Jason slipped into a seat at the back of the worship center just after the choir entered. This was his first time at worship this month.
He grew up in church as part of a family present practically every time the church doors opened. By adulthood, he figured he had already attended enough church for his lifetime.
He still found his way to worship in this church of his youth once or twice per month. But, he was not otherwise involved. He came today because he promised to take his mother out to lunch after worship. He had not made it in time to sit with her as she sat on the second row from the front.
Glancing through the worship folder he noticed this was Pledge Sunday. Everyone would be asked at the end of the service to walk to the front and lay a card on the altar promising to give a certain amount of money to the church for the coming year. He wasn’t into that. It gave him some comfort that he never saw more than 20 percent of the people present going forward on that Sunday. It was an expectation, but not a high one.
He was embarrassed about his lack of commitment to the church. When the ushers went forward to take up the offering, he slipped out the back door and decided he would find his mother when worship concluded.
High Expectations, Low Expectations, or Few or No Expectations
Jason is connected with a low expectation congregation. Many churches fit this category. The intensity of expectations in a congregation has a significant impact on their future vitality and vibrancy.
Your congregation is more likely to exist ten years from now with vitality and vibrancy if you have high expectations of people that they grow and mature as Christian disciples. You are marginal or uncertain to exist with vitality and vibrancy if you have some, yet tentative, expectations of people regarding discipleship. You are less likely to exist with vitality and vibrancy if you have few or no expectations of people regarding discipleship.
What do high expectations mean? They mean it is important and a thing of great value to be part of this Christ-centered, faith-based community. You are not called to be a casual participant in a congregation, but a committed participant. Church membership brings covenantal expectations and accountability. Not all congregations have a written covenant, but many congregations have values and practices they expect their congregational participants to reflect in their life and ministry.
In high expectation congregations spiritual formation is a high value. People are expected to be on a Christ-centered, faith-based journey to mature as disciples, grow closer to Christ, and serve with great faithfulness and love. Tithing a household’s income is a high value. Making a commitment of time to the life and ministry of the congregation is assumed. Living a life during the week which is consistent with the substance of worship on Sundays is expected. Being an obvious model of Christ’s love is not a goal, but a foundational expectation.
Low expectation congregations expect little from their members and attendees. They often have a small core of highly committed, faithful leadership people, and then a large group of followers and passive participants who are more consumers of what the church has to offer. It is easy to connect with these congregations, and easy to remain a casual Christian with a mediocre intensity of faithfulness or loyalty to the church. The church is afraid you might leave if they place too many expectations on you.
Congregations with few or no expectations of its members are often going through the motions of being church. They expect their pastor and any other available staff to produce some measurable results needed in the congregation. They are bound by the culture of the congregation rather than by the radical nature of the gospel. Church rituals and rites of passage are important to them, but growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ is something to which they give voice, but not action.
High versus low or no expectations are not necessarily related to theology or style.
Congregations all across the theological spectrum can have high, low, or no expectations of their members and regular attendees. The same is true with congregations of all types of worship, discipleship, fellowship, and missional engagement.
What are the expectations your congregation has of the people connected with it? High? Low? Little or no? What are the implications of your expectations for the future vitality and vibrancy of your congregation?