Last week I was listening to Bryan Rose interview Will Mancini on the topic Stop Faking Disciples & Real Church Growth (available on iTunes at My Ministry Breakthrough, May 7, 2019). Will made a great point at 28 minutes in about the orientations that churches have.
What’s an orientation? An orientation is a basic characteristic, a way of thinking that determines the nature of activities, programs, and expectations of the church.
Will is trying to help us discern the big WHY of our church life. Here’s a quote he gave from a younger pastor friend, “I’m trying to teach my people Sunday has got to be more than a show with a few hooks in the water throughout the week” (4:20).
In fact, Will suggests we often work from a weird requote of the Great Commission Go into all the world and make more worship attenders, baptizing them in the name of small groups and teaching them to volunteer a few hours a month (5:30) (Matthew 28:19).
Have you felt this way, that there must be more than this to church?
Here are four church orientations that I’ve seen in churches. These are not academically or research defined, instead, they’re labels to help us think a little bit better about our churches.
The program church is designed around planning and doing things: worship teams, Celebrate Recovery, benevolence program, school tutoring, Trunk or Treat, and a million other programs. The assumption is if people are engaged in church activities they’ll grow into active disciples. However, Willow Creek discovered that engagement in activities does not correlate with active discipleship (Reveal: Where Are You? Willow Creek, 2007).
The event church is about putting on the worship event. One type of event church runs serial worship events with great worship, dynamic preaching and an emotionally engaging experience in a 60-minute format that moves people in and out like a good Disney ride. Liturgical churches are another type of event church. Here the formality of liturgy forms the event as it leads people through the pre-designed Christian calendar. The assumption forming the event church is if you touch the heart through the event experience, you get everything else.
The information church is characterized by teaching and instruction. The purpose is to fill people’s heads with knowledge because if they know it well, they will live it well. Information churches often have 3, 4 or more teaching events a week: the sermon, the small group Bible study, mid-week Bible study, personal study, the accountability study group, etc. In an information church the goal is to let people feed, and feed, and feed.
The training church (28:00) is built around the modeling, practice, evaluation, and accountability of living a Jesus way of life. Following Jesus is about practicing this way of life, living a lifestyle of discipleship. In my experience working with new churches and people who are often new Christians, we can no longer assume people know what a Jesus lifestyle is, let alone know how to live like Jesus. A training center church will focus on helping people practice the skills of discipleship. Its purpose is to make disciples who make disciples.
I’m not saying that the training church is the only valid orientation. But I do think it is helpful to think through the orientation of your church in order to find ways you can bring better disciple training into your church life. So, where do you see your church? If you were to take an honest look at your church, what would your orientation be?