I recently heard of a couple who take the attendance of their church so seriously, that they put the number of people who are coming each week on their refrigerator. They track the numbers.
I appreciate their wanting their church to grow. I trust that it is for all the right reasons.
However, is church attendance the barometer of success in the church?
I would say, "yes" and "no".
"Yes", to the extent that more people coming signifies that more people are being ministered too (and hopefully becoming followers of Christ). And...more than anything else, we desire people connecting to Christ and a relationship with Him!
But "no", to the extent that people can come to a local church and not be growing in their faith. I know of several large churches where coming to church (for an hour) is part of a person's "to do list" for the week. A church service is treated like a rotary meeting or a little league game. Little commitment is asked for and little spiritual growth is experienced.
Neil Cole has written:
"Church attendance is not the barometer of how Christianity is doing. Ultimately, transformation is the product of the Gospel. It is not enough to fill our churches; we must transform our world. Society and culture should change if the church has been truly effective. Is the church reaching out and seeing lives changed by the Good News of the Kingdom of God? Surely the numbers of Christians will increase once this happens, but filling seats one day a week is not what the Kingdom is all about. We do Jesus an injustice by reducing His life and ministry to such a sad story as church attendance and membership roles. The measure of the church’s influence is found in society—on the streets, not in the pews.”
Let me put it this way with an analogy that I just read.
How do doctors measure success?
By how nice their offices are?
By how many patients they see?
By how much money they are making? How many homes they have? How many cars they have?
I would suggest that the real "measurement" of a doctor's success can be found in the little things: lab results, lost weight, improved health, and most of all, are his patients getting well?
I would also suggest that if our church reaches 12,000 people (and that is our goal, 12,000 with Stone Church campuses across the Southland of Chicago), and they aren't "getting well - spiritually", than we have failed to be on mission with Christ.
TRUE SUCCESS IS NOT THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE WHO ARE COMING - BUT THEIR SPIRITUAL HEALTH.
And if they are spiritually healthy, and they are reproducing followers of Christ and living the life they are to live - then the numbers will come.
Right now, at Stone Church, our focus is on creating disciples. Letting God do a new thing in our church, spiritually. I talk to people on a daily basis who share with me that God is doing a new thing in their lives.
God is moving around the altars. Reports of people being healed are shared. People growing in God.
You see, our walk with God (both individually and corporately) is seasonal. Right now we are in a definite season of spiritual growth. Prayer on Wednesdays. Attending a small group. Learning how to relate to one another. Coming on Sunday mornings and worshipping God.
My dear friends, the numbers will come (and we want our church to grow numerically), but let's continue to focus in on what God is doing in us.
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