Most churches in America are declining but some are thriving. I visited four churches thriving in the midst of decline. Two churches are located in Virginia and two are near Atlanta, Georgia. Three churches have approximately 2,000 people attending mostly middle aged or young who stopped going to church or never attended. The fourth church, North Point Community Church in Georgia has over 30,000 people attending multiple services in many different locations.
At all four churches, I experienced: generous hospitality, stimulating worship and numerous opportunities to be involved in helping others. But there was “something” more at each church. “Something” that had nothing to do with size but everything to do with attitude. This “Something” has no denominational ties and is seldom taught in seminary.
I saw this “something” in action as I drove into a church parking lot, The attendants were standing in a circle praying. One saw my headlights on and came over. He walked with me to the entrance, sharing how much his church meant, especially the men’s group he belonged to.
In Atlanta, a couple sitting beside us talked about their daughter moving to where we lived. They loved their church and their pastor, but it was a Bible study group that really strengthened their faith.
A woman in the “Welcome” area was friendly and knowledgeable about church activities. She shared how her life changed through a divorce care group. That group became her family when she needed them. She described her church as “a home for the hurt and hurting.”
One worship service featured an interview with a police officer and his family becoming part of a life group. At a routine traffic stop, he was shot seven times. Members of their group were at the hospital and their house within minutes. For over a year, they provided meals, child-care, chores and loads of prayer and encouragement.
What is the “something” that vital churches seem to have in abundance?
The “something” is a passionate realization and belief that everyone from deeply committed members to brand new attenders have been radically transformed by God and their church and can’t wait to share that experience with anyone they meet. In addition, each of these churches have a carefully designed and repeatedly emphasized process that begins with worship and leads to various “next steps” such as a Bible study, a, small group experience or a mission outreach.
All four churches emphasized continued spiritual growth and being a part of a small group community as an essential part of following Jesus. “Circles are better than rows: Sustained life change happens best in the context of community.”
A church should provide an atmosphere of encouragement and love for you to improve your relationship with God as you strive to become a Disciple for Jesus Christ. Researcher and author, Lovett Weems writes: “The church is to connect people with God.” Jesus said in response to a question: What is the greatest commandment? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being and with all your mind.” A church should help you discover your unique gifts and talents and use them toward a ministry of serving and transforming the world.
Do you have questions about the Christian faith? Are you a new Christian? Have you been attending church for years and asking: “What’s next?” Are you looking to deepen your faith? Do you feel called to be involved in meaningful community service and outreach? Are you in a career transition? Are you going through a separation or divorce?
Thriving churches provide “something” to help you find answers and deepen your faith journey.