I am not against counting things when it comes to church. The old adage which says, “We count people because people count” may be trite, but it is true. We should count the things that we keep track of. But all of us will readily admit that there is something suspicious going on with our relationship with the attendance figure. I believe it is because, at times, we look to it to justify ourselves and our ministries.
The equations on the chalkboard of our heart usually go something like this:
Lots of people = Visible success in ministry = I am happy
Fewer people = Failure in ministry = I am depressed
Anybody else think that math is a little fuzzy?
This is a really helpful piece, and I would encourage you to go and read the rest of it. Especially if you are a pastor. But even if you are not, if you are in the church, you need to read this because it reveals just some of the pressure that men in ministry are under. And sometimes, the pressure they are under is placed upon them because of the people in the pew.
What are we saying about the old adage of “nickels, numbers, and noise”? That in terms of gospel faithfulness, it might not be telling the whole story… and in fact it might be telling a lie.
“Worship is like going to a mall,” Millard said. “There are all kinds of stores. Some people like specialty shops. Some like department stores. When you have variety, people can go where they like.”
And so, we create consumers instead of contributors, we cater to the wants and wishes of the sheep instead of leading them, and all the while the gospel suffers because we think it is about what we want, and not what Christ wants.
What is additionally frightening is the quote offered towards the end of the article, which says:
“The exciting thing is any church can do this. They’re all possible for any size congregation. Any congregation can become vital if they start to practice these things.”
Notice, there was nothing mentioned about Christ, the cross, the gospel, discipleship, progressive sanctification, mortification of sin, or anything else. Things get scary when we make God a formula, and “church growth” the end. It produces studies like this.
The following is a quote from The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift that Changes Everything by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne (pp. 111):
This, it has to be said, is counter-intuitive. It goes against the grain. Our first instinct is to go straight to those who need the most help–and of course, as pastors, there will always be times when we need to leave the 99 to go after the one. There will be pastoral emergencies and problems that we just have to deal with.
But if we pour all our time into caring for those who need help, the stable Christians will stagnate and never be trained to minister to others, the non-Christians will stay unevangelized, and a rule of thumb will quickly emerge within the congregation: if you want the pastor’s time and attention, get yourself a problem. Ministry becomes all about problems and counseling, and not about the gospel and growing in godliness.
And over time, the vine withers.
So, what is the point of what we are doing? Managing bleeting sheep, or investing in the kingdom?