“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” Matthew 28:19 (ESV)
Last time I checked, verse 20 doesn’t say “..and make sure you have the numbers to prove it!” So it continues to befuddle me the churches that use numbers as a means of evidence of growth. And by numbers I mean, attendance on a Sunday- kids, adults, youth. There are whole conferences and workshops based on breaking certain attendance barriers. Pastors and church leaders spend a lot of money every year attending these things. And to what end?
Let’s take a closer look at the great commission. The rest of that part of Matthew says this: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)
Baptizing them. Teaching them. He’s gonna be with us the whole time. Nowhere in this passage does it say we should use the great commission as a justification for setting attendance goals, or worse yet: making those goals part of a church staff’s job performance expectation. What is that saying to a staff? That they’re not doing their job correctly if the flock doesn’t reach a certain number in a predetermined timeframe.
Whoa. Isn’t salvation a matter of the heart? Wasn’t Christ’s other main idea about loving people? People. Not numbers. Just people.
“God doesn’t count us; he calls us by name. Arithmetic is not his focus.” Romans 9:26 (MSG)
If salvation is personal, as Paul tells us it is, then why in heaven’s name wouldn’t our focus be on people first? What would happen if for just 6 months the church who is trying to grow stopped talking about numbers and focused only on people?
Now I know there are a lot of churches out there who’ve already adapted this method and a lot them are thriving. But there are many, many more in this country still focused on the numbers, and asking their staff to be focused on it, and they haven’t seen significant growth in quite a while.
In order to close the back door of the church, you have to stop talking about numbers and start talking about people. You have to build up a healthy staff and healthy volunteers. And from that stems a healthy congregation by default.
This method requires something a lot of leaders have a hard time with: Trust. Trust in other people besides yourself. Which means trusting God to do what he says he’ll do.
I spend a lot of time praying for the church leaders in this country because they are the ones who are going to set the tone for the new evangelical Christians. I say ‘new’ because ‘evangelical’ has become a political term that many believers don’t even want to be associated with anymore (myself included). My prayer is that leaders can learn to trust the gifts of those people God has surrounded them with. That they can choose people over productivity. Every. Single. Day. That God will show them the value of a healthy staff and healthy volunteers, over the value of number crunching.
If you’re discipling your congregation ‘successfully’ they’re going to start discipling others, and inviting them to church. And by default your church will grow. But not because you’ve given your staff a number to reach toward, but because you’ve asked them to make people their number one purpose. Because that’s Christ’s number one purpose.
At the end of the day I know this: I am grateful to be loved by a Father who knows my name. He doesn’t see me as a number in a congregation or in His kingdom. And that is the most important thing of all. To be known by the Father, and to know Him.
So go, stop counting. And make Him known.