I don’t know if it is just an American thing, but we are so enamored with popularity and large followings. Unfortunately, the church has not been immune to this fascination.
When a church grows large, there will be those who want to study that group to determine what they did that has become so effective. Leaders will attempt to understand and emulate the programs and techniques of the larger church so that their own congregation will grow.
There are good things that come as a result of growth. But, as leaders, we need to constantly remind ourselves that we are not the ones who are responsible, nor are we the ones who have the ability, to make the church grow. Jesus reminds us that He will build His church.
I suppose that techniques might be effective in drawing a large crowd. Any spectacle, good or bad, will draw a crowd, but what will be the long term effect? But, if our focus is too heavily skewed toward numbers, I think we do those in our congregations a disservice.
Today I read the words of the Apostle John in Chapter 6 of his gospel which tell us “a huge crowd was following [Jesus] because they saw the signs that he was performing by healing the sick.” Later in the same chapter, we see parts of that crowd leaving because of the hard things that Jesus was saying.
Certainly we don’t want to unnecessarily offend people. We should go out of our way to present the truths of Scripture in a manor and language that are most likely to be understood by our hearers. But ultimately, the Gospel will prove to be an offense to some, and a fountain of life to others.
Rather than focus on growth in numbers, we must focus on growth in Biblical understanding and growth in correct practice. The two must go hand-in-hand. We should question whether we, as a group, and as individuals, are growing in our ability to live out the two great commands of Scripture. Are we becoming more loving? Are we moving into deeper relationship with God? In short, are we making disciples (the root meaning being learner) of ourselves and those in our care?
The numbers will be what they are and if God brings a bunch of people together, then as leaders we need to learn how to minister to all of them in a way that encourages them to grow. Our example is Jesus who fed the 5,000 even though he knew that some or many of them were there for the wrong reasons and would soon be leaving him.
Certainly we should try to reach as many people as we can with the good news of Jesus Christ, but all the while, we should also remind ourselves that some of the people in our crowd will walk away and we should not be devastated when they do. Bigger isn’t always better.