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Is The Church Effective?



(PLEASE NOTE: This article is part of a series on The Church. If you've already read the first article which also serves as an introduction to this series, please begin here to read my response to the second question. If you've not yet read the introduction, please read it first. The intro sets up the purpose for this mini-series and will help you to make sense of it all. Click here to go to that intro).



Effective comes from a word that means adequate to accomplish a purpose; producing the intended or expected result.2 (Incidentally, from the same root comes the word effectual, as in "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man" (James 5:16), and means producing or capable of producing an intended effect; adequate).3


The idea is clear. From the word effective, we find a two-part definition which begs a two-part response.


First, when I ask if the church is effective, I'm really asking if it's adequate to accomplish its purpose. Yes, it is. It is adequate in that God has given us everything we need in Christ Jesus to get the job done. The church is so adequate that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. The church is inseparable from the Kingdom of God which is eternal, and there shall be no end.


Consider its five-fold purpose: worship, fellowship, evangelism, discipleship, and ministry. There is not one of these the church is inadequate to accomplish. Jesus commissioned us and empowered us for the task, ensuring the church's adequacy. He would not ask us to do what He did not empower us to do.


But notice the second part of the definition: producing the intended or expected result. In the churches I've observed, I've looked around, watched the pastor and staff, evaluated the church's impact on the community around it and its effectiveness as it relates to whether or not these churches were producing the results Jesus would expect; my conclusion may surprise you.


You may expect me to conclude that since there were empty seats all around me that the church was ineffective. But our Lord's definition of effectiveness is far different from ours. Too often, we judge a church's effectiveness by the number of people who join the church. That is an important indicator, but not all-important.


The all-important indicator is related to equipping the saints to do the work of ministry. In other words, how is the membership doing in the area of bearing fruit? The church that's effective equips its members to bear fruit.


The churches I observed were doing that, but it wasn't a priority for some of them; nor does it seem to be for the church as a whole. It happens occasionally, sporadically, and disjointedly. What about you and your church? If your church is effective, it has taught you the basics of the faith.


Take this brief quiz. Check "Yes" or "No" (mentally if necessary) for each statement about yourself:


       _ Yes  _ No   If the Spirit moves me to share my faith during a conversation with someone, I am
                            confident I can lead them to the Lord (I know the Gospel, I know how to share it,
                            and I know how to help someone pray to repent of their sins and accept Jesus as
                            Lord and Savior).


       _ Yes  _ No   If I lead someone to faith in Jesus, I know how to share, and where to find, the assurance of salvation verses.


       _ Yes  _ No   I know how to disciple my new convert.


       _ Yes  _ No   I daily have, and know how to teach my new convert to have, a Quiet Time.


       _ Yes  _ No   When I go to church, I genuinely worship God; I don't go to be entertained.


       _ Yes  _ No   I know why I need, and regularly engage in, genuine Christian fellowship.


       _ Yes  _ No   I am actively involved in some sort of service (called a ministry in Scripture).


These are the basics of the faith that every adult, young adult, and older teen who's been a believer for a year or more ought to know. If we answered "No" to one or more of these, then we should call into question the effectiveness of the church we attend.


In Hebrews 5:11-14, the writer wrote: "We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. (12) In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's Word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! (13) Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. (14) But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil."


From this passage we see that, in all fairness to those in leadership, it's not always the fault of the leaders. In some cases, the people aren't willing to learn; and some of them just don't get it.


However, many churches are spoon-feeding their people, or worse, are giving them only the milk of the Word and not the necessary meat that will equip them in the five basic areas of the Christian life (see above). So, when I attend various churches and ask myself, "Is this church effective?" what I'm really looking for is evidence that the members are bearing fruit.


You see, just because a church is growing numerically doesn't mean it's healthy. It may mean that it's not effective in the things that matter but is effective in the things that don't. If the majority of new members join because of a slick advertising campaign, a new building, an additional service, or a charismatic pastor, rather than having been led there by the Spirit to join, then the church is only effective in the things that don't matter and is just asking for trouble. A large number of new members is initially encouraging to pastor and people, but in the long run, you end up with more consumers than contributors and the church never gets out of diapers…it remains in the "milk" stage.


Consider this: you walk into a church, the place is packed, the lights are bright, the music is lively, and there's a lot of activity, but there's a disconnect in that most of the people there are wanderers; they wandered in to see what all the excitement was about and then, after the service, they'll wander out; they never got connected. So they come, they sit, they observe, they leave. If they miss next week, no one notices because they've been convinced to come but not equipped to serve. The church has failed to connect with them and has proven to be ineffective in that which really matters. What's the difference between this and going to see a musical? None. The person goes in, gets about as involved in worship as he or she would in a musical, and leaves having been entertained, not transformed.


Now consider the effective church whose members are equipped. The new person who arrives is there because someone brought him or invited him. If he just wandered in, he is quickly befriended. The equipped believer sits with him, introduces him to the pastor and others around the church, and follows up with him during the week. If he's already a Christian, the equipped believer helps him get plugged-in and assists him in evaluating where he is in the discipleship process.


If he's not already a Christian, the equipped believer is prepared to help him cross the line of faith. In no time, the new Christian's being discipled and equipped and starts bringing friends of his own to church. Everyone is accounted for in that every person who walks into the church is known by someone who will help him or her to be equipped to minister in Jesus' name. Only then will it be possible for him or her to live the abundant Christian life and know genuine joy and peace.


These verses are on my heart from John 15:5-6: "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing. (6) If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire, and burned."


So here's the bottom line. The effective church is the equipping church. It is growing spiritually by leaps and bounds. Numerically it may also be growing by leaps and bounds as equipped believers are leading people to Christ and getting them involved in church. But don't be surprised if it's only growing nominally numerically. Why? Because it's following the biblical model: the bar's been set high; the believer is challenged; and each member is encouraged and expected to bear fruit. That leads to an accountability that our postmodern world is usually uncomfortable with.


Jesus didn't command us to go and make converts or even go and make new church members; He commanded us to go and make disciples. The disciple is what you and I are called to be. He or she is the one who can answer "Yes" to all the questions on the quiz above. They are equipped Christians, not nominal Christians.


As E.M. Bounds said, being a nominal Christian is an oxymoron; we can't be both. To say our "Christianity" is nominal is to admit that our faith is non-existent. To be a Christian is to be in the grasp of a vibrant, living faith. The normal Christian life is the growing Christian life. We can't stand in the presence of God and remain the same.


Are you being equipped by the church you attend? If not, ask your pastor to help you find someone to equip you. He'll be thrilled that you asked.


2Dictionary.com, Origin: 1350-1400; ME < L effect?vus practical, equiv. to effect(us), ptp. of efficere (see EFFECT ) + -?vus -IVE
3Dictionary.com, Origin: 1350-1400; ME effectuel (< AF), late ME effectual < ML effectu?lis, equiv. to L effectu-, s. of effectus EFFECT + -?lis -AL 1









Copyright © 2009. Faith Matters by Dr. Ken Lovelace. All rights reserved.

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