It’s the week of Thanksgiving, and many of us are turning our attention to family matters and turkey feasts. Before the festivities begin, I’d like to share with you an article I found online recently. You can read the full article here; its title is “How to Shrink Your Church,” and it was written by a pastor named Tim Suttle. If you haven’t done so already, please read this brief article; it is well worth your time.
Christians seem always to be interested in growing: we want pews to be filled, classes to be well-attended, programs to blossom. I can’t lie – when I heard 150 strong voices fill our sanctuary with musical praise to God at our Community Thanksgiving Service the other day, I was thrilled and wondered what it would be like if we were to have that experience every Sunday. We are constantly concerned with our future, with the next generation of believers, with the hope for things to turn around.
What does success look like in the eyes of God? How do we know if we are doing the right things? Even Jesus told the parable of the talents, in which the two servants who doubled their resources were praised while the one who buried his in the ground was condemned. And with the bar set high (“go and make disciples of all nations,” Matthew 28:18-20), the ideal path of church success seems straightforward enough: we are successful if we grow in size, influence, energy, and so forth.
To be fair, we should be concerned with introducing people to Jesus, the one who died to forgive our sins, who gives us new life, and who walks with us through every experience. Adding people to the kingdom of God is always a priority.
Yet I believe Pastor Suttle’s core idea is also true, and I want to restate it in my own words here. Growing churches are exciting places to be, but any church – growing or otherwise – can fall under the spell of two false teachings: (1) “Feel good” Christianity, in which everything that happens makes us feel better about our lives as we have already chosen to live them, and (2) “Church growth” Christianity, in which we follow specific programs and procedures that are designed to grow the congregation, again to help us feel better about our situation.
In order to be effective and successful Christ-followers, we must remain absolutely faithful to the message of Jesus, the kingdom of God, and the scripture which points us to God. Church growth is not about fancy programs and entertainment. It is about calling ourselves and others into deep, intimate, life-changing relationship with Christ and into meaningful, sacrificial, humble service in our world.
We must pursue Christ unashamedly, which might not be too popular. After all, Jesus himself said we’d have to eat his flesh and drink his blood, and that line cost him a lot of followers. We must spend ourselves for the sake of the kingdom of God. If we find ourselves completely spent, then we are in the right position: God is the master of resurrection, and there can be no substitute for the new life he gives his people.