1 Corinthians 3:7 = “So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (NIV)”
Once I sat in a meeting and quietly listened as one leader encouraged the group to think about how it may invite more folks into fellowship and worship. One older person rather abruptly (in my opinion) asked for a “strategy” from the leader. The person felt strongly about their point that the group needed some kind of plan for getting more people to come into our walls. I, for one, did not appreciate the way they stated their point (they later apologized by the grace of God), but I also felt the need to make an argument for why there is no top “strategy” to get folks into the church, and to urge Christians to be careful not to forget about what should come after we are able to encourage others to worship with us. The decline in numbers of people in churches has been happening everywhere in western society, but it is a nuanced issue that has to be carefully studied. No one should think that there will be a one-size-fits-all type of plan that will get your church booming just because it worked for a well-known pastor in some big city or suburb somewhere. I have read before that in many cases that many people fall away from the Church due to some relational issues in which they were hurt in some way. Then, in my opinion, there are too many “churches” in one community, so people may not know where to go, or they go where they are most comfortable culturally or socially, and forget to do a spiritual (and biblical) check when they visit different places. I live in the Bible Belt, a place where people will have “churches” side by side each other, right across the street, and where there can be up to 4 or 5 “churches” in a square mile of each other. Huh?! I do not believe that this is biblical at all, but I may argue this point at another time. Also, people argue over insane things today, like should we sing contemporary Christian songs or straight out of the hymnal. Then, churches may split off from one another because of the foolishness of the so-called “Pastor”, who may be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but the “flock” would not know if you told them because they do not believe in the importance of knowing God’s Word for themselves. Yes, I could go on and on and on. My point is that to want a strategy to gain numbers of people back in the pews is a bit dangerous to me, if that is the only goal in mind.
I know a plan is good to have to get everyone on board to see how we may best reach out to brothers and sisters that are not saved or do not have a church home. But I would also suggest that in any given outreach “strategy” that the Church ought to be careful to not just go for Heads, but go for Souls. I think in some ways it is not terribly difficult to get large numbers into churches, or something similar to a church (think “Joel Osteen” and many prosperity gospel preachers like “Creflo Dollar”). Think about it: there are many who claim to be servants of Christ and lead “churches” with attendance that could rival some sports venues, but when you check their theology, it sounds like something to celebrate in an end zone, instead of joyful celebration and living that is to be for a lifetime and into eternity. What I’m trying to say is: “You can’t strategize spirituality!”
Numbers can come week in and week out, but we must be careful to not allow for a great number of bodies in the four walls of a sanctuary to fool us in believing that lives are being changed. I have heard people say before that if they could put on a certain event or run a ministry a certain way that they could have a place hopping with people. Excuse me! Let us not forget that it is God alone who enables us to come to Him and who gives the growth of any place of worship.
Besides, people “accepting” Christ and getting baptized out in the open, may not be a true and exact image of what has taken place in their hearts. Some people think that in going before the Church and saying that they accept Christ as Savior and getting baptized that their work is done. It is as if some so-called Christians think that just accepting the Lord is enough in this walk with Christ. Not even close by a long shot. Obviously we do not work for salvation, because it is through Grace Alone that we are saved (Ephesians 2:8), but we work because of this gift of salvation given to us. I have not heard of many being effective in sharing the Gospel by way of staying bolted to the pew. We are to be active in our praise and worship of and our living in Christ. Therefore, the life in Christ is an active and a joyful one of sharing the Good News to anyone that we come into contact with, while we are continually being transformed into the very image of our Savior. Again, how can anyone do this activity while sitting is beyond me. But, here is the kicker: how can they, those who are new to Christ or new to the Church, know better, unless we train them better. It is beneficial to letting new believers and new members that finding a ministry to be involved with is vital to being in the Body of Christ. It should be encouraged that to keep the Life of Christ flowing in you, you must be actively attached to the Vine (Jesus) and abiding in Him. For a person to not be active in the Body of Christ, a person will appear to think it to be of no importance or that person has a huge lack of understanding of what it means to be in Christ. This goes back to my point that you cannot strategize spirituality. We should desire to not just increase tithers in our churches, but desire a deeper love of the Lord ourselves, which should spark in us a need to value others so much that we pour our lives (as we imitate Christ only) into them to help them see that without Christ they can do nothing and are doomed to Hell and the joy that they are missing out on.
So, to strategize, or not to strategize? Is that the question? Not necessarily? A better one might be: “How do we strategize in a Spirit-guided and Christ-centered way for God’s Kingdom and His Greater Glory?”
(Originally posted on my old and now defunct “Watch Your Theology” website back on October 13, 2015.)