Several years ago, I had the privilege of hearing Dr. James Boice (twentieth-century pastor and theologian) teach at a church near me. He said some things I will never forget. I’m paraphrasing, but here is some of what he passed along.
If you win people with great music, you win them TO great music. If you win them with programs, you win them TO programs. If you win them with entertaining preaching, you win them TO entertaining preaching. What we need to do is win them with Jesus, TO Jesus.
These are things we don’t often think about. The music won’t always great. Programs tend to stagnate. The next preacher might not be quite as entertaining. Jesus, on the other hand, will always be Lord of the Universe. As Scripture indicates, he never fails.
As I mentioned in my last blog, some churches who are comprised of honest-to-goodness disciples of Jesus are said to have “dynamic equilibrium.” In other words, they are strong churches that basically remain the same size numerically. While every congregation wants to attract new members, the important matter at the core of every local church body is to grow to become more Christ-like.
Many congregations get distracted from this fundamental tenet in their pursuit of new members, new money, and new energy. What we often forget is, even if we are successful at gaining newness, even that newness becomes old and tarnished. What never gets old is discipleship.
There’s no substitute for discipleship.
Discipleship is a dynamic journey of a life traveling in the ways of Jesus. It never gets old, because we never fully arrive. There is always a growing edge, and there is always a new frontier. Any true disciple will affect lives for Christ. Those affected lives don’t always translate to new members, but they do always translate to growth in God’s Kingdom.
We now live in a time when people simply don’t want to join anything (except for Facebook). One of the fastest growing movements in the church today is a group who want nothing to do with formal church membership. Among them are many Bible-believing, disciples of Jesus who are put off by the way the modern church operates. They have no intention of adding their name to a list. They have every intention, however, of serving Jesus.
If we really want to see growth in our congregations today, we need to see growth in our personal faith and practice. Without that, any growth that might occur will be shallow, hollow, and short-lived.
Today’s church doesn’t look like the Apostle Paul’s church. Tomorrow’s church most assuredly will not look like today’s (or at least shouldn’t). If we do things merely to sustain or maintain what we have and what we are, we’re not walking with Christ—we’re simply running in place.
The only congregations that ever really grow are the ones who have vital relationships to their Savior. Let’s work on that first. Who knows where he’ll take us from there.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]