When you think of your local church, you probably conjure up a picture of a group of people that has little variation to it.
But the truth is, when describing any group of people, including a local church, you’re actually dealing with a conglomerate of individuals, complete with their own temperaments, their own personalities, their own characters, and lots (and lots!) of individual opinions.
You might say shepherding a local church is kind of like herding cats … just harder!
To help you better understand one of the many challenges church leaders face in shepherding the flock of God put into their care, it’s important to understand that in each congregation you’ll likely find a mix of these six types of people attending that local church:
Godly – Mature. These are those Christians who have been well-discipled and have spent a long time growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord. These Christians are able to serve in leading ways in the church, such as in key teaching positions, as disciplers of new converts and other Christians “young” in the faith. These Christians are the ones usually tapped to serve as elders, deacons, and ministry leaders. They are not perfect, but they have matured well in the faith and continue to grow while also being leading servants in the church. There aren’t a lot of these types of people in most churches, but there could be.
Godly – Developing disciples. These are Christians who aren’t as mature as the “Godly – Mature” leaders noted above, but they are devoted to being discipled and are in earlier stages of developing well as faithful and obedient followers of Jesus. It’s exciting to watch these people continue in their spiritual formation over the years, and it is just that — a process that takes time. But they are in this for life! This type of person should be commonplace in most any church, but they aren’t because we so often fail to disciple people properly so that they’re actually “developing disciples.”
Undiscipled – The majority of people in any American church will tell you they have never been in a discipling relationship. The may attend church, and perhaps attend a Sunday School class or home group, but that’s all the “discipling” they’ve experienced in their local church. These people are undiscipled. They are biblically illiterate and do not have a biblical worldview. According to recent research, these types of people make up the majority of churchgoers in American churches.
Functional atheist – These people are not “classic” atheists because they actually profess faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, they may serve in leading positions in the church, they may even be in teaching positions, and they can quote some scripture. These people are good at “talking the talk,” but what makes them “functional atheists” is that they don’t “walk the walk”; they profess a faith in Christ, but how they live their lives each day is opposite of a life of faithful obedience to, and followership of, Jesus Christ (living as a disciple). The reason this group of people aren’t “lumped in” with the “Undiscipled” noted above is that some of these people have been discipled, yet they do not live out what they have been taught or what they profess to believe. Along with the Undiscipled, this type makes up a majority of the people in the church today.
Lukewarm – Why have I listed the Lukewarm churchgoer under functional atheists? Because these are the type of people whose lukewarm devotion to Christ is so distasteful to Jesus it makes Him want to spit, kind of like the Christians in the church at Laodicea:
To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:14-16)