Yesterday I heard that a leader in a church (not Mountaintop) referred to another church as “the competition.” I found that a little disheartening and a little disappointing because I'm convinced that other churches aren’t the competition, although we are definitely competing.
We just aren’t competing against other churches. We are competing against sin and injustice and lies. The moment we start to think of other churches as the competition we are in trouble.
Here’s the problem. Too often churches determine their health based on whether they are “beating” other churches especially in categories of things that are measurable (attendance, giving). But we also compete in things such as “popularity” or whether or not your church made it on the evening news or the cover of the local paper. Sometimes we compete for staff or resources or positions of influence in the community.
Now before I write another word, I should quickly confess that I LOVE it when our church does something newsworthy. A few years ago in Houston the church I was leading made the front page of the newspaper on Christmas Day – that was a nice Christmas present and a great memory. But what I remember most is a couple of wonderful notes I received from pastors of other churches in the following weeks congratulating us for making the news. They celebrated with us a Kingdom victory.
I’m convinced that every church leader needs to ask themselves this question: When you hear of another church’s success (especially that “cool church across town where all your young families are going) do you celebrate their success or are you critical? Can you genuinely rejoice when another church is advancing the kingdom, especially if you are in a season of struggling? Do you see the other churches in town (or across the nation) as co-laborers or the competition?
Jim Jackson leads a large Methodist church in Houston. Each week in their worship services they take time to intentionally pray for other churches in the community. Craig Groeschel leads a mega-multisite church in Oklahoma City. They’ve created a web site - open.lifechurch.tv - for the sole purpose of giving away curriculum and materials for other churches to use. They describe “why” this way:
The local church is the hope of the world, and we know we can accomplish infinitely more together than apart. When we create tools and resources to bring people closer to Christ, we have churches around the globe in mind. At LifeChurch.tv, our passion is to see lives changed – across as many miles and in as many places as possible. Our desire is to maximize the effectiveness of the resources which God has entrusted to us. Therefore, the LifeChurch.tv Open website is available to pastors, churches, and ministries worldwide to give access to and usage of an entire library of LifeChurch.tv creative materials – at absolutely no charge. If you find something here that's helpful, we hope you use it and share it with other ministry friends.
Sadly there are churches that do not share that belief. Some churches are reluctant to share what they are producing with others. They resist partnerships with other churches in the community. It's never good for the Kingdom or for the church.
When churches begin competing church growth becomes more about transfer growth (sheep swapping) than about reaching people outside of the church.
Competition driven churches feel that any new church that opens in their area is a threat to their “mission field.”
Churches that compete with other churches have difficultly learning from other churches – especially those in their city.
And sadly, churches that find themselves in competition with other churches often find themselves losing the real contest against our real enemy.
Here's the reality: Our competition is a darkened world and the blindness of sin-stained lives and every church is meant to be a co-laborer in the effort to show people that only Jesus offers a way to live forever and a better way to live today. Our enemy loves nothing more than distracting us from that competition.
The enemy rejoices when churches begin to see each other as the competition and to fall prey to petty grievances and complaints, rivalry and strife, jockeying for position in the battle for existing sheep. He knew Jesus was right: “A kingdom divided against itself will collapse” (Mark 3:24).
So he seeks to divide and if he can’t divide a church itself (which he will often do over worship styles – I could write another post on the competition between worship services within a church – but it’s too sad), he’ll divide churches from one another.
But just imagine what if….
What if churches stopped competing with one another and built more partnerships with other churches?
What if every church stated praying for other churches rather than tearing them down?
What if churches realized that God isn’t tied to a particular formula for doing church (ecclesiology) and celebrated our differences?
What if every church followed the example of Life Church and shared their resources… for free?
What if churches celebrated each other’s success?
It could happen – if we stop competing with each other and remember who the completion really is – it could happen, and it could change our communities and our churches.