Ken Idleman

Ken and Kaylene Idleman have three children and 11 grandchildren.

One of the top three decisions anyone makes in life is their choice of a church. Author Tina Rosenburg writes, “Few things in life are more important in determining the kind of people we become than the group we hang out with—the group with which we regularly associate.”

Support groups like Weight Watchers and Alcoholics Anonymous know this. Psychologists and counselors develop such communities to treat everything from grief recovery to eating disorders. And I would assert that the church of Jesus Christ and its agencies/ministries is the most dynamic and effective support group in the world. The church is God’s plan. He is the originator of life change and perpetual growth through Christian community.

Here are five descriptions of American churches in our generation. Which church have you chosen to influence your life, family and destiny?

1. The seduced church

This church is mostly concerned about being relevant. It accepts what it considers to be the acceptable characteristics of the culture because it wants to be acceptable to the culture. This church looks like the world.

Many mainline Protestant denominations have seen their churches decline in recent years because of the adoption of theological liberalism and secular values. With a focus on “fitting in,” they have become more like the local civic clubs in the community than the church in the New Testament. Any time you hear about a church that is on the forefront of endorsing same-sex marriage, abortion, euthanasia, syncretism or universalism, you know you are in a seduced church. A church that has rejected Biblical authority and the sovereign Lordship of Jesus Christ is a seduced church.

My wife, Kaylene, and I visited such a church sometime back in Missouri. I opened the bulletin and read about a midweek prayer meeting that would be led by a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian Scientist and a Jewish rabbi. Yikes!

2. The secluded church

This church, reacting to negative influences of the world on the seduced church, swings the pendulum the other way and removes itself from all interaction with the culture at large. This church withdraws and creates a parallel universe for its members. It constructs walls to shut out worldliness and, in the end, cannot be salt and light in a world that is crying for salvation and illumination.

The secluded church turns more and more inward with each generation. Its protectionist tendencies create a detachment from its God-given mission. But although we are told not to be worldly, we are never told to disconnect/disassociate from the very people God loves and wants His church to reach with the Gospel.

3. The static church

Popular among people who are fixated on the imminent return of Christ, this church is unchanging and assumes its members should merely ignore the culture. They should neither embrace the culture nor renounce it; they simply act as though it does not exist.

This church tends to be preoccupied with the study of prophecy. Unconcerned with poverty, human trafficking or reaching 20-somethings with the Gospel, this church tends to be small, provincial and resistant to change. While other churches come and go, the static church remains, carefully preserved from generation to generation. Its greatest weakness is its unwillingness to relate to the people around them today because they have their eyes on the eastern skies.

The more the world changes, the more the static church is marginalized, losing its opportunity to impact the broader culture. They believe any change in methodology is bad or at least suspect, equal to a change in theology.

4. The segregated church

The segregated church counters serious threats from the culture by gathering the troops and “marching as to war.” The Moral Majority churches were leaders in this movement. They are prone to see conspiracies rampant and employ rhetoric that uses the phrase, “in the battle for America’s soul.”

The segregated church sees America as God’s chosen nation. While effective in rallying the faithful, the segregated church has significant potential deficits. It tends to be self-righteous, judgmental and combative in its rhetoric and winds up being dismissed by the culture at large as legalistic and extremist.

5. The maximum-impact church

Instead of seeing the culture as a battlefield and Christians as warriors, those in maximum-impact churches see the world as a mission field and Christians as missionaries. Our culture needs kind shepherds with a staff, not drovers on horseback with bullwhips. We need ministers, not media-savvy manipulators. We need pastors, not pessimists.

The maximum-impact church believes true change results from influencing culture, not battling it. So, the police department, the public-school system, social service agencies and urban development commissions are all opportunities for Christian service and witness. The maximum-impact church is committed to loving God and loving people. It understands its partnership with Christ in the accomplishment of the Great Commission … sharing the message that Jesus came to draw all men and women to himself … to make disciples.

Those of us who are part of the fellowship we call Southeast Christian Church constitute what I would call a maximum-impact church. May it ever be!

Ken Idleman is in his sixth year serving The Solomon Foundation as vice president of leadership development.