If you were to guess, why would you say people stay at your church? Come up with a short list.
Now imagine a church moved in across the street that did each of those things a bit better—even bigger. Would people stay at your church?
In a flashbang culture that leads by sound bites and microwave convenience, it is easy for us to focus on improvements of immediacy in our churches. In the words of Zack Eswine, we want “large things famously fast.”
You want a young pastor? Our new guy is 12.
You want louder music? Our amps go to 11.
You want more friends? We’ve got Ross and Monica.
You want a more fun children’s ministry? We just annexed Disneyland.
Let me be clear: these things are not bad in and of themselves (except for the 12-year-old pastor. That’s ill-advised). I am all for quality music, aesthetic facilities and engaging children’s ministries. We certainly should do all we can to make our churches welcoming, comfortable and communicative for the Gospel without unnecessary distraction.
But someone’s pastor will be 11.
Someone else’s amps will go to 12.
Someone else will have more friends.
Someone else’s children’s ministry will annex Universal Studios and be led by the Avengers.
Sadly, what happens in many of our churches, in attempting to keep our seats filled, we become so focused on the means that we relegate the message to the background. Or worse, we make the message a pragmatic means to our ultimate numerical goal.
Pastor, leader, church member, if I may offer a word of encouragement: Trust the Gospel. Trust the Word. Trust the slow and steady process of discipleship.
Evaluation and assessment are always good in the church, and we never want anything to be offensive except the Gospel. But as we survey our facilities and hold our meetings of evaluation, start first at biblical faithfulness and Gospel understanding. Never assume the Gospel in your church. Never assume because you have Bible verses in your sermons that you are teaching the Bible to your congregation.
When your church is focused on the Gospel through God’s Word, members won’t leave because they found bigger/better. There is no bigger/better. The great thing about the Word of God is you can never make Truth more true. The power of the Gospel isn’t measured in wattage and decibels. In preaching Jesus, you know there’s not a bigger and brighter Savior moving in across the street.
Sadly, yes, people in your church may leave. They may even leave for bigger/brighter things. That’s not necessarily in your control. What you can control is ensuring people won’t leave your church for lack of Gospel faithfulness and thorough teaching of God’s Word.
A wise man once told me, “What you win them with is what you win them to.” If we reach our community with gimmicks, production and moral self-help platitudes, we may get more people in our doors, but they will leave once we have a rough week, a less bold idea or someone else moves in with resources to do it bigger, bolder and brighter.
However, if the center of your church is the clear communication of the Gospel through God’s authoritative, sufficient, inerrant Word, then no one can beat that. No one can outshine the glory of God if your church is truly upholding Christ crucified, resurrected and seated on the throne.
In fact, when that is the focus of your church, you can celebrate when the new guy moves in across the street with a bigger platform or louder band who is also truly sharing that same faithful Gospel message through exegesis of the same Word. Your goal is the same.
You can deliver hard truths and discuss difficult topics because you’re not concerned about seating capacity. Your goal is faithfulness in letting God’s Word speak. In other words, the weight of the church is not on you; it’s on the authority of the Bible and the shoulders of Christ where it belongs.
When we focus on the means, we are always measuring our church.
When we focus on the Gospel, we are measuring the endless grace of God in Christ.
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:1-5).