LeaderLines - from Hillcrest Baptist Church, Austin, Texas  Contact Tom Goodman, Pastor
Manage Your Subscription -- Subscribe/Unsubscribe Contact Us About Your Subscription

How to Help People Love God's Church
by Tom Goodman
January 11, 2008

Birds flock together.  So do Christians, and for the same reasons.

I thought of this after reading a story a friend sent me from today's USA Today.  It's about a recent Lifeway survey that found a very low opinion of Christian churches among unchurched adults.  Eighty-six percent said that they can have a "good relationship with God without belonging to a church."

But God intended his people to band together, and for the same advantages that draw birds to fly together.

Have you seen geese in the autumn fly in V-formation as they make their southern migration?  How about starlings taking to the air -- hundreds of them, swirling, swooping, and turning this way and that, as if they were all communicating with each other at once?  I'm sure you've watched blackbirds fly in long tornado-like swirls, thousands at a time, like a tentacle up from one field and down into another.

We've all seen this flocking phenomenon among birds, but only recently have scientists begun to discover the reasons for it.  Two researchers at the California Institute of Technology did the math and estimated that a bird could fly as much as seventy percent farther in a V-formation that allows birds to use the rising air currents streaming off the wings of its neighbors.  Scientists have also surmised that flocking helps with navigation, since several birds -- not just one bird -- would be looking for the landmarks to guide them on a long journey.  Birds in flocks can also better protect themselves from predators.  Starlings, for example, "group up" in the air when a hawk makes a dive toward them.  A predator can snatch a single starling out of the air, but by uniting, and darting right and left in unison, the starlings can successfully confuse the hawk and make their escape.

We Christians have learned that we gain the same advantages by flocking together as believers.  We enjoy greater endurance, we navigate through life better, and we find protection from destructive choices when we flock together.

The Lifeway survey reported in today's edition of USA Today gave me no new revelations.  I've talked with enough seekers across the years to know that most are either indifferent or hostile to the idea that connecting to a church could benefit them spiritually.  The Lifeway report simply put some stats on a national issue that I've known for years: 72% said the church is "full of hypocrites"... 44% agree with the statement "Christians get on my nerves"... 79% agree that "Christianity today is more about organized religion than loving God and loving people"... and 86% say they can have a "good relationship with God without belonging to a church."

That's why I tackled the subject head on when I wrote my book for seekers, The Anchor Course.  In the first of three chapters on the subject, I wrote:

Many seekers have been attracted to the lifestyle of their Christian friends, and they have been impressed by the work of a local church.  Other seekers, however, have stories of hypocritical Christian neighbors, judgmental Christian relatives, and churches in their past that left them either bored or emotionally beaten up.  This disillusionment shows up in polls and census information which reveal growing number of people who identify themselves as "spiritual" are not attached to any particular religious body.

LeaderLines is an e-newsletter designed for church leaders, and it's essential that, as a leader, you help people understand why they need to plug in to a church.  I've discovered two ways to do this.

First, you need to point out that Jesus loves the church.  To those who would say, "Don't talk about the church, talk about Jesus," I would say that talking about the church is part of talking about Jesus.  Loving someone means sharing in that person's passions -- and Jesus is passionate about his church.  The Bible says, "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her."  (Ephesians 5:25)  People have to understand why Jesus loved the church so deeply if they're going to take him seriously.

Second, you need to emphasize that Jesus has a vision for the church.  People get cynical when they see what humans have made of the church, but when seekers look at Christ's intent for his church, they get a lot more intrigued with the topic.  Seekers want to know what it means to be a believer, and part of what it means is joining other disciples in pursuit of an inspiring vision of what "church" is supposed to be!  In my talks with seekers, and in Part Five of The Anchor Course, we look at this hope-filled blueprint designed by Christ himself.  The ancient Apostles' Creed summarizes the vision in three words: the church is to be one, holy, and a communion.  As I put it in chapter 14:
Note that these three words work best to describe an assembly of people rather than a building or a corporation.  This corrects a major misconception right away.  Many understand "the church" as a building they go to or an organization that can do things for them....  The church is not a building you go to but a body you belong to.  A building or an institution cannot really be described with words like "one" and "holy" and "communion" -- but people can, and Jesus intended his people to be worthy of those titles.

In our ancient Creed, even as we recite together, "I believe in God the Father," and "I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord," and "I believe in the Holy Spirit," so also we profess together, "I believe in the one holy church" and "the communion of saints."

As a church leader, you can't shy away from the topic of church involvement.  In my talks with seekers, I've found that I don't have to.


LeaderLines is a weekly "e-briefing" providing valuable information and inspiration to those who serve at Hillcrest Baptist Church.

Do you know friends who would appreciate LeaderLines?  Just forward this e-mail to them!

Have you subscribed to LeaderLines?  You can subscribe by clicking here and following the instructions.  Your e-mail address will not be sold or given away to anyone, and you can automatically change your subscription or drop it by following the easy steps provided with each e-mail.