Many years ago, Ed Sullivan was famous for introducing his television program by saying, “It’s a really big show tonight.” In his case, it was appropriate as he introduced such bands as the Beatles.
My impression is that this would be appropriate for many churches as well. With declining church attendance, churches have to do something. Evangelism and missions are important but there has to be something that will connect the new people with the congregation. There are basically two options: community or production.
I will admit that community is difficult. It takes much longer and you need more people to commit. It is not enough for ten percent to decide they want to build community. It is all or nothing. Not only that, all the big and successful churches did not choose this route and they have more people coming in than they can handle.
Putting on a production is a bit easier. You need a rocking band, an entertaining pastor and a group of people that are talented enough to put it all together into a tight show. The aim is to impress the newcomer. We are aware that there are plenty of entertaining options out there and we need to get in the game if we are going to compete. There are enough churches that have done well with this model that we know it works.
The problem comes when we look to the New Testament church. The earliest church seemed to be based on the nature of the community rather than the excellence of the show. I don’t think that it was only because they lacked the budget. Outsiders were impressed with the church, but they were impressed with the love they showed for others and for each other.
I am not suggesting that churches stop trying to put their best into worship services. I have been in churches where the participants just didn’t care and refused to give it their all. We should seek excellence to the best of our ability. But that excellence finds its boundaries in community. The ultimate vision should be how we can build community rather than how much we can impress people. If excellence ever becomes a stumbling block to community, it is the show that must compromise.