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Battling Preference

by Rev. Jason Waeber
Foundation BP Mission, Lockland, OH
the Missions Banner, June 2021

There is a crisis facing the evangelical church today and it is uniquely difficult in the sense that it is largely self-created. The method of church planting for decades now (at least, the most successful numerically) is the homogenous group principle. In short, it suggests that you find a group of people you intend to attract, craft your services/ministries/tone/etc… around the preferences of that group of people, and voila, they’ll all come to your church. The most insidious problem with this approach is that it actually works. You’ll have folks who come regularly and have strong attachments with the other members of the church, and sure, you’d like to have more diversity among the body, but perhaps those other people should just go to the churches which have picked them as a target demographic.

Obviously, there is plenty of upside here, but the downside is that we have accepted the logic that preference in worship style and church culture is not just one factor in choosing a church, but the factor. This appeal is often couched in very comforting terms: “This place just feels like home,” “I can really feel the Spirit moving in the worship here,” “I just felt immediately like I belong,” or, conversely, “I never felt like I really belonged here.”  Most will not explicitly say that they chose a church for a specific preference in worship, but they will make appeals to vague, unexplained feelings which drove their choices. When we affirm people’s choices on this basis, we’re actually training them to make preference choices rather than choices based upon biblical reasoning and conviction.

It is desperately necessary that our churches have more reason to exist than simply to cater to one more cultural niche. Our people actually know this and feel this. When they bemoan the fact that the church is split into so many denominations, they’re saying that the only real difference between our churches and most others is style. If the only substantial thing which sets us off from the Baptist church around the corner, or the Methodist church a bit further up the road, or even the big “Community Church” one exit further down, is a preference for a certain kind of singing, or a certain kind of preaching, or a certain church culture, we don’t actually have a good reason to exist. We should just roll ourselves into one of those bodies, get used to a new set of preferences, and keep on trucking. Preferences, friends, are not truth.

I hope you have deeper convictional reasons for being part of a Bible Presbyterian church, but I want to ask you sincerely, what are they? Are they truly more than preference? Is the Word, is Truth the reason that you’ve chosen to attach yourself to the church you currently attend? If you’re not there yet, friends, I hope you will attend to the teaching of the church and learn why it is so desperately important to be warriors for scriptural truth, in an age where so many have turned away from that truth. We will need real convictions to stand upon in the coming days, not sentimental attachments to style preferences.

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