The Worst Ways to Evaluate Your Church (And the Best One)

When you attend a church, how do you evaluate what you’re experiencing?

Before you say “I don’t evaluate anything. I’m just there to worship God,” hang on a second.

We all evaluate what’s happening in church. Every one of us does. Whether you’re a first time guest or a lifelong attender, you evaluate your experience. You do the same thing every time you go to a coffee shop, store or restaurant. Frankly, you’re doing it now, trying to decide whether clicking on this article was worth it and whether you’re going to bother to skim through it, read to the end or abandon things.

To evaluate is human. How you evaluate something is the difference between being harmful and helpful.

Evaluate things one way, and you become a critic. Soon, you may become a professional critic. Nothing is ever good enough.

Evaluate things another way, and you become a contributor—you build a better future.

I was talking to my friend, Ben Snyder recently (he leads Cedar Creek Church in Toledo) and he said something that made me stop and write it down: You see church based on who you’re inviting.

Boom. That’s exactly it.

Like Ben, I’ve devoted my life to helping create churches that people who don’t go to church love to attend. In my view, it’s a worthy endeavor because it strikes at the heart of the Gospel: the Gospel is always advancing to people yet unreached, offering the hope and forgiveness we find in Jesus Christ.

We have an incredibly large group of people in our own cities, towns, and communities who have yet to personally experience the love, forgiveness and salvation experienced in Jesus.

Paradoxically, most churches are stalled out or declining and actually not reaching the very people we were created to reach.

Maybe one reason that’s true is because of how we evaluate church.

If you see church based on who you’re inviting, far too many Christians would say “Well, I’m inviting no one.”

As soon as you venture into that territory, your evaluation lens is in trouble. Rather than seeing things through the lens of an outsider, you begin to evaluate church based on other factors which probably make it hard for the church to accomplish our mission.

Here are some bad ways to evaluate your church experience, and one good one.

Let’s start with the good.

Your Friend’s Eyes

When you invite a friend who doesn’t attend church to come with you to church, everything changes.

Suddenly, you listen to the music differently. Is it any good, easy to follow, or sing? Is it weird or outdated? Wait—is it full of jargon no one can really understand?

You start to wonder whether the message would make any sense to an outsider, and shudder if it’s filled with language that’s so ‘churchy’ you have to be a life-long Christian to understand it. You also hope the preacher isn’t talking about money. (Actually, there is a way to talk about money that unchurched people love, but that’s another blog post.)

You begin to notice things like the cracks in the sidewalk, peeling paint and a preschool ministry filled with toys from a previous generation. And then you wince.

You’ll also see whether you have an easy on-ramp for new people who want to explore Christianity deeper. Many churches don’t. They just have programs that work for those who already attend.

You see things so differently when you invite a friend.

If you want to keep losing unchurched people, here are 7 ways to do it quickly.

If you want to take this a little further, evaluate your church through a kids’ eyes, as Ben encourages his team to do. The results will tell a story.

If kids hate your church, why you’re not growing shouldn’t be a mystery.

Critics will say churches who pay attention to unchurched people water down the message or experience. Maybe the opposite is true.

Leaders who make things accessible to unchurched people don’t dilute the Gospel, they advance it.  After all, the mission of the church has always been to advance beyond itself to reach others.

Seeing church through the eyes of your friends is one of the best ways to see your church. I know when I have friends in the room I’m always more sensitive to every aspect of the service, hoping we help them make a connection with Christ rather than get in the way of it.

But what happens when you don’t have a friend on your arm? So many Christians attend year after year and bring nobody with them.

Well, then, your lens for evaluation changes. And almost always, it becomes far less healthy.

Selfish Eyes

If you don’t have a friend on your arm and you fail to fight this with all you’ve got, you’ll end up evaluating your church through selfish eyes.

People who don’t invite friends almost always evaluate their church through selfish eyes.

You begin to run everything through a simple filter: do I like it?

You judge songs and worship leaders based on your personal preference and make emotional decisions on whether you like a particular preacher or a series or a topic.

You’ll look at everything from architecture, to dress, to style, to kids ministry to things as intangible as vibe as the basis for your decisions.

You’ll become what Jon B Crist parodies in his hilarious and a-little-too-true episodes of Church Hunters.

You can’t help but factor some of your preferences into your decision, but still, why would a devoted Christian make them their primary criteria?

