and social class that had marked Jewish congregations. Paul, who as a rabbi had given thanks daily that he was not born a woman, slave, or Gentile, marveled over the radical change: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Diversity complicates rather than simplifies life. Perhaps for this reason we tend to surround ourselves with people of similar age, economic class, and opinion. Church offers a place where infants and grandparents, unemployed and executives, immigrants and blue bloods can come together. Just yesterday I sat sandwiched between an elderly man hooked up to a puffing oxygen tank and a breastfeeding baby who grunted loudly and contentedly throughout the sermon. Where else can we go to find that mixture?
When I walk into a church, the more its members resemble each other — and resemble me — the more uncomfortable I feel.
2) Unity. Of course, diversity only succeeds in a group who share a common vision. In his great prayer in John 17, Jesus stressed one request above all others: “that they may be one.” The existence of 38,000 denominations worldwide demonstrates how poorly we have fulfilled Jesus’ request. I wonder how different the Church would look to a watching world, not to mention how different history would look, if Christians were more deeply marked by love and unity. Perhaps a whiff of the fragrance of unity is what I detect when I visit a church and sense its “aliveness.”
3) Mission. The Church, said Archbishop William Temple, is “the only cooperative society in the world that exists for the benefit of its non-members.” Some churches, especially those located in urban areas, focus on the needs of immediate neighborhoods. Others adopt sister churches in other countries, support relief and development agencies, and send mission teams abroad. Saddest of all are those churches whose vision does not extend beyond their own facilities and parking lots.
Yancey’s list is, obviously, not complete. But, we can all agree that these three characteristics are huge for churches striving to reflect our Savior and his Gospel. And it’s not a stretch to see that all of our churches have work to do in all three areas.
This should not be a disappointment to us. We should view this as a challenge. And a great blessing and privilege — that our God would allow people like us to embody his presence on earth.