We can see this in our worship services across America today. We organize worship services based on music preferences. Hymns, praise choruses, or modern radio singles. Rock band, praise team, or choir. High-holy or modern. Instruments or a cappella.
We can even drill down further. On age group preferences. On day and time preferences. You can choose based on the style of building you prefer. On the amount of liturgy.
We pick services based on how well the pastor speaks. How he makes us feel. How long or short his messages are. You used to be able to even find a church in Waco that would guarantee a 30 minute worship service on Sunday, and advertised that fact.
We pick churches based on the programs that they offer. Is there a thriving kids ministry? Youth ministry? Singles ministry? Seniors ministry?
In and of themselves, investigating these options is not wrong. Often you can get a sense in how a church is thriving by looking at its various activities. The problem occurs when each of these choices is put in front of whether the church is preaching and doing the Truth of the Word. When our choice to join or leave a church is based on our preference and not on the Spirit of God.
For what God wants most, is willing and open hearts turned to Him. For us to gather to exhort one another and to exalt His name. Regardless of music, regardless of dress, regardless of location. As with everything in Christianity, the focus is on something internal, not on all the window dressing that we put on it.
The other, larger issue surrounding the catering to personal preference within the church is that it exacerbates the fracturing of the Church into segregated pockets of Christians. Preventing the Church from being a united body of Christ.
"Our society has made “preference” a synonym of church. Not only are we segregated racially, but in age as well. And we encourage it! First service is for those who prefer hymns while second service is for those who prefer upbeat, modern music. The older, wiser people head to first service while the younger, brasher people head to the second and everyone suffers the death of segregation. If we can’t agree on a way of doing church together, we’ll just host multiple churches inside of one."
Jamin Bradley, If Everyone in Your Church is Just Like You, You Have a Problem,
Relevant Magazine, February 19, 2019
From there, you can even have two churches in the same town of the exact same denomination that never interact with one another. How many towns do we go through that have a First, Second, Central, etc. Baptist Church in them?
The Local Churches Guide for Wills Point from 2015 lists twenty-two churches. Those are just ones with a Wills Point address. That's astounding for a town with a population of 3,608 people. That would mean each church could have an attendance of 164 people, if everything were evenly divided.
And were that the case, were those churches full and alive and vibrant and united, there might be reason to celebrate having that many churches in such a small community. But what we know that is not the case. When Stonepoint was founded, eight years ago, our pastor did some digging into comparing the reported numbers of attendance with actual weekly attendance numbers. And he found the discrepancy to reveal the population in the Wills Point area to be around 70% un-churched or under-churched. Something that confirmed the need for a church plant actively ministering to those groups.
It seems to me, that the twenty-two churches in this small town does not represent something to celebrate. Instead it represents a larger failure of the body of Christ to get along.
How many churches exist because someone disagreed on the style of music in worship? On the length of the message? On the color of the carpet? You laugh at that last one, but I've heard of a church split on that very issue.
And I don't mean to pick on Wills Point. I could do the same for Buna, my hometown. Or for any number of towns across the country.
When church exists for our preferences, we then make little kingdoms for ourselves to feel comfortable in. It's a country club or day spa. Somewhere we have rights and privileges. Instead of the place where we all have incredible responsibilities.
"We have made church to be a place of comfort when in actuality, it should be one of the least comfortable places we go all week. It should be a place where God continually calls us to something greater and bigger - a deeper holiness; a more extravagant worship than last week; a greater depth of inner-healing; a conviction to confess something to another.
It should be a place we choose to attend based on the discomfort of having to interact with people who are different than us in some way, whether it be culture, language or something else. It shouldn't be a place we choose to attend because it has cupholders, theater seating and a lack of the Holy Spirit so things don't get too weird, heavy or off-schedule."
The Church is supposed to be the people of God, united in His cause. It's the reason the Nicene creed refers to it as one holy catholic and apostolic Church. Little "c" catholic in this context refers to the universal Church. The one body of believers that represents all of Christendom.
It's supposed to push us forward. To bandage us up when we get hurt, but to keep us in the fight.
It's why we should see more churches working together for the benefit of their communities and for the Kingdom of God. To have a thriving community of believers all unified in singular purpose, regardless of difference in preferences or in minor theological points.
Look at how often Paul reminds us of our need for unity, of our ultimate purpose, in his letter to the Ephesians.
"As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."
Let's move beyond preference. Let's move beyond what church is seen to be. Let's move into that radical direction of what the Church is really supposed to be. Something that goes out with us, to all the ends of the Earth.