If you keep evaluating a church through selfish eyes, you’ll kill the most important thing: the mission.

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.

Theologically Judgmental Eyes

Some people make it their mission to defend orthodoxy.

Don’t get me wrong, orthodoxy matters. When a church becomes untethered from the truth, it ceases to be a church.

I’ve seen way too many people become hyper focused on orthodoxy and theologically ‘correctness’ at the expense of everything else, including the mission or whether their church might ever reach their friends.

It’s as though their entire reason for being has become to point out flaws in preachers, denominations, and congregations.

Your primary way of building yourself up should never be tearing others down.

You can easily get yourself in a place where you think you’re the only one who understands truth anymore, and almost everyone else is wrong and going to hell, except your tiny little tribe that’s also as correct as you are.

Do we have to guard against theological drift and compromise in our churches and within ourselves? Absolutely.

But if your only gift to the church is criticism, you need a new gift.

In the name of orthodoxy, too many people untether themselves from grace. That ceases to be Christian.

I’m not saying they cease to be Christian, but their view point and tone certainly isn’t true to the Christian faith that at its heart is grace AND truth.

If you’re not inviting friends, it can be easy to fall into the trap of evaluating everything through the eyes of theological correctness.

A Practitioner’s Eyes

So this one’s an occupational hazard.

For half my life, I’ve been a part of church from the inside. Which means it’s hard for me to be in a church service (even as a worshipper) without evaluating and studying everything.

I look at the lights and band and try to figure out how they (or we, if I’m home) did everything. I study the sound board, watch the greeters work, check out the parking lots, kids ministry and student ministries.

Even during the message, I can miss the sermon because I’m studying the sermon—more interested in style, method, approach and even delivery than the content.

Church leaders, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

The only thing that can keep my heart moving in the right direction on this issue is to remember that I’m a worshiper first, and leader second.

If I come into church as a worshipper and try to experience the service as something that brings me closer to God, it helps me resist the tendency to take notes on everything and miss the point.

Wait…I can even do better than simply showing up as a worshipper.

It changes everything if I enter the experience as a worshipper with a friend on my arm. Then, I think, we’re getting close to what church is actually designed to be.

What Do You Think?

What eyes do you adopt if you’re not careful?

How do things change for you when you bring a friend?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

16 Comments

  1. Megan on November 6, 2017 at 11:15 am

    i see things differently when i bring a friend. and i pay more attention. and notice the message thats being talked about by the pastor.

  2. William Brown on August 8, 2017 at 3:14 pm

    I’ve felt this way for years. I always think “by default” that our church services should be geared to appeal to the unsaved or the “invited in-saved friend”. So “yes, guilty your honour”. You are right. Everyone evaluates church differently.
    I sit and cringe at the song choices, Dress, the message, noisy distracting kids, the PA system faults, the lighting, you mention all the key area’s. I do criticise every aspect of my church, but inwardly. I was a converted Rocker/Biker. The only thing that drew me to a church (apart from Grand-mums prayers) was the fear of going to Hell. I had a feeling there was a heaven to gain and a hell to shun. I still think the church can improve its “Serve” in many ways. I keep looking to the entrance to see if another fellow Biker is going to come in. So I think, “What would be the best way to keep this guy coming back for more”?

  3. Concerned on August 7, 2017 at 4:55 pm

    There are those who would invite someone, but they know that things are not visitor friendly, such as Nursery curtains which are dry-clean only (ask a mother if that would be a turn-off – what else might be hard to clean in that Nursery?) or a noise that is distracting during the sermon, whether a beeping smoke alarm or an air handler having an annoying and loud noise. Are they being critics or are they looking through the eyes of a visitor? Would you intentionally invite someone to a place that was uninviting?

  4. Denise Charcut on August 7, 2017 at 6:15 am

    Thank you for your insight. I will look at my Church visits differently from now on.

  5. Byron on August 6, 2017 at 8:05 pm

    Except the New Testament Church isn’t for the unbeliever, it is for the believer. It isn’t designed to be the evangelistic tool, it is designed to train the believer to be the evangelistic tool. If the message isn’t sound, accurate, and well-rounded theologically, we are mis-leading unbelievers and believers alike. Many churches water down doctrine and preach selective theology based on cheap grace as an excuse to “attract” and “not drive away” non-believers, but in reality they are dishonoring Christ and believers who truly want to learn and grow deeper in their relationship with Him. Jesus, Himself, did not preach to attract, but taught knowing that the truth would drive people away. He was more interested in the few authentic inquirers than the hordes of wanna-be fans. So it should be today.

