The Secret to Killing the Christian Club

The Secret to Killing the Christian Club

Nothing sounds more inviting than Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” I am thankful I could come to Jesus when I was weary and that I can still come to Jesus when I get weary and burdened again. What a refreshing call from the Son of God. Sadly this call is not present in many of our churches. All too often we find the opposite true: Come to church,  all of you who are persistent enough to break through our multiple levels of exclusivity disguised as “biblical community”. Rather than hospitals for sinners, many churches are glorified social clubs. It’s a culture that promotes people having their inner circle and friends on the periphery, but few move beyond that Sunday morning smile and nod with an obligatory, “Doing great, how about you?” response. Church leadership may speak out against this culture but unintentionally encourage it by relegating their time to key leaders and other staff. The students and kids see the system and emulate what the grown-ups are doing.

I know this isn’t your church I’m referring to but every single congregation is at risk of moving into this culture. Every church is one culture shift away from being nothing more than a Christian club. It is our nature. It is what’s easy. It is the strategy of the enemy to move us toward ineffectual programmatic centers for people to hang out, feel altruistic, and get some Spiritual reps in so we can flex our meaningless works for people during the week. Again, I know your church doesn’t fall into this category, but hang with me. What can we do to ensure our churches don’t become sterile sanctuaries for saints instead of equipping centers for disciplemakers? How do we push back against the comfortable state of complacency that can grip any church to ensure we are being intentional about our gospel mission? I believe the secret to killing the Christian club is accountability.

Accountability is a discipline that is lacking in our lives, and it is more and more lacking in the church. We hear sermons on Sunday but who is to say whether or not we obey and live out the Word that was preached? We sit through Bible study lessons and share our “safe sins” with one another but where are we truly discussing the depth of our struggles? How do we get these dark thoughts and actions into the light if we are not in accountability with fellow believers? When there is no accountability leaders fall, marriages shatter, and secret sin embeds itself in our life rendering us useless for the cause of Christ. If you feel this is hyperbole, ask the recent string of high profile Christian leaders who have fallen how they got there. They will tell you it was a long road down a path hidden from accountability. Any of us is a single decision away from the same tragic fall and the way we combat it is to be in consistent accountability with others for the purpose of personal spiritual growth. Here are a few ways you can ensure you have high accountability in your church to kill the Christian club and become a healthier congregation.

Make isolation unacceptable for the leadership.

Club membership gives you access to people and programs. The church should be building biblical community to impact the world around them rather than emulating the club mentality. One of the critical ways churches shift from their intended vision into becoming a club is isolated leadership. Isolation should be unacceptable for every believer. Acts 4:32-35 is one example of Christians living in community for the sake of the gospel. While this is a goal of every church, to help people understand their need for biblical community, it should be mandatory for the leadership. Too many times church staff and key leadership tell everyone else what they ought to be a part of while not participating themselves. Sadly, it is almost an expectation that Pastors aren’t in Sunday school or small groups in the church they lead. Likewise, Christian leaders often pour out so much into the ministry they can be reclusive when events and programs are not going on. We must flip this dynamic. Events and programs should get the backseat while personal biblical community should be the priority for every believer, starting with the leadership. Isolated leadership is the breeding ground for Christin club building. When the visible, paid staff minimize the communal aspects of the ministry, it has a trickle-down effect. Rather than a hub to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry, these churches tend to facilitate unhealthy club membership mentalities. Leadership must fight isolation and live the Christian life with every other believer while leading them to be outwardly focused as they draw from the full well of their own Christ-centered life.

Leadership must fight isolation and live the Christian life with every other believer while leading them to be outwardly focused as they draw from the full well of their own Christ-centered life. Click To Tweet

Move from rows to circles.

One way accountability helps battle the Christian club culture is by moving people from training focused teaching into participation centric discussion. When the groups in your church are set up to be seminars or sermon 2.0 every week, people need not share their heart or what God is doing in their life. The people are not held accountable to the faith they claim to have. This lack of accountability is the primary means for a Christian club mentality to grow and fester. When we help people engage in the conversation and share what the Lord is doing in their life, accountability rises. Groups that meet in circles communicate a mutual striving to live out and share what people are learning in God’s word. This accountability helps us destroy the “I’m great, and everything is OK” lies we often tell to get people to move on. When the charades we tend to create fall away due to true accountability, the club dies more quickly. It’s true that simply moving into a circle won’t be enough; we must foster a reciprocal approach to our leading so that people feel safe to share their life. We must ensure that we are allowing God’s word to work in our lives. When we do these things, we can break down the walls of the Christian club and help grow a healthy church.

We must ensure that we are allowing God’s word to work in our lives. When we do these things, we can break down the walls of the Christian club and help grow a healthy church. Click To Tweet

Implement Discipleship Groups.

When it comes to churches being Christian clubs rather than what God intended, I have found that one of the easiest and yet, most profound, actions to take is to implement discipleship groups. Our groups are 3-5 men with men, women with women, meeting weekly for an hour. The agenda is to share what we have read in Scripture that week, discuss our response to it, pray for one another, memorize Scripture together, and ask accountability questions. After about a year we pray about who each person in the group will go and disciple the following year. These groups solve two significant issues found in most churches: high accountability and consistent multiplication. Where else do you permit three or four people to ask you the important questions about your life, marriage, work, and walk? Where else do you see consistent multiplication? The beauty of the discipleship group is that the longer you are in them, the greater the willingness to share the truth about your struggles and victories. This high level of accountability cripples the Christian club mindset. As people get real and walk with others to live life after Christ, they begin to take on the mind of Christ and the church as a whole benefits. However, you decide to implement discipleship groups, get a plan and make it happen to increase biblical accountability in your church.

No church should want to be a Christian club, existing for members to reap the benefits of programs and services, yet we see it time and time again in churches. The solution for killing the Christian club is to ramp up the accountability in our churches and grow a healthy congregation that understands what the church is intended to be: A hub for equipping disciplemakers, a hospital for sinners, and a haven for those seeking the God who loves them and created them for His glory.

The solution for killing the Christian club is to ramp up the accountability in our churches and grow a healthy congregation that understands what the church is intended to be. Click To Tweet

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Chris Swain currently serves at Long Hollow Baptist Church as the Executive Director of Replicate Ministries. After fours years of service in the United States Marine Corps, Chris served in full-time ministry for 14 years in Arkansas, Florida, Texas, and Georgia, leading ministries ranging from Students, to Collegiate, to Spiritual Formation. Most recently, Chris served as the Director of Student Ministry Publishing at Lifeway Christian Resources serving the Church in its mission of making disciples. Chris’s heart is to expand the Gospel through disciple-making in the local church.