There is a deafening, non-stop discussion in evangelicalism about what the church needs to be (many of the most vocal are those who pastor no one and win very few to our Lord). On and on they pontificate about how church needs to be personally relevant and interesting and meet felt needs. About how it needs to be entertaining for people without making them uncomfortable. About how it needs to be cool and compassionate and connected and cultural and . . . Here’s a “C” word for you, CHURCH NEEDS TO BE COMPELLING.
I believe with all my heart, that much of what the church has become in our day is measly, milk-toast, and malnourished. It’s about as compelling as a ‘walk in the mall.’ I believe the New Testament church needs to be compelling. By that I mean, window-rattling, life-altering, Almighty God unveiling, COMPELLING! (I was yelling when I thought/wrote that).
Here are five things that make church compelling:
1) “Thus Saith the Lord,” Preaching
The most common observation about Jesus’ teaching was “he teaches as one who has authority.” Yet even Jesus used the Word of God for his teaching. “Did not our hearts burn within us as he walked with us on the road and taught us from the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32). A preacher who has been gripped by the Word of God and who is overflowing with Holy Spirit conviction will make a more compelling impact and draw a bigger crowd that all the cheesy substitutes currently popular. Nothing is more compelling than people coming to church and hearing from God through the word preached. Everything else is just pathetic by comparison. “And my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:4).
2) “Spirit, to Spirit” Worship
“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). God is seeking worshipers and we can be confident that when sincere adoration of God’s Son is flowing from the hearts of God’s people, those who attend will report that “God is truly among them.” Again the question we should be asking is not, What do worldlings see as their greatest need? But actually, what is their greatest need? It’s not to be impressed with Jesus or to find out the church isn’t as ‘bad’ as they thought. They need their world rocked by God Himself and He has promised to show up in power when his Son is unashamedly adored from the heart by His people. “The secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you” (1 Corinthians 14:25).
3) Stories of God at Work
The best use of the powerful medium of video is not in showing dopey movie clips that parallel some spiritual reality in some vague unnecessary attempt at relevance. Real stories of God at work in the life of the church are always compelling. The number one source of these stories is of course baptismal testimonies, but other stories of God in the life of His people are also extremely impacting. We are currently building a whole team of media-skilled people to capture the stories of God at work in our church. These stories creatively told in the mist of a worship service, make dramas and movie clips look like a Model T Ford at the Indy 500. Skip what’s cool and go for what’s compelling. If we rattle people’s windows through an eyewitness encounter with God’s power at work in the lives of people today, the issue of ‘relevance’ will see irrelevant. “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).
4) Loving People Doing Life Together
I often say there are ‘no enduring relationships without forgiveness.’ But where those relationships do exist and endure they are a compelling testimony to the power of the gospel. People who are diverse in every way except their love for Christ — living in community and loving one another unconditionally are incredibly attractive and compelling to those who don’t have that. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
5) Miraculous Answers to Prayer
News Flash: God does answer prayer, and where there is a group of believers fervently calling out to God in faith, there will be answers. All around us are people who don’t know how to climb the mountains they are facing. When we take them to the throne of grace, and help them find the help God offers in time of need (Hebrews 4:15) we are giving them something very compelling.
Here’s a word of advice — skip the clever and cultural and cool church gig completely. Be authentically and biblically compelling and you’ll need to order more chairs soon.