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Why The Search For a Church That Meets Your Needs is Futile

Any church leader who’s been in ministry for more than a few months has heard different variations of it:

I’m looking for a church that meets my needs.

What are you going to do to better meet my needs?

I’m leaving this church to find one that better suits my needs. 

The longer a Christian has been in church, the more likely it is that they’ve uttered a phrase or two like this from time to time.

I’m not against changing churches. I think everyone has one or maybe two church changes in them. Leaders change. The effectiveness of churches can vary in different seasons. And occasionally a church is downright toxic. I get that.

One or two church changes (when living in the same community) is understandable. And it’s completely different from serial church shopping, which for reasons I outline in this post, is a colossally bad phenomenon.

The problem is deeper, though, than changing churches (as big a decision as that is). It’s about the purpose of the quest. Should the criteria of a church meeting your needs be the reason you change churches? Well, what if the church was never intended to meet your needs? What if the furthest thing from God’s mind when he created the church was to meet your needs?

Here are 5 reasons why I believe trying to find a church that meets your needs is futile.

Church that meets my needs

1. A Church That Meets All Your Needs Is Probably Off-Mission

If a church ever meets all your needs as a Christian, it’s probably off-mission. Because the church was never designed to meet all your needs. It was designed for glorifying God and showing his love to the world.

A church that is only about meeting your needs is a church that’s focused on insiders while the world is quite literally going to hell.

The attitude that the church exists to meet the needs of members is one more remnant of consumer-Christianity, which is a strand of Western Christianity that continues to die. I outline why here (along with 5 other church trends to watch in 2017).

2. You’ll Uproot All Your Non-Christian Friends

If you’re drifting from church to church to satisfy your needs, what happens to all the non-Christian friends you’re building into? Oh wait… that almost never comes up in conversations with Christians who demand their needs be met. Because they usually have zero non-Christian friends. Their idea of church isn’t about the mission. It’s about them.

Think about it. If you’re living out your faith and sincerely praying for friends who aren’t in a relationship with Christ, theoretically there are at least a handful of non-Christians who will be impacted by your move.

But usually, that’s not even on the radar screen of Christians who move to satisfy their needs. Because there are zero non-Christians involved.

3. Christianity Was Never About Satisfying Yourself

The heart of the Christian faith isn’t about satisfying yourself, it’s about dying to yourself. If Christians stopped indulging their preferences and starting focusing on Christ and on helping others, the church would be so much healthier.

It’s strange, but the happiest and healthiest people aren’t those who are focused on meeting their own needs. As this Harvard Business School study shows, there is a demonstrated correlation between giving away time and money and experiencing a feeling of happiness.

Perhaps it’s because that’s exactly how God designed us. Because when we give, we get.

4. Your “Needs “Aren’t Usually Needs

To be fair, we all have a few basic needs. A church should be biblically faithful. It should be reasonably healthy. And it should focus on the true mission of the church, which is to make disciples (not just be disciples but make disciples, which means reaching out).

When someone says that a church doesn’t meet their needs, what they usually mean is a church doesn’t suit their preferences.

When you drill down, ‘needs’ often means:

Is this my kind of music?

Did the people notice me?

Do I like this place?

A lot of Christians these days ask, “Did I like it?” And the moment they don’t, they’re done. When no church meets your needs, maybe you should check your ‘needs.’

If you really boil it down, because of the rise of consumer Christianity, too many church members think their mission is to criticize. A church member’s mission isn’t to criticize. It’s to contribute. Criticizing has never been the Gospel. And that’s never the best contribution we can make.

5. Your Needs Are Never Satisfied

Needs are like appetites. They grow when you feed them. You probably already know this, but if you’re always trying to satisfy your needs, you’ll never be satisfied.

We all roll our eyes at the guy who ‘needs’ a new car, or a new computer, or a vacation, or a new phone when he pretty much has the latest (okay…confession…I can be that guy when it comes to tech….).

The truth? Those aren’t needs. But that’s the problem with what we call needs. They’re never completely satisfied.

So What Should You Do?

So what should you do if you feel your current church doesn’t ‘meet your needs’? Maybe the best thing you can do is focus on the mission God has given you. Which happens to look an awful lot like the mission God gave all of us: to love the world for which he died.

