If you were to compare your church to a ship what sort of ship would it be? Why? Answering this question will give you an idea of what you should be expecting from your church. Perhaps you are having some problems with the question, so let me offer you some options, but don’t be restricted to my options:
The Cruise Ship
The cruise ship could be big or small, but the aim of the ship is to get people on board. You have lots of great programmes to attract people. (see 1 Cor 14:16, 23-24).
The problem with the cruise ship is that people are attracted to the programmes, not the serving that goes on to make the ship work better. Often this is resolved by hiring more staff.
The Life Boat
Perhaps you have rejected the cruise ship mentality. The church is not a place where people come to hear the gospel, at least not anymore, it needs to be the community that goes out to the gospel. This is often the idea of the missional community based on the great commission in Matthew 28. Frankly, until recently this was my conviction.
The problem with the lifeboat is that while it is great to get out there and save people, you are not really building the saints, or you are giving the saints a false sense of maturity.
A third option is the Battleship. The lifeboat assumes people want to be saved and they are in a neutral position. The Battleship recognises the battle is hostile, and there are lies and hostile spiritual forces out in the world. This is about protecting. Protecting from false doctrine and protecting our people. We end up with doctrinally mature people but with little outreach going on.
The Aircraft Carrier
Finally, we have the aircraft carrier. This is where the church is not seen as directly engaging in the battle, but sending and equipping people out to make disciples.
It might have programmes like the cruise ship, but not to attract people, but to equip them and send them out. This follows the idea that churches are equipping (Eph 4:11) and sending (Matt 28:19-20).
So which One?
So which one are you? Each model has its strengths and weaknesses. The temptation is to smorgasbord them and take what you like from each one. But the problem is that smorgasbording works well in an all you can eat restaurant (although that is also a debate!). It does not work well in ship design. Ships work well when they are built for a purpose.
Churches work better when they are following one model. This will determine priorities in resources, it will determine what is a ‘win’. Not all churches need to be the same. Some will work better for other people. This is why it is so important to ask the question.
If you were to ask me, I used to think the lifeboat model was the best one, but now I am thinking that the aircraft carrier gets most of the strengths of the others. This is based on the book Gaining by Losing by J D Greear. You can hear an interview Geear here.
But then I might have missed a ship, what would you use?