At the end of Matthew chapter 4, we are told that “great multitudes followed [Jesus]—from Galilee, and from Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan.”
Wherever Jesus went, he drew a crowd. Certainly some of the draw was his ability to heal. I’m sure that others followed out of a desire to see a miracle. Word must have traveled about the man who attended a wedding and turned water into wine.
Jesus’ response to the multitudes was to sit down and teach them (Matthew 5:1), a record of that teaching is found in Matthew chapters 5-7 and is referred to as the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus taught and the crowds listened and marveled at his teaching.
My question is this, why do we not see similar crowds today? Is it because people aren’t as needy? In the physical sense this may be true. With modern medicine many of the cures that can be affected would seem miraculous if seen by Jesus’ contemporaries. Yet, the spiritual hunger is just as prevalent today as 2,000 years ago.
Here are some questions church leaders should be asking:
Are they staying away because our message is not clear? In 1 Corinthians 14:8 Paul asks, “and if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?” The point being that unless our message is clear and can be understood, people will not respond to it. If we are emulating the world and modifying the clear teaching of Scripture just to make it palatable to the surrounding culture, we are making an indistinct sound.
Are they staying away because our message is clear but not given in love? Paul tells us in Ephesians 4;15 to “speak the truth in love.” Without love, the truth is just a club to beat people down. Did you ever notice that the “sinners” were the ones who flocked to Jesus? They didn’t feel condemned by him, even when he made strong pronouncements about the consequences of continued rebellion against God. He spoke some very hard truths, but did so in love. The people were drawn by the love.
Are they staying away because our living does not match our message? I’ve been exposed to churches which preach grace but the pews were full of judgmental, cliquey people. James tells us in James 2:14-26 that “faith without works is dead.” In other words, our living must match our message. Our living must bear evidence of our faith. If not, then we have nothing to offer a world who desperately needs to be shown a better way.
Are they staying away because we haven’t reached out to them and asked them to come? People are more likely to visit if they are invited and have someone to show them the way around. A marquee out front may draw a few people in, but there is no substitute for a personal invitation.
I realize that numbers don’t tell the whole story and that there are very large religious gatherings where the Biblical message is being distorted. A church could be seeking God, seeing changed lives in those who attend, yet remain small. Size is not the ultimate test.
That being said, if the local church is not growing, that church needs to examine itself and determine if repentance and change are necessary. The lack of growth may say more about the church than it does about those who remain on the outside.