Pastor and Christian Leadership Resources

5 Symptoms of Churchianity You Need to Avoid

5 Symptoms of Churchianity You Need to Avoid

Symptom #1: Church Is a Spectator Sport

Those who know me know I am a college football fan. I guess I am a pretty rabid college football fan as well. Instead of drawing the ire of fans of other schools, I will simply say that my team is pretty good. Indeed, their record in recent years is one of the best in the sport.

So it is with a bit of amusement I sit in the stands during a game and hear our fans scream out what the team should or shouldn’t do, or what the coach should or shouldn’t do. At other times, I go to the online bulletin board for my team. Again, I read how our fans often know so much more than the coaches and the players.

But I have to admit, I am guilty at times myself. If we are not attending a game, my son, Jess, and I typically watch the game on television in our respective homes. Looking at our texts after the game is over can be an amusing exercise. We knew exactly what play should be called. We knew what mistakes the coaches were making.

Yeah right. We are really smarter at football than those coaches and players. Not.

We participate in the sport as a spectator. We don’t participate in the grueling practices. We don’t have the knowledge and experience of the coaches. We don’t experience the pressure of fans, administrators, recruiting, and winning.

We sit back and watch and offer our “valuable” input.

Churchianity can be like a spectator sport. Members attend but they don’t actively participate. They expect others to do ministry. For some, the only time they get passionate is at a church business meeting where they express their displeasure and anger.

Symptom #2: Church Is about Me

This subject, “church is about me,” was really a major sub-theme of my earlier book, I Am a Church Member. That book focused on the attitudes of church members. This book, of course, focuses on the actions of church members. Specifically, we have been looking for ways to move church members toward an outward focus.

When we have a country club mentality about the church, we do not serve. Instead, we seek to be served. We have paid our “dues,” so we expect others to work for us. What are some signs that a church member has the symptom of “church is about me”?  These statements are indicative:

“I told the pastor what I wanted him to preach; he just doesn’t listen to me.”

“I don’t like the temperature in the worship center.”

“If we don’t change our music style, I’m not coming back. I’ll find another church that can meet my needs.”

“Someone is in our seat/pew.”

“The church decided not to offer the 7:30 a.m. service anymore because only a few people are attending. Well, that’s my service. If it’s gone, so am I.”

“The pastor did not visit my sister’s mother-in-law in the hospital, even though I told him to.”

“The church voted to paint the worship center a hideous color. I am infuriated. I just might stop giving.”

You get the picture. Biblical church life is about serving, about sacrificing, about giving, and about putting others before our own desires and needs. Churchianity is about being served, receiving, getting your way, and insisting on your needs and wants before others.

Symptom #3: Church Is about Dwelling on Its Flaws

Do you remember my story about Bob Hand? Bob was my informal mentor when I was a twenty-something banker. I noted that he became concerned about me because I was acting like a comet Christian. I was saying “yes” to everything and everyone.

But I think his concern hit a new level when I started complaining about some things in the church. He knew that was a symptom of churchianity, thought he wouldn’t phrase it that way.

So Bob did what he did best. He told me a story. He told me a story about marriage, and how in the early days of the marriage both the husband and the wife can see no wrong in each other. But then, after living together a while, each of them begins to notice the other one is not perfect.

Bob told me that story happens in every marriage. And we basically have one of two choices. We can try to see the best in our spouse and love him or her despite the imperfections (he said it’s that “for better or worse” thing). Or we can complain and nag about the shortcomings. Maybe to the point of separation. Maybe to the point of divorce.

He then asked me the rhetorical question as he always did: What’s the better choice?

The story hit home. I knew Bob was referring to my relationship with the church where we were members. It was a good lesson. I started praying more for leaders and members in my church rather than complaining about them.

Symptom #4: Church Has Low Expectations

Joanna became a member of Franklin Community Church a little over a year ago. She liked the preaching and the music. It was a convenient drive from her house to the church. The children’s ministry was outstanding. Indeed, that was the greatest draw to the church since she had two children ages seven and nine. She felt responsible for their spiritual nurturing since her husband did not attend church.

So Joanna made the decision to join FCC. There was a card in the church bulletin that allowed her to show her interest in church membership. She wrote her name, address, and e-mail address. And she waited.

She did not hear from the church for six weeks. She was preparing to call the church office to find out what was taking place. That week, however, she received a letter from the church: “Dear Joanna. We are pleased to inform you that you were voted to be a member of the church in our most recent monthly business meeting. Welcome to Franklin Community Church!”

That was it?

No one from the church had ever contacted her. No one knows if she is really a Christian or not. No one has shared with her information about the church. No one has indicated to her how she might best serve in the church.

Yes, that was it.

With so few expectations of her, Joanna never really got connected. She started attending less frequently. Still no one contacted her. Soon she and her children left the church altogether. No one missed them. No one contacted them.

For Joanna and her children, the story has a happy ending. She got involved in another church. People contacted her. She was happy to go through a new members’ class for membership in the church. And she was immediately given the opportunity to connect with a small group and to be involved in ministry. She and the kids are doing well.

Symptom #5: Church Has Cliquish Membership

This symptom is similar to #4 in that it’s difficult to get involved in the church. One church has only a few members involved because it is a low expectation church. Another church had few members involved because most members aren’t connected with key cliques in the church.

The cliques can take different forms. One common clique is an informal power group in the church. They represent an informal alliance of typically longer-term members. In many ways, they consider the church “my church.” Anyone has to get tacit approval from that group to get involved or to get anything accomplished.

Another clique can be a family power group. Some older churches especially have a network of connected people whose origin is one or two families. Those families may date back to the birth of the church.

Sometimes the clique may be a formal group such as the elders or deacons or church council. Of course most of these groups are healthy and functioning biblically. But if the group becomes a barrier to members becoming meaningfully involved in the church, the members are practicing churchianity. They are hindered from functioning as biblical church members.

Let us look at how we function in our churches. Is it biblical or is it a form of churchianity? If it is the latter, may we make a renewed commitment? If we are asked if we will continue to practice churchianity, let us respond without hesitation.

I will not.

[Editor’s Note: This excerpt is taken from I Will: Nine Traits of the Outwardly Focused Christian by Thom S. Rainer, Copyright © 2015 by Thom S. Rainer. Used by permission of B&H Publishing Group.]

Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, one of the largest Christian resource companies in the world. Also a respected pastor and researcher, he has written more than twenty books, including the #1 best seller I Am a Church Member. Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons, several grandchildren, and live in Nashville, Tennessee.

Publication date: November 6, 2015