Some years ago, announcers on television enthusiastically admonished viewers, “Don’t change that channel!” (If you’re old enough to remember, they may have told you not to turn the dial.) The message was that if you would wait out the commercial interruption, you would be glad for having stayed on the channel. This was because the resolution to your program might follow that commercial break.

            The church today is in another situation. We need to change the channel. Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson have unearthed the statistics (via research) that says again that the American church is in need of a change. The result of this research is a little volume from Broadman and Holman called Comeback Churches. At the outset of the book the authors acknowledge a difficulty in the move from being a stagnant or declining (or even dying) church is the misunderstanding of who and what the church is and is to be about. Here is one of their observations:

Most pastors . . . believe that the church exists, at least in part, to fulfill the Great Commission . . . But the average person in a church believes that the church exists to meet his or her needs and the needs of the family. (pp. 29-30)

            I would suggest that this difference in understanding is one that, while “most pastors” believe in the Great Commission they join society in tacitly teaching the view that the purpose of the church is to meet the needs of the church-goer. Instead of focusing on building the Kingdom of God, we ask ourselves, “How can we meet the needs of the mother or father with small children/teenagers?” “What must we do to present a positive face to the community?” and “Where are the needs that we must meet?”

            Needs exist, and it is the responsibility of the church to meet at least a portion of these needs. But the existence of the church is not to please the crowd. The ultimate question is who are we to please? The most fundamental answer to that question is the Lord God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth. In the process of pleasing God, I am convinced that He will lead us in a direction that results in meeting the immediate needs of the community around us and in so doing winning a hearing among them at which time we will be able to further advance the Kingdom of God.

            Why then must we change channels? Because we’ve been stuck in the mode that has not moved church-goers who look for “what’s the church going to do for me?” to become followers of Christ whose driving force is “what can I, as the church, do for others in the name of Christ?” No, what we have done is taken those who arrive at church interested in having their needs met, and moved them to the place of church members who expect to have their needs met. There has not really been a change of heart, only a change of title. Change is important to add change to the lives of those who become Christ-followers, and not to simply move people from people with real needs to the status of spiritual sycophant bleeding dry the lifeblood of the church that is designed to meet, not the needs of its members, but the real need of the world outside the walls of the church building—the need for Jesus.

            Change is not easy, nor is it to be taken in immediacy. No, making change within the church in order to redirect her to the course for which she was commissioned requires the same type of time and space to change the course of an ocean liner. When the ship of the church is headed in such a gross misdirection, course correction will take time and hard work. It will also require the cooperation of the entire church. Let’s change the channel and save the ship!