Early in my ministry I was greatly influenced by Rick Warren’s book, Purpose Driven Church. I still live by the principles outlined in that book and try to build my church around the five characteristics of a purpose driven church: worship, discipleship, evangelism, fellowship, and ministry. Several years ago I had the privilege of receiving a “Church Health Award” from Pastor Rick on behalf of the church I was pastoring at the time. The reason I am saying all this is so you will know I am not being critical. I believe Purpose Driven Church is one of the top 5 books every pastor should read.
The purpose of this blog is to challenge you to go deeper than that seminal work. There is another question you need to ask before asking the purpose of your church.
Years ago, as I was eating breakfast at a local McDonalds with a fellow pastor, he asked me, “Kevin, what is the DNA of your church?”
If he would have asked me what our purpose statement was I could have told him. I could have quoted for him our vision statement, mission statement, core values, and strategy. But he didn’t ask me for any of those. He asked, “What is your church’s DNA?”
I had never considered that question before.
After several years of contemplating on that question, I am convinced it is the single most important question a pastor can ask about his church. Figuring out your church’s DNA is more important than the wording of your church’s purpose, vision, mission, or strategy. Why? Because DNA comes first, and DNA will be the deciding factor about purpose, vision, mission, and strategy. No matter how unique, creative, or profound your other statements may be, if you don’t know your church’s DNA, you will never fully be what God has created you to be.
Until you know your church’s DNA, you will try and copy other churches’ purpose statements and vision strategies. No two churches are alike. Every church is unique. Churches cannot be manufactured or franchised.
Until you know your church’s DNA, you will be continually frustrated and discouraged by lack of growth, or slow growth. Things will never run smoothly. Ministry will seem more like work than service.
Pastoral burnout, staff conflicts, leadership struggles, and grumbling members, I believe, are all symptoms that a church does not know its DNA.
Worse still, until you know your church’s DNA, you will fall into the trap of comparing your ministry to someone else’s. And comparisons are unbiblical. The Bible says:
“Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.” (Galatians 6:4-5, The Message)
I am 6’ 4”. I have brown hair and green eyes. I am not artistic, and I have no rhythm. That’s who I am; it’s part of my DNA. No matter how much I wish I were 6’ 8”, or 5’ 10”, or blonde hair, blue eyes, artistic, or an excellent jazz musician, I can never be those things. No amount of training or mentoring will make me something I am not, and I will develop a low self image if I compare myself to what I am not. Maturity is accepting who I am and who God created me to be, becoming comfortable in my own skin.
The same is true for your church.
Your church’s DNA is how she was created. Built into that DNA is what she can do, and what she cannot do. If it’s not in your church’s DNA to be a mega church, no amount of trying, conferences, or programs will make it a mega church. So quit trying to be one. On the other hand, if your church’s DNA is to be large, than be as large as God has created you go be.
If your church’s DNA is to be a family church, emphasizing relationships and meeting personal needs, then celebrate your uniqueness and be all God created you to be. Don’t try to be the church down the street.
If your church’s DNA is to be a giving church, then give. If it is to be an evangelizing church, then evangelize. If it is a church of mercy, be merciful; of service, serve.
Be who God created you to be; and base your purpose, vision, mission, and strategy on your DNA, not what some church growth expert says you should be.
How do I figure out my church’s DNA?
Here are some suggestions:
- Pray. God created your church, He knows your DNA, so ask Him to reveal it to you.
- Study your church’s history. More than likely, what God wants your church to be was what He created it to be in the first place. If you planted your church, this should be easy. Why did you plant it? What need did you envision your church meeting? What is your passion? However, if you are pastoring an existing church, look back over the church’s history, talk to the older members, discover why the church was planted in that community in the first place. In the same way I baby is born with all his or her DNA in place, so a church, at conception, already has her DNA.
- Find out what your church does well. There is something your church does better than other churches in your area. Whatever that something is, you will be far more effective improving on that something than trying to change it to something else. God doesn’t need 10 churches in the same area doing the same thing. Your church has a niche. When you discover what makes your church unique, you will be a long way toward knowing your DNA.
- Talk to other pastors in your area. Chances are they will see things about your church that you don’t see.
- Evaluate your own spiritual gifts. If God has called you to your church, then there is something about your individual gifting as a pastor that will further the church along. Your DNA will compliment your church’s DNA. (If not, you may be at the wrong church, but that’s another blog.)
I am telling you from personal experience, that true satisfaction and contentment in ministry will come from recognizing your church’s DNA. In the same way you need to be comfortable in your own skin, you need to be comfortable in the skin of your church’s DNA.