Image courtesy Pexels.

We made the top five. According to the online newspaper Kev’s Best, the church I serve as pastor made the list of top five churches in Dallas based on criteria such as business history, services, pictures and media, opening hours, social media, website quality, awards and accomplishments, reviews and feedback, among other things.

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The top five churches on the list have little in common in terms of denominational identity, theological commitments or missional engagement. They are an odd grouping with one common factor: size.

I am always happy when people rank us highly in whatever way, but how do we evaluate religious communities?

There are many fine churches and other religious congregations in Dallas. I hope our members and others in the community have a positive view of who we are and what we do. But we are human beings who disappoint one another more often than I like. For all the good reviews we might receive, there are people for whom our church does not measure up. I regret that deeply, but I also understand it.

Many churches are smaller and equally faithful. They lack the resources we are blessed with that allow us to provide ministries others can’t afford. No church can meet the earthly needs of everyone, yet many churches may meet the standards of heaven notwithstanding.

When thinking about the value of any congregation, there are factors that aren’t included in Kev’s Best that should be considered. Here are a few.

First, is the congregation faithful to its primary spiritual identity? Whatever the denomination, fidelity to the church’s core theological commitments is crucial. The reason for its existence is usually rooted in covenantal affirmations about God and what faith demands. If a church holds firmly to those things, it has reason to celebrate its life.

Second, does the congregation maintain a witness in the world that is consistent with the teaching to love one’s neighbor as oneself? Churches do not only exist for themselves; they are meant to be a salient influence on the communities where they are located. This may entail charitable work that relieves the plight of the poor and disenfranchised, or it also may include working for justice and the transformation of civic life for the sake of the common good.

Finally, and more challenging, does the church show evidence that it changes over time in a way that maintains its vitality without forsaking its core identity? Willem de Kooning, the abstract expressionist artist once said: “I have to change to stay the same.” If a church looks and behaves in ways more reflective of the 1950s then the 2020s, it’s hardly relevant. Holding to the ancient faith faithfully today is the goal.

Dallas is blessed to have many fine Christian churches and other religious congregations that are doing good and faithful work. The disruptive COVID-19 pandemic has added to the burden of maintaining healthy ministries in these days. We should pray for one another as we persevere.

Competition between churches is less helpful than cooperation among us.

GEORGE MASON is pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church, president of Faith Commons and host of the “Good God” podcast. The Worship section is underwritten by Advocate Publishing and the neighborhood businesses and churches listed here. For information about helping support the Worship section, call 214.560.4202.