Last weekend we decided to go to church. Not just any church however, but a big church in New England that has a lot of production and more different kinds of pastors there than there are spiritual gifts in Corinthians. My wife has relatives who attend the church, and a family gathering blanketed our calendar for the rest of the day so we decided to join them. In the last few months I’ve attempted to stay away from big production type churches. The churches we have attended have been nice and small and so far we’ve had no nightmare experiences, so that’s good.
The church is Calvary Christian Church in Lynnfield, Massachusetts.
We arrived 15 minutes early to throngs of cars attempting to get into the parking lot. But thankfully there was a nice spot for first time guests, and a parking lot attendant waiting to greet us as we stepped out of the car with our 4 kids. The attendant greeted us warmly and walked us to the kid ministries for our two 6 year olds, 4 year old, and 2 year old. All of the kid environments were exciting and the volunteers seemed to be happy to be there and excited about taking our kids from us.
After about 5 minutes, we walked into the auditorium, and that experience is what I wanted to share with our readers.
A popular church word people throw out these days is the word “authenticity”. It speaks of those in the gathering being real and speaking their mind, but ironically in many of the churches who speak of this authenticity, no one actually speaks anything at all of their mind. Lights go out. Band plays. Cue Video. Pastor walks on to the stage, tells a cool story, combined with a quick Bible verse about love (makes us say “awww), forgiveness (makes us cry), or giving (makes us cringe). In the end, a few stick around to talk about the weather or sports, but most leave quickly because of the things they have to do in real life.
Before you think I’m judging, know that I ran the church I pastored this way, and am primarily thinking through my own faults. Hindsight has a way of being 20/20, right?
Which is why I was floored with what I experienced in Lynnfield on Sunday morning. 4th of July weekend and the place was packed. I was told it was a lightly attended week, but that made me think that CCC was all kinds of crazy on normal weekends. I couldn’t wait to see what the fuss was all about. And then I walked in. Three things helped me change my perspective about growing churches when I was there. Here they are:
The pastor’s authenticity, not him talking about authenticity, attracts people
I for one have talked openly from a stage about how important authenticity is, then prepared harder about how I acted and spoke on stage than the content of my messages. Pastor Tim from Calvary Christian recently lost his father and pastors a church of thousands of people, easily one of the biggest churches in New England. In the course of an hour, I watched as he cried about losing his dad, wished some guy who attends his 3000 plus member church a happy birthday, and greeted warmly around 10 guests visiting that week. He was no rock star. He never mentioned authenticity once from the stage. Yet there was something about him that screamed “This is who I am, take it or leave it.”
If a church desires authenticity, one thing I have learned is that talking about authenticity from a stage doesn’t make someone authentic. Talking about life off a stage is probably a better venue for this topic. Focusing on passages the Bible speaks about on a regular basis is a better message than man made ideas. The real self cannot be found within the context of a show or a production, and in truth, only God knows who we really are. But one thing I do know is that an authentic person is one who makes mistakes, talks about random things, and is always submissive to the tasks God gives them.
The congregations diversity, not just their unity, attracts people
I have to tell you about one of the coolest things about this church. Everywhere I looked there were people of different skin colors! Being diverse was never talked about from stage (that week anyways), yet the diversity was unmistakable. It wasn’t a “white” church or a “black” church or a “brown” church, but every color and so many nationalities represented themselves in the church service. I left the service so happy and thrilled that there can be a place that people worship and see others who look different than them and who are from different cultures than them, all the while knowing that they are brothers and sisters in Christ! Do you know how that happened?
The leadership in the church is diverse. A quick glance at the leadership page on their website shows that of the 14 pastors on staff at Calvary Christian Church, half of them are not “white”. Please hear me, I’m not saying that white pastors are bad. After all, I am one. I’m simply saying that if someone wants a diverse congregation, a church must hire a diverse group of pastors as it grows. Clearly Pastor Tim and his leadership is committed to diversity, and I am sure that this diversity leads people to fall in love with their church.
The joy of everyone in the room, not just their attendance, attracts people
I have attended countless numbers of church services with rock bands or hymns, guitars or organs, and seen groups of people who, simply put, didn’t want to be there. Many churchgoers wonder why they are there when they could be doing any number of things that particular day. Once again, I never heard anyone ask them to make church a priority, and yet the thousands of people in attendance that day showed me through their actions, worship, and connection with one another that they wanted to be there, and at the same time that they wanted me to be there. If you are wondering why you’re church is stagnant, instead of asking how can we be more organized or friendly, ask yourself whether or not the people who attend regularly are exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit known as joy. If they are not, that is a problem.
So today I’d love to say thank you to Calvary Christian Church for helping me to see a well organized, production that was, more importantly, authentic, diverse, and joy-filled!
However, that can’t be everything important to the growth of a church? What are other characteristics of a church that is healthy?
Written by Marty Holman