Take a look at the calendar of events for the typical active church in America and you’ll see that it’s likely full of meetings, special sessions, classes, and various other events throughout the year. At any given church you’ll see activities such as service days, gospel meetings, vacation Bible schools, door-knocking evangelism days, fellowship meals, camps, youth events, Bible bowls, retreats, and any number of other events that they’ve scheduled for each year.
However, a busy calendar does not automatically make for a spiritual, solid, thriving body. In fact, at least to some extent it wouldn’t be a stretch to say the church in America “has a name that we are alive, but we are dead” like those in Sardis in Revelation 3. But if we’re participating in all of these things together, how can we be ineffective? How can we host a gospel meeting and prepare for it with a Saturday or two of evangelism, and yet see little carryover in evangelistic zeal once it ends? How can we have young people who attend youth rallies, camps, devos, and any other number of regularly scheduled events throughout their teenage years still fall away? How can we have fellowship activities but rarely seem to progress past knowing biographical information (name, career, family, hobbies) about many of the people with whom we worship?
Somewhere between all of these events it becomes easy to equate participating in those with being active Christians. Sure, there are many useful church activities that can serve their purpose well, and the events themselves aren’t the problem. It’s that the events become the focus of the Christian life. The answer, of course, isn’t for churches to stop planning activities, but it also isn’t to try to keep the doors open constantly with activities and programs that keep our members busy. At some point, our faith has to go home with us. In Luke 9:23, Jesus told His disciples that the call to take up their crosses was one they would have to answer daily.
The true key to making church events and programs more effective doesn’t lie within the events and programs at all. The success of everything that happens when the members are gathered at the church building hinges on what takes place away from the building when we all go our separate ways. It’s so tempting to look for short cuts to getting the results we want by adding more and more programs and events, but we have to realize there is no easy road to church effectiveness. It’s a process that relies on the work we put in together away from the Sunday/Wednesday spotlight.
What makes worship better? Praise and preparation for it every single day. What makes service days more effective, with more buy-in from members? Regular opportunities to serve and expectations that such service will take place throughout each week. What helps evangelistic campaigns reach more people? A constant zealous attitude among the congregation toward lost souls. What gives young people a foundation for faithfulness that they can bring to their activities? Discipleship by their parents and older Christian mentors, showing them how to study, pray, evangelize, and live the Christian life. What helps us move past the superficial and really grow to lean on each other for strength when we gather for worship and study or for fellowship meals? Regular time spent in voluntary fellowship along with dedication to each other through our thoughts, prayers, words, and actions.
Sure, all that sounds great, but with busy lives and people with all kinds of competing interests, how do we do it? How do we start creating this culture of “church away from church”? The same way anything is done in the church – through discipleship.
Part of the inspiration for this article was a sermon I heard recently where the preacher was helping teach his listeners this process of discipleship. He described how he and his family would pick two or three families or individuals at a time and spend time in regular fellowship, having those folks over for dinner every so often or going places together. They didn’t just gather to watch sports, talk politics, or play games – they’d take every opportunity to discuss the Scriptures, to pray for each other, to show the others how to study their Bibles, to teach them how to evangelize and make disciples out of others. As those folks reached maturity, they would spend less and less time with the preacher’s family and more time with other families in the church whom they could teach, perfectly exemplifying the “disciples making disciples making disciples” model of 2 Timothy 2:2.
If we’re working to cultivate those kind of relationships together, we’ll never again have to worry about whether or not people are going to show up to our service day or door-knocking event. We won’t see the church become stagnant within a week or two of a gospel meeting. We won’t see our youth come off of the spiritual highs of summer camps or youth rallies and revert to being distant again. If we want our activities to be truly effective, all we have to do is what Christ wanted from us all along – invest in each other, disciple each other, and love one another. Be the “church away from church.”
By Jack Wilkie
Jack Wilkie is the author of “Failure: What Christian Parents Need to Know About American Education” and is the speaker for Focus Press’s “The Lost Generation” seminar. To schedule a seminar at your church or for more info, contact jack@focuspress.org.