What is the purpose of the church? This question has been debated for thousands of years, and continues to be discussed today. If asked, some pastors might say for people to know Jesus and make Him known. Some might say to reach lost souls. Some might say to save and sanctify those that don’t know Jesus. And many others would say similar and/or differing things. Here is the thing, in Scripture there is no model for how the church is to be built. There is no “how to” guide in what a church is to do and be from A to Z.
So what I have noticed and what has become very popular in style and methodology over the past 20-30 years is the growing of an entertainment approach, whether through actual entertainment acts and events or through cultural appeasement. If Scripture doesn’t lay out exactly how a church is to reach the goals of helping people to know Jesus and become more like Him there should be nothing wrong with an ongoing entertainment model, right? I actually think this could be wrong.
Here is what I believe. There are two verses in Scripture that are clear of the purpose of the church. Now, there are plenty of other verses and passages that focus more in on how the church can go about doing these (i.e. serving the poor) but these two verses focus in on the purpose of the church as defined by Scripture:
Matthew 28:18-20 – Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Colossians 1:28 – He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.
Make disciples. Maturing in Christ. This is the purpose of the church. This doesn’t hit on how the church is to do worship or sacraments as that is established in Scripture as well. It just gives the purpose first and foremost. So in the conversation and debate in more recent years, I haven’t heard much of this going on. I haven’t heard much conversation of, “How do we make disciples and mature them in Christ better?” or “What are we intentionally doing to help people know and live like Christ more?” I have heard and been a part of conversations that sound like, “Get them here so we can get them saved”; “Save your lost friends”; “Reach the lost through a powerful story”; “Let’s get them here with a great event and then share the gospel with them at the end”.
I’m sure you have heard and been a part of many conversations similar to this. These statements are not wrong or bad. Here is what I have seen that makes them wrong-focused. They typically begin and end with entertainment, and don’t do much of the making disciples or maturing in Christ. I’ve heard it said, “What you attract them with is what you must keep them with.” If the church attracts people solely with entertainment means then when they either aren’t thoroughly entertained or another church puts up a ‘bigger ferris wheel’ people will move on to that attraction. If they are rooted in entertainment then that is what you have become to them.
Now I don’t want to jump on the bandwagon of the bash the seeker/attractional church model. There is nothing in Scripture that says churches should not be attractional and have evangelistic type events to bring people in and present the gospel. I agree with this model, not as THE model, but as A model. However, I have seen churches on both sides of this debate of for or against attractional either typically lean too far towards entertain and are not properly making disciples and helping to mature them in Christ. I have also seen churches that lean too far towards the edify side and are not evangelistic and are only inward-reaching. Here is where I think churches need to take a good look at their God-given mission and purpose.
Churches are called by God to make disciples and mature them in Christ. If a church focuses on entertainment approaches then it needs to take a step back and ask, “After they are here, how are we helping to continue them in their discipleship process and maturing them in Christ?” If the event happens, you count how many came and were ‘saved’ and move on, then this is not in line with the purpose of the church. How are you helping people in their discipleship process? How are you truly helping them to worship God? How are you helping them to read and understand the Bible, and begin to understand theology? These types questions must happen as well. It’s important to talk about the before the event, during the event AND after the event intentionally. All three parts are critical to pursuing the purpose of the church.
If a church focuses heavily on the edification side, it is important that they don’t become too in-reaching and only focus on the saints in the seats. I have seen this plenty of times, and this is one contributor to dying churches. A church should be helping people to be evangelistic through their discipleship. A church does not have to do evangelism and outreach through events, but a church should not do nothing as the result. A part of discipleship and maturing in Christ is actively sharing your faith.
So in terms of entertainment or edification, I believe you can have both in a church. But one is definitely more important than the other. Churches must be making disciples and maturing them in Christ. How you work towards this purpose is through the mission and vision given to your church by God. Churches must be edifying their people. If a church wants to be attractional through events, that is great as long as there is a strategic plan to then help people to be maturing in Christ afterwards. If a church wants to focus on edifying and stay far away from entertain, then don’t lose sight of evangelism and look only inward.