Chances are there’s a pastor who loves that mission, and maybe some other Christians in your church who are committed to that mission too.

And if you give your life to it, you’ll discover your needs don’t matter nearly as much as they once did. In fact, you might even find them satisfied.

If you take your eyes off what you want and begin to see what other people truly need, it will change how you live.

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What about You?

What are you discovering in the quest for churches to meet a member’s need?

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23 Comments

  1. Simon East on August 5, 2017 at 7:28 pm

    Sadly, I find the article narrow and unlike the Father’s heart. I understand that the author is writing about those who come to church with a very worldly consumer mindset (or a demanding attitude), but he neglects the other side of the story. To say that God is completely unconcerned with our needs is mistaken and shames those (like myself) who struggle with expressing their own needs and pain. Imagine a parent who was completely unconcerned with the needs and cries of their young child and told them to be quiet, “die to themselves” and serve others instead. The child wouldn’t survive long, and the parents would be guilty of severe neglect.

    My Father cares deeply about my needs, questions and hurts, and he’s not going to conscript me into service or some evangelism program without a nurturing foundation of love to stand upon. The world is fiercely opposed to the Kingdom of God, and as we step out to engage with it, we need healing, support, and friendship to guard us from its attacks and give us courage to not give up. I hope those in the author’s church are able to find that.

  2. Owen Murphy on August 5, 2017 at 2:00 pm

    The ‘church’ as a corporate body with a hierarchy of doctrines to be believed is a Constantinian construct and has no connection to the ‘Body of Christ’. The apostles appointed certain people to be elders and leaders of the ‘churches’ that were established by their ministry and when the apostles died there was never a succession of leaders -Popes, Pastors etc to be followed. The scriptures are the only source of ‘Truth’ and they have been translated / interpreted to fit a specific belief that men / women of note invented – Paul had a direct appointment with Christ on his way to Damascus which was verified by a large number of witnesses – yet many today say that the holy spirit told them this or that and equate their experiencing Christ as proof they are correct ‘doctrine wise’. ‘Believing’ some thing does not make it scriptural.

  3. Bob on August 5, 2017 at 10:22 am

    How about the some real solid reasons “to change churches” blog and insert a bit a broader research (data) a previous commenting person suggested?

    Instead of meeting needs, how about why a congregation is not a relevant, essential and vital congregation any longer, to a participant’s and family’s life concerns and spiritual journey?

    It is tough to change a church, regardless of how long you attended and blaming/shaming “the church consumer” does not help leaders support people in transitions.

    It does provide for a quick way of writing people off and not meeting them where they are at.

    An informed spiritual leader knows God’s call and people’s journeys are an on-going process of discernment, alignment and leaders are to assist as needed in this process and leave the results to the Holy Spirit.

    Some possible reasons for itch to switch…
    1. On-going internal strife (e.g. stewardship, programming, focus, etc.)
    2. Lack of fiscal transparency.
    3. Abandonment of seniors as they age out of attendance.
    4. Guilt shaming by leaders (e.g. attendance, giving, volunteering, etc.)
    5. Leaders who are good preachers or teachers but not really pastors.
    6. Online, on demand church (e.g. church can happen anywhere slogan)
    7. Leadership worldviews and philosophies encouraging you just settle for what they offer.

    How about a broader view blog discussion of reasons for non-participation (externally and internally)?

    MissionInsite’s Quadrennium Project Report…is illuminating beyond individual experiences and enlightening about aggregated experiences of church. Sadly, the reasons for non-participation when in a church is often higher than external non-participation.

    Maybe blogging about it would open a bit more dialogue and potential challenges engagement for leaders too? It would probably help in their content messaging.

    Regardless, of a next step…keep up the effort to get into the nitty-gritty of leadership of the contemporary, global church. It’s rarely discussed in the open like here without a plethora of excuses in leadership circles. So thank you for your efforts to make a positive difference in building up the community of faith.

