Church Competition: I Just Don’t Get It!

Throughout my years in ministry, I’ve always been troubled with church competition. Now, I’m not talking about church softball or volleyball leagues (that’s a totally different post on “Christians Behaving Badly”).

What I’m focusing on is the obvious effort of some churches to compete against one another for members. Unfortunately, its not about churches being busy in the work of evangelism and mission. I’d be all for that!

I’m talking about churches that go out of their way to try and recruit “new” members from other churches. Some of the common phrases that start the recruitment go a little something like this:

“My church is better than your church.”

“My church is cooler than your church.”

“I’m not even sure your church is Christian.”

“Your church is full of heathens who believe Christ is for all people.”

“My pastor is so hip and cool. He’s just like (insert the name of your favorite celebrity pastor…Rob Bell, Mark Driscoll, T.D. Jakes, Joel Osteen, Andy Stanley, etc).”

“My pastor is real. He wears jeans…well, sometimes.”

“Our band is awesome. They did a (insert one of the “church-safe” bands, like U2, Coldplay, Dave Matthews, etc) song last week. And, the week before, they sang, ‘Jesus Take the Wheel’.”

And, the list could go on for hours.

Now, I’ll give some the benefit of the doubt. Some folks are just so excited about their church that they simply can’t keep their mouths shut. Every opportunity they have they feel compelled to inform you about all the “happening” things going on in their local congregation. That’s good. I’m glad they are excited.

What concerns me is when churches go out of their way to belittle the ministry of other churches. Some pastors have no problem standing in front of their congregations and announcing that the “church down the road” is “wrong”…and they are “right”…and we need to pray for “them” and make an effort to “win” their people to Christ.

I’ve worked in four churches. In all four churches, I’ve caught wind of other churches preying on the members of other churches. I just don’t get it!

To be honest, while on staff at three of the four churches, I have been invited to join other churches. These invitations were not the “Hey, man. You should check out what you’re doing. You might be able to use some of the stuff we’re doing.” The invitations have been more of the, “Dude. You should leave that place and come with us. We’ve got it going on!” It’s really funny, even telling people that you are part of the pastoral staff of a church does not stop them. They’ve been programmed to get to the end goal…they don’t even register what you’re saying. Here’s an example of one of the “invitations” that took place not so long ago in a downtown coffee shop:

Random Dude (R.D.): “Hey, I see you’re reading ‘Love Wins’.

Me: “Yep. Have you read it?”

R.D.: “No, my pastor said it was garbage.”

Me: “Did he read it? You know, it is okay to think for yourself.”

R.D.: “So, are you like, a Christian?”

Me: “Yes, I am like a Christian.”

R.D.: “Um, do you go to church somewhere.”

Me: “Yep.”

R.D.: “Oh, that’s cool. Man, you should really check out my church, (I’ll leave out the name of the church). We’re starting this new series. You’d dig it. And, our band is pretty incredible too. We have several services on Sunday morning. I’d even meet you in the lobby so you’d have someone familiar to sit with.”

Me: “Actually, I’m an Associate Pastor at my church. And, well, given that I’m one of the pastors, it’s hard for me to get away on Sunday mornings. But, thanks for the invitation.”

R.D.: “Well, seriously, check us out sometime. I think you’d really learn something from our pastor. He’s really awesome.”

Me: “Thanks.”

He had a plan. And, he was sticking to it. The response that I already had a church did not stop him. In fact, the “I’m a pastor” line did not distract him from his goal either. He was determined. Part of me thought, “Good for him. At least he’s trying.” But, then I thought, “Seriously, once someone indicates that they have a church or that they are a pastor, the sales pitch should end. I mean, even the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses get that.”

I felt like saying, “Dude, I’m thrilled you are excited about your church. I’m excited about mine. You should focus your efforts on people who don’t have a church. Stealing church members is pretty lame.” But, I didn’t.

If we’re all for Christ, shouldn’t we be united and celebrate one anothers ministries? Sure, we may have theological differences…that’s where the “right” and “wrong” stuff comes up (and, by the way, I’m “right” and you are “wrong”). Wouldn’t it be a beautiful picture to the world around us if we could just lay aside our differences and realize that we all have the same goal…connecting people to Christ?

What’s my point? Churches need to stop “recruiting” their members from the ranks of other churches. Even if someone is unhappy at their current church, I’m not going to go out of my way to invite them to my church…eventually, they’d probably be unhappy here too. But, more honestly, I’d like to see them “work it out” with their current church.

We should be “for” one another, like Christ is “for” all of us. So, let’s just stop the whole “my church is better than your church” crap. Generally, it’s a simple issue of preference. So, let’s be honest…it’s not about “how” we worship. It’s about “who” we worship. I’ve been in “cool” churches that really “suck”. And, I’ve been in “lame” churches that are filled with life, joy, peace, love, grace, mercy, and the Spirit.

Church competition just creates this elitist arrogance. So, just stop it. Your church probably isn’t that great anyway.

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