The Myth of “the Average Church”

15728674573_6a448140a7_m“Ewww. This is nasty! Try some!”

We all have that one friend, don’t we? And if we also have a smidge of morbid curiosity, we’ve joined them in one too many misadventures.

It’s kind of funny when we’re visiting an ethnic restaurant or trying a new vegan protein shake.

But it’s confusing when we treat the Church like a barf-flavored Jelly Belly. Like when Christians use their outside voices to talk about how awful the Body of Christ is, while supposedly inviting people to follow Him anyway.

Especially the preachers, the men who almost delight in telling us how degenerate “the average church” really is. (Seriously, do they ever say these things about their own churches?)

What kind of witness do we give the world when we trumpet the failings of other Christians?

For those who traffic in such comments, I have some more questions:

How can you say this?

How can you make any accurate statement about “the average church?”

If you wanted to survey 45,000 people and make any conclusion with a 3% margin of error and a 95% degree of confidence, you would have to speak to over 1,000 of them. That’s how statistics works.

Now, there are around 45,000 Southern Baptist churches in the USA alone, not to mention over 250,000 other Protestant congregations. Any comment about the average Protestant church must have sampled over 1,000 of them, and not just the SBC congregations either.

What preacher could do that? In 9 years of pastoring a single church, I may have visited 5 other churches on a normal Sunday when I wasn’t also the guest preacher. There’s no way I could talk about “the average church” from personal experience. And I doubt our itinerant preachers can get close, unless they’ve visited a different church every week for 20 years (some have – though many congregations would have changed significantly over that time).

Granted, many denominations keep accurate records and can speak statistically of their “average church,” but it’s almost always in terms of attendance or finances.

How can anyone speak of “the average church” in terms of worship, personal devotion, or Holy Spirit power?

Of course, I realize that “the average church” is just a figure of speech. So, I ask…

Why would you say this?

Who profits when we say that “the average church” is awful? Certainly not the average church. Or the people we’re talking to, who are absolutely convinced we’re talking about someone else.

Maybe it’s us?

Maybe we’re saying, “The average church stinks, but mine is special.”

Or, “The average church is dying because they don’t have a preacher like me.”

Or maybe we just want to claim special knowledge. You know, like a scoop. Whether we need to sell a book, secure a speaking gig, spike our blog traffic, or squeeze a few more people into our conference, there’s money in maligning the church!

And that’s unfair.

There are good Christians who want nothing more than God’s glory in the church’s success. They’ve visited some churches and heard about others, and they are discouraged. When they paint a bleak picture of the church, they want to motivate change. They want revival!

So, I ask…

Why would you say it like this?

Have you ever motivated someone by telling them how bad they are?

Have you ever motivated someone by telling them how bad everyone else is? (I’m sure I’ve never heard an “average church” slam and thought it applied to me.)

Yes, we should identify sin and call for repentance – generally, individually, and (rarely) congregationally.

We find all of these in Scripture. But we don’t find vague complaints about the spiritual sickness of the “average” believer. Unregenerate nations, yes. But churches?

Here’s what we find: the average church is the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the Body of Christ, and the family of God. More, it has been purchased by Jesus’ blood, is being conformed to his image, and will one day bask in his glory.

Even in the Old Testament, God frequently viewed rebellious Israel in light of Christ’s redemptive work.

Maybe that’s what’s missing.

Maybe we’ve forgotten to view the church in light of the Gospel.

Yes, we’ve got problems. The church is an Ugly Duckling. But instead of blushing at our own appearance or joining the barnyard’s ridicule, why not remember who God says we are and rejoice at what he says we’ll become?

That seems like a better witness to the world.

And a more powerful encouragement for those who need to change.

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