Take a minute right now and consider what churches you know would make your list of “influential” churches? What criteria would you use? Number of members? Growth? A well-known and revered senior pastor? Active in the community? A killer social media presence?
G. Campbell Morgan talks about influential churches in his commentary on the book of Acts. In discussion of the Spirit-led apostolic sermon in Acts 2, Morgan notes that influence then meant that the people were amazed at what they saw, interested enough to inquire (even if they were “perplexed” and even dismissive) and were attracted to join. How did these churches show lasting favor? Beyond the initial flame of the first days of growth, church members giving generously to each other indicates “influence.” When members are willing (not coerced) to give out of their own hearts then that church can be called influential.
The influential Church is the company of loyal souls who ‘continue steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, and in the breaking of bread and the prayers,’ who eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, who manifest in their individual lives and corporate capacity the strength, the beauty, the glory, the compassion of the Christ. Wherever there is such a Church you will find the Church that has favour with the people.
In 1924 when this book was published, here’s the kind of church that Morgan felt was called “influential” for wrong reasons,
We call a Church influential now because of the kind of people that attend it, because of the money which it raises for philanthropic objects.
I suspect we could add to this short list other forms of “influence” as how many people visit the church website, the number of times quoted in Christianity Today, or the number of satellite locations.
Is your church influential?
I suppose a few key questions might help us assess our own churches:
1. Are we better known, as a corporate body, for being compassionate or correct? Would your church be attractive to new refugees coming into your community?
2. How connected are the people who regularly attend? Would new attenders want to join in smaller cell groups?
3. Are outsiders perplexed and amazed by what the church is doing and teaching? For example (and these are examples admittedly come from my domain of counseling), does your church ever say anything about mental health issues? Does your church talk about the scourge of addiction–in a compassionate way? Does it talk about domestic violence in ways that do not suggest that staying together is more important than safety?
These questions should not be asked so much of the individuals within the church (though that isn’t a bad thing to do) but of the corporate identity.