Every gathering of people who follow Jesus is unique. Each one has its own personality. You can walk into any brand of Church in one city and then go to the same brand of Church that is roughly the same size only a couple of miles away and have a completely different experience. Have you ever wondered why that happens? I think there are several forces that shape a Church.
1. A Work of God – Some Churches are best described as having a “God-thing” happen. That means there is something going on that no one can really explain. Old timers might say that a “revival broke out.” Lives are suddenly and unexpectedly changed, new people are showing up unexplainably and great things are happening that were totally unplanned.
2. The Primary Leader – In many Churches this is the pastor. If the pastor is an upbeat loveable guy, the Church takes on his personality. If the pastor is a student who studies deeply suddenly the Church starts taking classes and carrying a study Bible with notebook. Sometimes the primary leader is not the pastor. It might be a dominate elder or an influential family who shape the congregation. This is especially true in small congregations that have a frequent change in the preacher. Whoever leads the group also shapes the personality of the group.
3. Past Experiences – If a Church once struggled with an issue, even if it was several years ago, the lingering thoughts shape a congregation. This takes many forms. I see it most in Church policies. A person once abused the system so we put policies in place so that it never happens again. Sometimes this makes for doctrinal soap boxes. There was once a person in the Church who was liberal in some area of theology. He started leading people astray. Now we want everyone to know that we do not approve of that behavior. Suddenly the Church becomes legalistic and judgmental.
What is really interesting is the overlap of #2 and #3. If a primary leader had a difficult past experience either inside or outside of the Church they often use that to shape their organization. For example, I had a guy who fought against budgets because in his business background the people would always spend every dime they were budgeted. He thought people in the Church would be told they have X amount of money for a ministry and they would run and spend it all just because they could.
4. Future Hopes and Dreams – There are Churches that live out a plan of what they want to do for God. I know of a Church that has a goal of reaching 10,000 non-believers with the gospel message. As a result everything is evangelistically driven. If we want to accomplish this goal then we need to be that type of Church.
5. Forces of Evil – Unfortunately some Christian Churches have allowed evil to shape them. This can be anything from a leader who is divisive to a leader who is full of sin. Selfish motives and ambitions shape the Church more than anything else. This is closely related to #2, but a leader can be driven by good or bad intentions. Sadly sometimes evil wins and Godly people leave.
I am sure there are other forces at work in a Church but these are the ones I encounter the most. I wish I could say that all Churches are shaped solely by God but that is simply not the truth. I have had people argue with me about this idea only to find out that this person leads a Church full of argumentative people. Coincidence, I think not.