The local church’s competition

church competitionThe most-mega of Lexington’s mega-churches opens a new satellite campus this weekend. For many in our congregation, their new campus is much closer and more convenient than their main campus is.

I’ve had some people ask me if I’m concerned about it; if I’m concerned about “closer competition”; if I’m worried that we might lose people to the big, bad mega-church.

On a similar note, a popular book on church stewardship came out a few years ago with a new definition of “competition.” The first paragraph of the book tells how the number of non-profits in America doubled in the last ten years. Then it says, “What these numbers show is that in ten years the competition has nearly doubled.” The rest of the book is about how to get people to give your church more money when competition for charitable dollars is so stiff. (My conference actually encouraged all of its pastors to read that book.)

According to those who asked me about the mega-church, the local church’s competition is other churches.

According to that popular book on stewardship, the local church’s competition is all other non-profits – church and non-church alike.

Friends and colleagues, let’s please not miss this:
The church’s competition is sin, injustice, and heresy!

So long as other local churches aren’t teaching heresy or condoning sin, they’re our allies. That mega-church people have asked me about has made some great strides in the battle against injustice, both in Lexington and around the world. Years ago, one of my closest friends began taking his faith seriously as a result of their ministry. They’re allies, not competition.

And the children’s hospital, the blood center, the homeless prevention center… Competition? Really?!? For Christ’s sake! Literally. Surely we see these as great allies!

Scarcity and Abundance

I think those who see the the non-profit charity banquet and the church down the street as competition are operating out of a scarcity mentality: there are only so many Christians with only so much money to go around.

If our concerns are as petty as getting people to our church rather than the one down the road, getting people to give to us rather than the shelter for battered women, is it any wonder that the American church is in decline?

Here’s the truth: there is an abundance of competition out there. There’s no shortage of evil in this world.

And there is an abundance available from God to go out into our world and fight back. If you don’t have enough money to do something worthwhile, it’s not because the blood center took it all.

So mega-church, grace and peace to you. I hope your new campus this weekend has an encouraging start. We need your help. Darkness covers the earth. We need the light you’re providing.

Children’s hospital, homeless prevention center, para-church youth outreach, grace and peace to you. Thank you for identifying some particular places that need a special outreach and witness and giving them your full attention. We need you.

Church – and especially church leaders – how about offering the gospel more and spending less time on these petty issues?

And a small note to the other side

I’m remembering some conversations I’ve had about “the Reformed folk kicking our tails.” There are some secondary “competitions” within the Church, and I think they’re okay and healthy.

So for instance, I believe every church should be celebrating weekly Eucharist – and in a meaningful, not half-baked kind of way. But those who don’t (which, as it turns out, includes that mega-church)? I still consider them friends – just in need of some more persuading – not foes!

I believe in Wesleyan theology. It has been life-changing for me. I believe it’s better and truer, richer and deeper than Reformed (often called “Calvinist”) theology. I wish it would be taught better, proclaimed more boldly, available in more resources. In that, yes, the Reformed folk are kicking our tails. But on the whole, the Reformed, the Pentecostals, the Roman Catholics, the independent evangelicals, yes, even the Dispensationalists, are allies, not competition. If any of them start a new church down the street, I wish for their success.

If I really believe a church or non-profit is doing more harm than good (e.g. the infamous Westboro Baptist), then they’re at best mis-guided allies, or perhaps outright evils that need to be combatted. The best I can wish for them is serious reform, or to go away. But those are the rare exceptions, certainly not the rule.

Right now, the ones that concern me the most are those whose Christianity is so shallow and mis-guided that they wake up each day to do battle against those villainous children’s hospitals and mega-churches.

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Dan Boycott says:

Great insight, Teddy! As a career para-church youth guy who dearly loves the local church, I have long desired a greater spirit of “we can do it better together” among the Body of Christ wherever I have lived and served (4 different cities in two countries). Let’s be encouragers–love Jesus together, serve the community together, spread the Gospel together, be about the work of the Kingdom–together.

Jon Walker says:

Leon Appel said, “There is no competition between lighthouses!”

We have systemic 8th-10th commandment issues in the North American Church, and we could go a long way in restoring our fidelity to the commandments by pastoring contentedly with the charge God has given us…the souls we already shepherd. If we grow numerically while living faithfully to God’s call, then God be praised, and let’s be sure that it is only God Who is praised.

Derek Robinette says:

Very good post. I wasn’t as against Not Your Father’s Offering Plate as it sounds you are. I understand where you are coming from, but I was challenged from that book to take the best practices of non-profits and apply them to how the church fundraises beyond tithing. Most churches I have been in stop at the stewardship campaign and the introduction to the offering each week. Taking some of the boldness of non-profit groups and applying it to the church could provide for amazing ministry that is not funded at most churches. Also having a game plan that book suggests for larger expenses might motivate people to send some of those large dollars the church’s way.

I know you weren’t only doing a critique of that book, but there are some very good points and challenges that come from it.

Teddy Ray says:

Thanks Derek. I agree with you about the book. It offers a lot of good, practical advice that seems to be much-needed in the church.

I suppose it’s like a book on discipleship packed with useful advice, but that begins by saying, “Do you want to create such a great discipleship program that people will leave all of their other churches to come to yours? We can teach you how.” The starting premise is so wrongheaded – and promotes such a wrongheaded and damaging mentality in its readers – that I have a hard time doing anything but criticizing it.

rev says:

The mega church satellite down the road doesn’t worry me, it’s their message which is troubling…

In my case and others, the church down the road preaches they are the one true church and all these other churches are just weak ineffective churches. I have listened to podcasts where the charismatic leader rails against the other local churches and their many failures in the community.

Above all these things I know that 90% of their “new folks” come from other churches (the ineffective ones) or as they call them marginal Christians. They will have a true conversion and become new Christians for statistical purposes at the new church.

I worry that we are not all about the same mission. I worry some churches new and old are more interested in growth, flash, and style over sin, injustice, and heresy.

Preach it, Teddy Ray! Great post!