Building a Church for People


By: Justin Anderson

This blog is going to be shorter than most, because I have a question without much of an answer. I was thinking about how we structure our churches, or another way to put it would be, what our philosophy of ministry is.

It’s been my experience that when pastors organize their churches, they come at it from one of two perspectives: 

The first group is made up of guys who just love studying and preaching the Bible, so they “delegate” those decisions to other people or to some existing system. I’d put 9Marks churches in this category, as well as evangelical churches who have adopted a more liturgical approach. Again, these are generalizations but most of the guys I’ve met in these categories tend towards the bookish and theological.

The other group is made up of more strategic thinkers who study best practices and are constantly iterating to find the most effective way to structure their ministry for maximum impact. That’s not to say that they don’t have theological convictions, it's just that they tend to function as guardrails rather than the defining characteristic of the ministry.

I fall into the second category, which is likely no surprise to anyone who reads this blog regularly. I love to build, whether it's churches, organizations or businesses, that’s just how I think. Occasionally though, I wonder if we are thinking about this all wrong.

Guys in my category tend to be strategic and nimble in our thinking but to what end? I’ll just speak for myself. Often, I am focused on building the organization itself. If I had to answer the question, “what are you building and strategizing FOR?” I would likely have to say, for the church itself. I am building a church that primarily serves the end of building the church. I could swap out my church for any organization or business and arrive at many of the same conclusions.

The theological camp would likely agree with my assessment and congratulate me on finally coming to their side. But what if the other side is wrong too? Building a church to rightly execute your theological vision seems like it also misses the point. It’s a strategy that serves a disembodied idea that – while true – is sometimes vague and universal, rather than being specific, local, or incarnate.

So what is that alternative to our two options? What if we tried to build a church for people? What would it look like if our theology served as guardrails and North Star but the question of execution was answered by asking, “What is best for our people?” Don’t mistake this as “Seeker Sensitive,” it’s not. I am not asking, “What would be most palatable to most people?” I am asking, “What do our people really need and how can we give it to them in a way that would really help them?” Rather than building a philosophy that serves only our theology, or our pastoral preferences or just regurgitates another ministry philosophy, what if we tried to answer that question for our specific people?

We know that our people need to hear the gospel regularly. What is the best way to do that?

We know that our people need to be together in relationship. What is the most effective way to do that?

We know that our people need to pray together and serve each other and care for the needy. How can we facilitate those things in ways that also best serve our people?

Again, I’m not advocating a lowest common denominator approach to ministry. Right now I’m not really advocating anything in particular, other than to take a minute to make sure that the way we are doing things – our medium – is actually designed for humans.

I’m going to keep thinking about this and I’ll let you know what I come up with, but I’d love for you to think along with me. Let’s figure this out together.