These "Top Church" Lists Make Me Groan

Every time another "top churches" list comes out, I experience this internal groaning. It's the pain of being in conflict. Being happy and sad at the same time. Being curious and yet upset.

This week on Tuesday the blog world came alive with the announcement by The Church Report of  America's 50 Most Influential Churches. I've skimmed no less than 100 blog posts or news reports about the list just in the first three days since it was announced.

Other "top church" lists are published each year, including the 100 fastest growing churches, 100 largest churches, most innovative churches, top reproducing churches, and so on.

Granger has ended up on many of these lists. This year we are ranked as the 6th most influential church in the country. Cool, right? Well, yes, kind of, but not really. Thus my conflict.

I don't want to sound ungrateful. It is a high honor. It gives some concrete substance and recognition to our efforts to resource the church. In 1998, we made a very specific and intentional decision to begin resourcing churches and church leaders around the country in a huge way. We re-wrote our 10-year vision to reflect that goal and began to strategize and staff to that end. We launched, offered an annual conference, began local and regional workshops, and started packaging resources that were effective for us. So appearing on this list shows us that our efforts are paying off...our vision is being realized. And that is tremendous.

The list also gives us a "tool" to affirm our volunteers. They are doing the ministry, they are making the difference in people's lives. And it's fun to have a new reason to say, "Way to go...keep it up church!" Most of our volunteers are very local-minded and aren't focused on our ministry outside of our community, so it's a great thing to be able to show them that their efforts are having a nation-wide impact.

But I have a great concern about lists like this. I fear becoming complacent. I fear becoming a church that thinks it has arrived. In the 70's there was a list produced of the largest Sunday Schools in the nation, and I remember finding out in the mid-90's that not one church was still on the list. Could that be true with this list as well? Is it possible that every one of the top 10 most influential churches won't even be on the radar ten years from now? Does it even matter?

I'm concerned about getting our eye off the ball. The goal is not to move higher on a certain list. The goal is not to edge out another church. The goal is to be effective in helping people take their next step toward Christ. The goal is to make disciples.

I also fear pride. I fear it for us. I fear it for churches that appeared on the list for the first time. I fear it for churches at the top of the list. There is such a fine line between sinful pride and team pride. It's all about the motives of our heart. I'm not an expert on humility, but I know what happens in my own heart when I begin to compare and measure our church against other churches instead of measuring it against the great commission and the great commandment. Pride is subtle. Pride is damaging.

I fear discouragement. I fear what a list like this does for the thousands of churches that are growing, effective, influential and innovative--and yet they aren't on the list. I fear what it does for the pastor who is casting a huge vision for his congregation about how they can impact the world, and yet year after year they don't get noticed and the influence doesn't seem to be happening as much as in other places. Does a list like this help that pastor? Or does it just cast a huge cloud of discouragement.

I'm not saying that these lists should be banned. I have nothing against those who publish or tally these lists. I'm just calling for us all to look at the lists for what they are. Words on paper. They are one measurement of a thousand, and certainly not the most important.

Where am I wrong? Are there other church leaders out there also on the list that feel the same way? Any leaders whose church is not on the list who are jazzed by these types of lists?

Your turn...leave me a comment.

Tim Stevens9 Comments