Points to Ponder: Do you belong to one of the excellent congregations?

Points to Ponder
Do you belong to one of the excellent congregations?
by Pastor Dennis Whitmore

Former pastor, Dr. H.B. London, Jr. cited nine factors which are evident in an "excellent congregation." He pulled this information from Paul Wilkes' book, Excellent Protestant Congregations (Westminster Press). Over a two year period, Wilkes had found 311 congregations "of every type and style" which exhibited these nine factors of excellence. Check these against your own church:
* Evidence of a joyful spirit
* Awareness of members' diversity
* Welcoming attitude toward all in the church community
* Emphasis on true spirituality and a deep relationship with God
* Innovative and thoughtful worship
* Collaborative decision making among pastor, leaders and lay members
* Awareness of Christian tradition
* Scripture based teaching and preaching
* Confrontation of real problems with members and the community in which the church is located.
Having not read the book, I am hesitant to make any commentary on the above points except to say that it made me think.
There are thousands of churches in just the state of Maryland alone. Isn't it sad that in two years time, Mr. Wilkes could only find 311 congregations in the whole nation that exhibited these nine factors? What about your church? As you review these factors slowly and reflectively, do you find that you either contribute to the presence or lack of any one of them in your congregation? Are you actively part of the solution, or are you one of the pillars that under-girds the problem(s) in your church? If you are not active in any way other than attendance (showing up, sitting in your pew, then quietly going home) you could well be part of the problem. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ and intentionally are not part of a body of believers, then you are also part of the problem. Doing nothing is a vote in favor of the way things are.
Jesus founded the church, He must have thought it was important. The intentionally inactive, passive "Christians" (a word, which means Christ like, or Christ follower) are saying by their actions that they disagree with Jesus. The early church, first generation Christians, multiplied by the thousands in a matter of days. What did they do?
"They continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine (teaching) and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers. Then fear (awe) came upon every soul and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles... So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved." (Acts 2:42-43, 46-47 NKJV, emphasis added)
I would imagine that the first Christian church exhibited those nine factors of excellence and probably a few others as well. The whole community was affected and influenced by the church. All the people, being involved in each other's lives, striving to grow in the word, and praying and worshipping together, allowed the Lord to move through the community freely, as unbelievers watched how different the lives of these Christians were. "And the Lord added to their numbers daily..."
Today, the mainline churches are declining, having drifted from the basic biblical foundations and doctrines. Some of the independents are so independent, that people are wary of them. Some of our mainline bishops, pastors, and lay leaders and teachers (though they have taken vows to uphold the core doctrines of the Christian faith) actively speak out and teach against them. Jesus in the gospels, and many of the New Testament letters speak of these things. There will always be false teachers. On the other hand some independent churches are so exclusive that they exclude the very ones they are called to teach. I recall a recent Sunday morning cycling trip through southern Virginia. I stopped in the independent community church about two hours before service time. There was no information anywhere on the church itself, no tracts or material about Christ or salvation, or anything that "invited" me to come. Ironically, a discarded bulletin in a pew revealed that a revival had been held just a few days earlier.
We have a lot to think about and a lot to learn. Why does the Church of Jesus Christ exist? Why is your church part of that greater body (His Church)? What do we need to be doing individually and as the local church, to become one of the "excellent congregations"? As you observe the empty pews in your church, the missing members who dropped away, and the visitors who do not return, this is a point we all need to ponder and deal with. NOW.

This column can be found on the web at: www.fumcl.org. Pastor Whitmore is not affiliated with Picket News, nor does he submit material directly to our publication. We regularly reprint interesting articles found at his public web site and encourage all readers to visit for similar material.