If we’re so unique, why do we all look and act the same?

How many churches have you either been a regular attender of or had the opportunity to visit in your life?  How much difference was there between the churches?  How much real difference was there?  I mean, I know some churches have contemporary worship songs instead of hymns.  I know some churches have small groups instead of Sunday school.  But outside of the minor things, how much difference was there?

It seems to me that churches, for the most part, are imitations of each other.  Is it because they get their instructions from Scripture and therefore they should all look alike?  I do not think this is the case.  Scripture gives clear guidelines for what a church’s purposes are: teach the word, practice the ordinances (communion and baptism), hold each other accountable.  It also gives clear guidelines for how a church should be governed to ensure orderly meetings rather than chaos and to protect against heretical teaching: elders and deacons who meet certain qualifications.

However, the Bible gives us no specifics when it comes to deciding how best to accomplish these things.  There is nothing in Scripture that says we must have a big church building with a large sanctuary and classrooms.  There is nothing that even says a church must have its own property.  One can argue that there are advantages to these things, but one could also argue that there are advantages to not having them; the greatest being not having the cost of having them and being able to do other things with the church’s finances.  There is nothing in Scripture that tells us that we must have Sunday school, a choir, AWANA, children’s church, etc.  Again, an argument can be made that these are all good things and I am not saying that they are not good,  but they are not MUSTS.

So, the question is, why do all churches pretty much look the same?  It seems that when we study Scripture, we are told that every church is made up by a group of believers that have unique gifts and abilities (1 Corinthians 12).  As individuals, we understand that we are all unique, which means that we do not try to be someone else, but we try to be ourselves.  We are most happy and productive when we act like ourselves.  If we believe the that each church is truly unique in its make-up, why do we all try to act like one another?  Would we not be more effective if we just let our own unique personalities shine?

Church can happen in many contexts and venues.  It can have many different programs and ministries to accomplish the same purposes.  We do not all need to look and act the same.  In fact, I wonder why, if we are all pretty much doing the same things, we need so many churches.  If we are all alike, let’s just all meet together and save the trouble of having so many churches.

Is it possible that by trying to be just like every other church, a church becomes ineffective because it fails to understand and utilize its unique gifts and abilities, which are determined by its people?  If churches truly began to think outside the box and address their uniqueness, what would happen to their ministries?  I think we would have churches that all looked very different and were reaching a far greater number and a far broader type of people.  What do you think?

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7 Responses to If we’re so unique, why do we all look and act the same?

  1. tishrei says:

    In the beginning, people met at homes, not church buildings. It eventually developed into people meeting at buildings. There are some things that all churches seem to have in common, the layout, the manner of service, offerings, etc. How this came to be, I do not know but have come to accept it. However, there are some things about a church that will drive me away to never go back. What I look for is what the church teaches — the theology they hold to. Are they caring, do they reach out to people, both those in the congregation and those not in the congregation. Is there reverence towards God? These are just a few things that I have looked for before decidng to become a regular attender of that congregation.

  2. T.J. says:

    I feel that churches have fallen into a rut of sorts. I suppose tradition is the main culprit. I must say that I really enjoyed this post. I have been thinking a lot about the Church lately and how the church plays a role in it. A bunch of carbon copies does not seem like the most efficient and possibly biblical composition of the Church. Since we do all have different gifts, it seems fitting that churches on a local level can reflect that; possibly even in big ways.

  3. Tim Farley says:

    T.J.

    Thanks. I agree and I think if churches really believed this, the implications could be huge.

  4. Jeff says:

    Interesting post. In many cases it is momentum vs. inertia… with inertia winning most of the time. CHurch need to intentionally seek to meet the needs of their communities otherwise the traditional church may face stiff competition.

    “George Barna, a religion pollster, estimates that since 2000, more than 20 million Americans have begun exploring alternative forms of worship, including home churches, workplace ministries and online faith communities. ”

    This is a short quote from an i nterestesting article on home churches.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/03/AR2006060300225.html

  5. Robynne says:

    I definitely see your point. When I first started reading, I thought something along the lines of “While we all have our unique talents and personalities, many people are similar, and they take on similar roles in their perspective churches.” There are certain things that have proven to be effective and seem to be what people want, and that’s what shows up over and over. However, there is definitely some variation, at least with what I’ve experienced. While churches may have similar programs, their approaches are often different. This may not be something seen with only a few visits, but as you get more involved, difference are made obvious.
    This is not to say that this is all perfectly fine and the points you expressed are insignificant. Like you said, “I wonder why, if we are all pretty much doing the same things, we need so many churches.” Based on what I said, we could be needing more churches to better suit a person’s “flavor.” However, there are not significant enough differences, in my opinion, to warrant as many churches as we have now. That’s something to keep in mind. What is it that makes your church different from the church down the street? How can we optimize that difference to better use our unique gifts and celebrate the individuality God has blessed us with?

  6. Tim Farley says:

    Jeff:

    Thanks for the link to that article. I think the draw of house churches for so many is that they feel a disconnect with the traditional church. It is not meeting their needs for real community and it does not seem to be doing what it is called to do in the area of helping meet the needs of the poor and helpless in our society. I do feel that there is a real danger of drifting from orthodoxy when there is not a theologically trained person overseeing the groups, but other than that, I really like the idea of house churches.

    I do not think that the Bible prescribes house churches as the only way a church can function. The first Christians met in houses out of necessity more than any other reason. There were not many Christians and they did not own buildings other than their own homes. Since the groups were small, homes were adequate. Also, since the groups were often persecuted, there was a need to meet secretly, so to have a church building would have never worked. As the groups grew and Christianity became more accepted, Christians were able (and needed) to buy property and build buildings for their meetings.

    So, in the end, there is nothing inherently wrong about either way (house church or traditional church).

  7. Tim Farley says:

    Robynne:

    You have some good thoughts here. I especially like your closing questions.

    “What is it that makes your church different from the church down the street? How can we optimize that difference to better use our unique gifts and celebrate the individuality God has blessed us with?”

    These are questions every church needs to ask itself.

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