Saturday, November 22, 2014

Numbers Count For Little

My little bout with vanity yesterday reminded me of churches that measure themselves by the number of warm bodies that fill their seats (and consequently their offering plates) on Sunday mornings. Such churches turn to marketing methods and more palatable presentations of "Christianity" in order to attract young families with earning potential. Though leaders in such churches convince themselves and their congregations that they desire to advance God's kingdom, I know from first-hand involvement in two such churches that they primarily seek to expand their organizations.

Numerical growth can be a blessing. Acts 2:41, for example, certainly celebrates the fact that 4000 people came to salvation in response to Peter's Pentecost sermon. The church that John and I currently prays for revival in New England, longing to see many people return to the faith of the godly men and women who first came to Plymouth Rock. So please understand that I do see great value in a church's numerical increase.

Quantity, however, must always assume a second place to quality, especially in relation to church growth. Rick Warren's supporters defend his marketing techniques on the premise that "he brings so many people" into churches. Yet many people who purportedly "get saved" through his book, The Purpose-Driven Life, come through a grossly watered-down presentation that barely resembles the Biblical Gospel (page 58):
 "Right now, God is inviting you to live for his glory by fulfilling the purposes he made you for . . . all you need to do is receive and believe.... Will you accept God's offer?" Again, he offers a sample prayer, "I invite you to bow your head and quietly whisper the prayer that will change your eternity, "Jesus, I believe in you and I receive you."
That's woefully inadequate, but much more attractive than the posts I've recently written about the Gospel. He fails to explain why his audience needs salvation, or even how Jesus accomplished salvation. Basically, Warren reduces the Lord to a life-improving commodity. That way, more people will, he believes, come into our churches.

But we must desire that men and women come to a real knowledge of Christ. And the Lord said very candidly that only a minority of people would truly experience regeneration.
13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. ~~Matthew 7:13-14 (ESV)
Yes, we by all means ought to pray for more people to fill our churches. But we must pray even more for true conversions, even if doing so means half-empty pews and smaller offerings. Numbers, as exciting and affirming as they are, simply don't reflect surrendered hearts that focus on glorifying Jesus.

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