    • M.P. on August 6, 2017 at 10:57 pm

      Byron– Love this counter-balance to the article. Great food for thought. So how do we make church BOTH a place of attraction for unbelievers AND a place of true growth? A place that, like our Lord, is full of grace AND truth?

      • Byron on August 8, 2017 at 3:40 pm

        If the church is training believers how to share the Gospel and lead people to Christ, there won’t be a need to “attract” non-believers, only to teach and disciple all of the new believers that the current believers are bringing in. And if a non-believer does visit, the active, discipling, sharing believers in church will be the ones that make them feel welcome and lead them to Christ. Ultimately, it should be our radically different lifestyle from the world that attracts those truly interested. Why do we think, “I’ll bring them to church so they’ll get saved,” instead of “I’ll speak and act compassionately and respectfully of Jesus, sharing the Gospel so the Holy Spirit can work on their heart. When they are saved, I will take them to see my family, the church, where they will be loved and accepted and encouraged by so many others.” It seems that leading someone to Christ has become the responsibility of the pastor instead of each one of us. Perhaps the problem is that many churches no longer teach how to witness and share the Gospel message?

  6. Gabriel on August 6, 2017 at 8:48 am

    Merriment! I love every bit of the line… I ink down… More inspiration and wisdom of God…

  7. Carl bowles on August 5, 2017 at 8:18 pm

    yes looking through a young Christian eyes makes connexus a perfect fit.
    In as much as I sometimes have a different view point the young Christian is number one.
    Thanks
    Keep up the great posts!

  8. Carl bowles on August 5, 2017 at 8:14 pm

    Great post
    yes looking through a young Christian eyes makes connexus a perfect fit.
    In as much as I sometimes have a different view point the young Christian is number one.
    Thanks
    Keep up the great posts!

  9. Liz on August 5, 2017 at 6:51 am

    Love this! We can never forget that church is not “just for us”!
    Thank you.

  10. Bethany Kluge on August 3, 2017 at 5:04 am

    If we have attended church all our lives is it even possible to evaluate church through a friends eyes. Are they seeing the same things we are? Are we critical about the right things? Maybe they are just looking for love and acceptance and warm friendly people who demonstrate their love for Jesus by how they live their lives.

  11. Jacqui Pylypiw on August 1, 2017 at 10:41 am

    Dear Mr. Neuhoff:
    I frequently read your posts and find them very interesting. I have noticed in your writings and other people’s writings that no one ever talks about reaching the aging population in our country. We seem to be fixated on reaching the younger generations. But as a 70 year old believer, who has been attending church for 40+ years (the last 25 at the Vineyard) I am finding that this fixation with attracting younger people leaves the older people out. Things have gotten loud and chaotic, more emotionally focussed, no space for contemplation and quietness, more of man’s words than God’s Word. Even though I love my church, I have struggled with the feeling of ‘not belonging’ anymore. I have had to conscientiously ask God to help me to love and serve people on Sunday mornings and to be able to worship without criticism. I don’t want the world’s way of doing things in church. Perhaps non – church goers feel the same. Perhaps they too are tired of the clamour and uncertainty that is part of living in a world with no moral boundaries, perhaps they are looking for something that is radically different from day to day life, perhaps they are looking for some space to think, to rest their minds, to contemplate a different way of doing life, some absolutes of right and wrong delivered in an atmosphere of love and acceptance. I am tired of church.
    Thanks for listening.
    Jacqui

  12. Ingrid H. on July 31, 2017 at 4:17 pm

    Good post! Im not a leader but there are certainly good nuggets here to help me think about when inviting unsaved friends and family to church. ❤

  13. Ingrid H. on July 31, 2017 at 4:16 pm

    Good post! Im not in a leader but there are certainly good nuggets here to help me think about when inviting unsaved friends and family to church. ❤

  14. Brian on July 31, 2017 at 12:06 pm

    What a helpful and insightful post – thank you for sharing it! I’m currently leading an Assimilation Team based on the results of a year-long consulting process, and we’re tasked with looking at how we treat and engage our people from week to week, and move them further through our process from first time visitor to active member. I appreciate the idea of evaluation as critic or contributor, and love the quote about viewing your church through the lens of an invited friend. Thanks again!

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