A member of our staff struck up a conversation with a pharmacist. Things turned in such a way that she invited him to a “Family Night” hosted by Meck.
His initial response?
“I like competition with my sports, but not with church.”
She soon learned that he wasn’t a Christian, but had started attending a church to explore faith for his life which, unfortunately, soon split, leading to a new church across town. From that point on, he felt nothing but competition seethe through the psyche of the originating church in the messages and almost every new venture.
He left in search of a new church, landing on one that showed promise. But within weeks, he picked up on it again. The mission of the church seemed to be being “better” than other churches. The story line was simple: “No other church in town is like us, as good as us, is doing what we’re doing, or loves Jesus like we do. Aren’t you glad you’re here, and not there?”
He stopped going to church.
Competition between churches is one of the most prevalent yet least- talked about issues in church-world. I’ve written about it in my latest book, Christ Among the Dragons, and also on this blog (The Largest and Fastest Growing and Why Don’t We Just Pick Up the Phone?). But I never imagined how strong a negative it was to those outside of the church.
I thought it was our dirty little secret.
It’s dirty, but it’s no secret.
As I recently tweeted, if you think the church across town is your competition, you need mission lessons.
Let’s unpack that a bit.
If you think the growth of your church is based on whether you are “beating” other churches, you need mission lessons.
If you think the heart of church growth for an Acts 2 biblically-functioning community is meant to be transfer growth (sheep swapping) from an existing pool of churched believers, you need mission lessons.
If you think a new church opening up in your area is a threat to your “mission field”, you need mission lessons.
If you think you need to match area churches brick for brick, event for event, staff for staff, program for program, gimmick for gimmick, you need mission lessons.
If you think you deserve to pat yourself on the back because you landed an article in the paper or a story on the six o’clock news about being a big, fast-growing church in town vs. those smaller, slow-growing churches in town, you need mission lessons.
If you think you need to keep up what the church across town is doing instead of the dynamics of a post-Christian culture, you need mission lessons.
If you can only learn from churches more than fifty miles away, or be generous in spirit toward the growth of churches in other cities, you need mission lessons.
Here are the realities:
*The mission of the church is to reach out to those who are far from God, divorced from a relationship with Christ, and develop them into fully-devoted followers of Christ. The Great Commission’s first-half is evangelism; its back-half is discipleship. But make no mistake: we begin with evangelism. And evangelism means reaching out to those who are not currently followers of Christ.
*Since conversion growth, as opposed to transfer growth, is the goal, it doesn’t matter whether a thousand new churches open their doors on your street. While you welcome and celebrate existing believers who need a church home, when it comes to outreach and primary growth, you are not after the person who is looking for a church!
Your real competition is a darkened world and the blindness of sin-stained lives.
Your strategy is for Believers to build relationships with non-Believers, share their faith, and invite them to experience the new community of the church.
Which means your challenge is the relational divorce that exists between Christians and non-Christians.
Sorry, but I don’t see other churches anywhere in that mix except, hopefully, as co-laborers in the effort.
Satan would love nothing more than for churches to see each other as the heart of the contest, and to fall prey to petty grievances and complaints, rivalry and strife, jockeying for position in the battle for existing sheep. He knew Jesus was right: “A kingdom divided against itself will collapse” (Mark 3:24, NIV).
So he seeks to divide.
If he can’t divide a church itself, he’ll divide the churches in an area.
This is not to say that there can’t be honest disagreements between churches, and sometimes the practices of one church or another in your city may force you to distance yourself a bit for the preservation of your integrity. But those kinds of qualifiers are a given, and don’t have anything to do with competition.
So whatever happened to our pharmacist? He came to “Family Night.” He then came the following weekend to one of our services.
My guess is he’s going to wait around just long enough to see if our competition is limited to Carolina and Duke.
James Emery White
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About Dr. James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
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