In my opinion, you can’t have a Christian community (aka, “a church”) without mediocrity, because mediocrity is a result of an authentic struggle to merge faith, relationships and real life. The presence of mediocrity also signals a main difference between attractional churches and communal churches.
What is Said vs. What is Meant
In attractional churches, what is said is “Do your best, as unto the Lord.” What is meant, however, is “Unless your best meets a very high standard of quality you can not be a visible part of our ministry.” That is why if you attend a typical, large, attractional church you should be amazed at the music, the speaking and the video features of its Sunday service. All the elements are choreographed to be perfect, flawless and the very best.
Mediocrity Values People
Most people are not gifted, polished communicators, musicians or artists. When only the professionally trained and superbly gifted are allowed to sing or preach, the message to the congregation is clear—“All of you stay in your seats and watch.”
There is no doubt that the Sunday worship experience would be completely different if the quality of the performance becomes less important than the sincerity of it. It would more about engaging and less about the “wow factor”.
Every church I have attended in my life has proclaimed that loving people is its top priority, its highest value. But what would happen if those churches decided to value people by giving them the opportunity to participate at all levels of the Sunday service? Probably some people would leave the church, the budget would shrink and the professionals would not receive the full amount of their often hidden and overinflated salaries
Near the end of my time within the “excellence model” I recall wanting my friend to speak at the Sunday service. She was (and is) an amazing communicator and was willing to share her story of redemption after an abortion in front of thousands of people. I believe hers would have been the most profound message ever given at that church, but the leadership said: “She does not meet the bar of excellence we have for speakers.” What a tragic decision, one that is repeated weekly, when only the paid and polished can be heard from. Actually, I think it also had a great deal to do with the fact she is a woman.
I have been a preacher on staff with both a large attractional church and an attractional megachurch. I have been a contract speaker for large coliseum events. Here is my experience in those roles: I felt like dying. If I had a great week and “hit it out of the park,” the anxiety to meet that standard the next week became unbearable. But if I “missed” by delivering a lousy message, the pressure to not do it two weeks in a row was even worse. There is little room for grace or humanity in a church that values excellence.
Now that I am part of a small, communal church that embraces mediocrity, I am never stressed when I get to give a message. I never worry how well I am going to do, because no one comes to hear me speak. They come to be with their friends and look for Jesus.
Our services can never be big, because our leadership team has chosen to both welcome the marginalized and value participation. We want everyone to speak, lead communion, sing, ask questions during the “message,” and generally be a part of our services both on Saturday nights when we meet for worship and at other times of the week when we meet for various reasons. Being good at something is not a criterion for getting to do it. Someone once said, “If only the birds sang that knew they could sing, the forest would be silent.”
I think the notion of excellence kills a faith community’s effectiveness to invite people into true community, and that if churches continue to value excellence over participation they will perpetuate a faith that is mostly about watching, on Sundays and on every other day of the week, as well.