Getting more people to go to church has never been the point of church growth.
Jesus didn’t tell us to “work really hard to gather people into large crowds to fill up your church buildings. Then I’ll know that you love me.” But when you look at how most pastors (including me) spend much of our time and energy, sometimes it feels like we think that.
Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of Facebook posts and blogs longing for the “good old days” when churches were full on Sunday mornings, evenings and during the week.
I understand that longing. After all, I’ve experienced many a Sunday with depressingly small church attendance. But I have three big problems with the “good old days” mindset.
What About The “Good Old Days” When Churches Were Full?
First, the “good old days” weren’t so good. We have selective memory. If we were transported back there, we’d all want to catch the first DeLorean back to today as fast as we could.
Second, longing for the past is setting ourselves up for defeat. We can’t go back there! Time travel only works in one direction and at one speed. No church or pastor should ever want to go backwards. Let’s honor the past, but live in the now and plan for the future.
Third, I don’t want to hear about churches filling up as a sign of revival, renewal or spiritual awakening any more! I want to hear about churches emptying out. Going into their community to minister, to serve and to share the good news. That’s a greater sign of effective ministry than an increase in church attendance will ever be.
Our world doesn’t need bigger churches or filled-up small churches. We need transformed lives, families, cities and nations. That’s hard to do when all the Christians are cloistered inside church buildings.
Let’s Emphasize What Jesus Emphasized
Take a look at the Gospels. Did Jesus spend his time in meetings? Did he try to get people to go to meetings? Did the disciples?
No. Jesus and the disciples never emphasized going to meetings. Even though gathering as the church is an essential aspect of our Christian lives, it is a means to an end, not the end in itself. The emphasis is always about being the church and going into the world.
Jesus never told us to pray that church buildings would be filled. He told us to, “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:38)