  4. […] And worse, you’re playing a game you’ll never win. In fact, here’s why searching for a church that meets your needs is futile. […]

  5. Samantha Butler on March 25, 2017 at 9:32 pm

    I believe that this is an argument that is becoming quickly misused and lets leaders slip under the radar. My needs in a church are good teaching that feed me the word of God, a focus on teaching me and my family the intricacies of the Gospel and how to share the Gospel with real effectiveness. I have been to churches that don’t meet those needs and when I see articles like this it makes me feel whiny, and doesn’t encourage me to hold leaders to account. I would really caution you to be careful with how you word these types of articles because they are easy stickers you can slap on poor leadership that tell congregation members to simply fall in line.

    • Janet Creswell on April 13, 2017 at 8:30 am

      I agree with Samantha. We just left a church not because our “needs” we not being met but because of the Pastor and the other leaders. It became the “Pastors” church only. Instead of being a leader, he felt as if it was a job. To do one sermon a week and if the rest of the meeting were filled in with others, fine, if not, then not his problem. No personal contact, unwilling to counsel or meet with the lost or anyone needing an ear. The community is talking as to what is wrong with the church on the corner? The parking lot gets smaller and smaller, so I’m not trying that church, something must be wrong. Look at your leaders first, then the congregation.

    • Sandra on August 14, 2017 at 8:00 pm

      Thats so true. Fall in line. Make no waves otherwise soon you will feel uncomfortable. The doctrine may be good but the aplication thereof should be taken seriosly for beleiver or unchurched

  6. Ralph Chambers on March 11, 2017 at 5:29 am

    ONE DOOR AND ONLY ONE, YET IT SIDES ARE TWO, INSIDE AND OUTSIDE, ON WHICH SIDE ARE YOU?

    • Ralph Chambers on March 11, 2017 at 5:34 am

      MOM IN HOSPICE, DAD IS ON HIS WAY OUT THE DOOR. HOME IN SPECIAL NEEDS TRUST BEING TAKEN OVER BY GUARDIAN/CONSERVATOR OF MUMS STAY IN NURSING HOME PLACED THERE BY HOSPICE RE-WRITING THE TRUST. IN GOD WE TRUST!

  7. GMC3MOM on February 26, 2017 at 12:18 am

    I think the right question is what is the “need” to be met.

    If you are single person you may love your church, b/c it has a great singles group. But you get married, have kids… and well now, a church with a strong children’s ministry or youth ministry is more important.

    If you are a Christian who has matured, your current church may have been perfect to get you to that point. However it may be that now is the time to find a church with an expository/teaching Pastor.

    Your small church may have grown into a mega church, and you no longer have that deep connection to Christian community that you need.

    I also think we need to look at WHO is leaving. If your church is noticing a flux of mature believers, who have been members for a very long time leaving, there may be some self assessment that needs to be done.

  8. Mike on February 5, 2017 at 3:16 pm

    I think this is somewhat ridiculous because we are all the body of Christ and wherever I worship I am with Christ’s body. I can find that Fellowship in any of the churches that I agree with doctrinally so I don’t feel it’s wrong to attend one church over another church and change churches and and meet other body members and I believe there’s way too much emphasis on the local church being a church around your house or in your community when the local church is not mentioned in the body of Christ except when it refers to the body of Christ as a local church group within a whole city like Phillipi, Colossians, Laodicea, etc. I’m sure that they met in different homes and had a lot of different small groups but they were still all the body of Christ and could attend their cell of choice.

  9. Christoph Koebel on January 27, 2017 at 11:37 am

    Perhaps that is the wrong question. It can also ignore the fact that things go not well in a church and you want move on. Asking tough questions can be ignored. Or perhaps folks are afraid of the answers.

  10. Meeting “My” Needs « Ministry Journey Blog on January 13, 2017 at 2:50 pm

    […] Why The Search For a Church That Meets Your Needs is Futile […]

  11. Friday FIVE | January 13, 2017 | Rich Cochran on January 13, 2017 at 1:05 am

    […] Why the Search for a Church that Meets Your Needs is Futile, Carey Nieuwhof […]

  12. […] Click here to continue reading… […]

