What makes a church? Well … that’s a strange question. Mostly because a church wasn’t originally supposed to be a singular entity. All churches were supposed to stand together, united, as one body. In ancient cities, like Corinth, there weren’t twelve different churches. There was one. Just like in Ephesus, Philippi, Antioch, etc. There were no denominations. That’s why you’ll hear ministers refer to the Church in Corinth or the Church in Antioch.
The Church is supposed to be one, united force. In America, the concept of a church is different than what it was in the Bible. In America, a church is a building with beautiful statues or stained glass windows. Or, depending on denomination, it’s a modern complex with high-technology and stadium seating and McDonald’s in the lobby.
But that’s not the Church. The Church isn’t a building. The Church is people. If the building were to fall down or blow away, the Church would still stand because the people yet remain.
Nowadays, especially in American Christianity, the Church has entered the realm of tradition. It’s something we do because our parents did. It’s something we suffer through because it alleviates our guilt. It’s something that is performed for us instead of us participating in.
Some churches operate under the belief that they exist to keep their members happy. Some churches operate like a country club, welcoming only the people who fit their defined mold of what a Christian should look like and rejecting (politely) the people who don’t. Some churches operate like a zoo, keeping their members under lock and key. Some churches operate like party with no adult supervision, with wild chaos and noise and no direction or goals.
Some churches care about their communities and work to see people come to Christ. Some churches only care about their own needs, although they donate a little bit of money to a good cause every Christmas. Some churches only care about putting on a good show and are willing to sacrifice the truth to keep their numbers up.
But which one is right?
I don’t know if I have the right to determine that. But what stands out to me is what makes a church effective. And it doesn’t matter how big a church is or how few people attend or where it’s located or how good it’s music is or how talented its pastor is. What matters is if everyone recognizes that anything good in the Church comes from God.
Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 1:4-5.
4 I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus. 5 Through him, God has enriched your church in every way—with all of your eloquent words and all of your knowledge.
I think it’s so funny that Paul starts this Book of the Bible off with praise. I think he wanted to soften the blow of following chapters. Because 1 Corinthians is a scathing letter to a church that had lost its senses. The Church in Corinth had been making some very very foolish choices.
What stood out to me this morning was how Paul pointed out that the enrichment of the Church of Corinth was a result of the gifts God had given its people when they accepted Christ. Whenever someone accept Christ and receives the Holy Spirit, God gives that person a Spiritual Gift. Some folks have more than one. But every believer has a gift, and that gift is designed to serve the Church. It may be an obvious gift, like preaching. It may be a serving gift, like hospitality. It may be a quiet gift, like prayer. But every believer has one.
And it’s essential that those gifts be used in the church. But more important that using those gifts, it’s important to remember where those gifts came from.
I have the privilege of attending the most awesome church in the world. My church is my family. It’s my second home. And I know people say that all the time, but I mean it. There are few places where I feel at home, and my church is one of those places. But what makes my church awesome isn’t our beautiful building. It’s the people. And what makes those people so gifted is God and the power of the gifts He’s given them and their willingness to use their gifts AND their understanding that those gifts aren’t their own doing.
My church is a gifted church, a blessed church. And the only reason it has remained blessed is because no one is seeking the spotlight and no one is trying to be more important than someone else. And no one has forgotten where our blessing came from. God has drawn people from all over the place, people with gifts that defy explanation. The talent base at this church is unreal. But all it would take for everything to fall apart is for us to forget that God is the One who brought us here.
There’s nothing special about what happened at my church. There’s no secret formula, and there’s no magic words. What happened to us was we decided to take God at His word and love people and give Him the credit for anything and everything that happened.
The Church is here to point toward Christ, to lead others to Christ and to encourage other believers to keep going. And I don’t know if we can really judge what makes an effective church, mostly because what the Church is here to accomplish can’t be seen with human eyes. It’s true that some church have a higher ratio of gifted people in attendance, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that a church will be “more effective” because of it. Because all it takes is forgetting.