Factory Church: A Tale of Three Churches

This is the third installment in a series of blogs about three different kinds of churches: Fantasy, Factory and Family. In this installment, I want to address the problems we face when we try to turn our churches into FACTORIES. Stay tuned for the final blog to learn how to build a true Spirit-led Family Church. To view the entire series, visit www.PastorsCoach.com. Like us on social media to stay updated!

In 1984, after completing my training for ministry, my wife, Diane, and I started a Vineyard Church in San Francisco that grew rapidly and became one of the largest churches that the city had seen in a generation. But after 15 years of great success, we hit a set of problems that caused multiple fractures in our church. In 2000, we started over with a group of around 150 adults. This restart took a couple of years to get moving forward and I gradually became frustrated, comparing the challenges of that season with the great breakthrough we had enjoyed in the past. Yet, despite all my effort, we could not seem to regain our previous momentum. We felt like we were playing basketball without a ball or a hoop. We were falling increasingly into Fantasy Church.

It was around this time that I first heard about a cell church strategy that was based in Latin America. As I investigated it further, I discovered a brilliant system of soul winning, discipleship and leadership development that was bearing great fruit around the world. This system was committed to the ministry and gifts of the Holy Spirit. They provided great Biblical curricula that covered a wide range of topics. In other words, they had developed a “Plug and Play” system for fulfilling the Great Commission. We tried it on for size and at first it brought some real benefits to our church. But after a year or two, it began to feel a lot like Saul’s Armor. We found ourselves no longer doing FAMILY but instead we were doing FACTORY.

Living things grow from within, but our approach to implementing this system was artificial and mechanical. Within a short period of time we found ourselves having to work harder and harder to keep the machine working. Our leaders were initially grateful for the clear structure and strategy but eventually became burnt out by having to prop up a system that was now consuming more life than it is imparting. I call this phenomenon, Factory Church.

Factory Churches come in all shapes and sizes. They are not necessarily all cell churches but are any ministry in which the program of the church squeezes out the presence of God and the passion of the people. Here are a few earmarks of a Factory Church that will help you to bring greater definition.

Factory Church is Wineskin without Wine:
Jesus was the first to use this terminology of wine and wineskin. In my book, Revival Culture, I refer to this as “the coffee and the cup”. In my estimation church is all about the coffee, but coffee is of very little use without a cup of some kind. It can be ceramic, paper or plastic but without a cup we cannot enjoy the coffee. At the same time, the cup without the coffee will never wake us up.

I love structure and systems. Charts are my love language, but I also realize that structure without substance will eventually bring forth death. Many leaders have become preoccupied with the structure at the expense of the lifegiving substance, and have begun a journey into an increasingly lifeless faith. Factory Church must eventually resort to control and subtle coercion to keep people committed to the structure after the thrill is gone.

A factory consists of templates and conveyer belts. It consists of molds and cookie-cutter forms that only function well when everyone conforms. The only problem is that we are all so diverse in background, temperament, spiritual gifts and calling. If we try to fit everyone into a single mold they will find themselves growing gradually oppressed and eventually resistant and resentful. The only way to overcome this is to apply more pressure and control. This works against the spiritual life of the church and will eventually kill all momentum.

Factory Church is Duty without Delight:
Every church has a culture of motivation that energizes the members to serve and sacrifice. The primary motivation of a factory church is almost always DUTY. I believe that duty is a noble virtue and is a necessary safety net for all of us to fall into when other motivations fail. Unfortunately duty is not a sustainable motivation for long-term service, especially in our generation. Most leaders of a factory church emphasize the obligation of members to sacrifice like Jesus sacrificed for us. Yet, the scripture tells us that even Jesus needed more than mere duty to fulfill His destiny. “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the JOY set before Him endured the cross…” (Heb.12:2)

The main cause of burnout in any Church is the motivation of duty without delight. If Jesus needed a joy set before him, how much more do we. There are many things that bring your people joy but I believe the greatest source of joy a believer can know is the joy of fruitfulness in Christ. Jesus illustrates this by declaring that the purpose of his whole teaching on fruitfulness was to help His followers be filled with joy. (Jn.15:11) True joy is found in discovering and fulfilling the destiny that God has prepared for us.

Factory Church is Organization Above Individual:
The purpose of a factory is to utilize people and resources to produce a profit. When machines wear out, they are replaced. When resources are used up, they are replaced. All things exist for the sake of the organization. This is not the way God’s kingdom works. There are two priorities in the kingdom of God: The Church “organization” and the individual member. Both are important and both need to be grown for the purposes of God to be fulfilled. The question is which is God’s priority? Which is the cart and which is the horse?

Factory church puts the cart of organization in front of the horse of individual development. This inevitably causes us to see people as expendable resources that God brought to us to fulfill our vision and mission. The problem with this thinking is that when we put the cart in front of the horse, we miss God’s Vision and Mission. There is no higher mission of any church than to help develop every member to fulfill all that Jesus created them to be and do. Jesus’ most important last words were, “Go into all the world and make disciples…teaching them to DO everything I have commanded you…” The Great Commission is not about “people utilization” but about “people development”.

It’s time to move from Fantasy and Factory to God’s solution: FAMILY. In the final installment of the blog series, I hope to illustrate the power of Family Church and give some keys about how to turn your church into a “People Development Incubator”.