  13. Eliza on January 9, 2017 at 11:52 am

    Helpful post. We just switched churches after 18 years at one church. When we prayed, talked and wrote down thoughts, it was centered around the mission/values of the church as a way to frame the conversation. Not to be consumeristic. I had read Renovation of the Church when that came out and know it’s not about what the church does for me but kingdom impact. I also read several blog posts on your website during our discerning. I was on staff for 7 of those 18 so another dynamic in the mix. We thought it would be a long time to find another community, but within the first 3 churches, my husband and I both the same day said when we left only our second service…”you might think I’m crazy, but this is the church.” Same thought, same promptings. It came down to the Spirit leading. The biggest value we were drawn to for us was being externally focused….doing what is needed to further God’s Kingdom. Anticipation of how we will contribute to that! The church is basic and doesn’t have near the building/programs etc that our other church had. And there are 3-4 churches within a closer distance to our house that do. It just wasn’t about all that. Such a hard journey to start on – I’m not really sure how people church hop. We had some grieving in the process of the decision, but we are hopeful for how God will use us in this new church. And we still have amazing friendships at the other one and have met with our pastor to end well. We will be back to visit and celebrate as they have moments to celebrate. All that to say, I’m thankful for your blog and other leaders that continue to champion church leadership and these posts.

  14. Phnebone on January 7, 2017 at 11:48 pm

    Maturity, or a lack thereof is a great challenge in the church today. Many congregants are like spoilt children, if they don’t get what they want they tantrum.

  15. prophetsandpopstars on January 7, 2017 at 1:43 pm

    Too often the ones who get caught in the collateral damage of the dynamic you are addressing are Pastors. When Pastors become failed ‘needs’ meeters, well, sadly we all know how that turns out. Thanks for another solid hit outside the park!

  16. AmericanWriter on January 7, 2017 at 7:08 am

    Interesting. The pivotal word is “meet.” Before I was aware of this kind of question, I wanted to ‘meet’ God. The first time I walked into Brooklyn Tabernacle was on a Tuesday night in 1981. I was hungry for God. It was their weekly Tuesday prayer meeting. The lights were low. and as I entered those doors into the sanctuary, I probably heard the voice of God say, “Welcome home.” I never heard anything like that before. I sat down in the silence and heard the hum of people praying under their breath. Since that time, what I look for in a church is Act-tivity [Acts 2:40-4]. These are the elements of a church that meet people’s needs because it is meeting God. When we stop ‘meeting’ God, we are left hungry. Here is a short list of such Acts: testimonies, exhortation, transformative words, continuity, doctrine, unity, fellowship, prayer, holy reverence, signs, faith and generosity. When a church pursues such things, needs are met, God is met, and people are contagiously transformed by His grace. Luke 24:32 And they said one to another, ‘Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?’

    • prophetsandpopstars on January 7, 2017 at 1:37 pm

      I love that: Act-tivity!

      • AmericanWriter on January 7, 2017 at 2:26 pm

        God bless your ministry.

  17. Kyle Greenhow on January 5, 2017 at 5:43 pm

    I agree that many times changing churches is frivolous and pointless. However, after looking through this article i need to clarify something. As sinners in a fallen world, we all have needs that the church should be filling. Shouldn’t all “Christian” churches be meeting those needs by default? A true Christian church brings God to sinners through word and sacrament. Everyone in a church service should be rejuvenated and filled with the Spirit. What you are pointing out though is the problem of being inward focused. This is a very valid point, but if we think this through, we can see how one leads to the other. If we are being fed by word and sacrament, we will experience the peace and love of God to such a full extent that we will want to bring our joy and peace it to those outside of the church walls. What isn’t often talked about is that fact that many of the church going people are, as Kyle Idelman puts it, just fans of God They are not “Followers”. Isn’t it the churches responsibility to teach them and lead them to the type of relationship that God desires with all of his children? Remember, God looks on the Heart! So yes we have a mission, but people won’t be willing or prepared if the church doesn’t meet their needs!

    • prophetsandpopstars on January 7, 2017 at 1:40 pm

      I’m down with you, Kyle. I think what Carey is saying (and you) is that the Church can’t be held hostage to meet the needs/demands of the fans, but rather must remain compelled to lead the Followers to meet Jesus in the community and world. I would add that meeting Jesus in the world leads Followers to bring their joy and peace into the worship of the Church, celebrating together in Word and Sacrament what Jesus is doing and who He is connecting to His mission through the Church in the world.

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