Francis Chan (pastor of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley) tells a story in his new book, The Forgotten God, about a man who is dying of an illness and wants the pastors and leaders of the church to pray for his recovery. Francis then asked something that was quite shocking and maybe even upsetting to the man and the people around him. Francis asked “Why do you want to be healed? Why do you want to stay on this earth?” Of course, that might not be the best question to ask at that time. There probably really isn’t a good time to ask such a question, but I do see where he is coming from.
What would be the point of asking God for a second chance at life if, after we are healed, we still live the same old life pre-healing? What would we do with this second chance at life? What ways could we glorify and honor God for a renewed life?
This got me thinking. I remember a while back, I was talking to a pastor who was sure that if he got more members at the church everything will be better. And because he felt this way, soon the church started thinking that if they just got more members in the door, the church will turn around. Sad to say, that never happened. The church never got more new members and therefore, everyone pretty much gave up.
That’s a common line of thinking for many churches, especially churches that are declining. New members will begin to solve a lot of our problems. So we keep praying for new members, we keep asking for new members, we keep reminding ourselves for new members, and new member this, new member that, new members please…
Except. I don’t think many of us sat down and asked the “whys”, “whats” and “hows” to the statement “we need new members.”
I believe that the most important question is “Why?” followed closely by “what.”
Why do we need new members? Why do we want new members? Is it because we see that the church is growing older and there’s no one there to continue the tradition of the church? Is it because we need more money, and new members will hopefully bring some with them? Is this what the church is about? Filling up seats with younger people so we are assured of the church’s survival?
If we do get new comers, what are we going to do with them? Are we content with them just showing up every Sunday and to some of the programs, while the same older people run the leadership positions? What will their purpose be? Will we have a process of discipleship that will lead them to be disciples rather than mere church goers?
And of course, how will we get new comers here? And of course, along with that, what are we willing to give up? I don’t think people realize by wanting to bring younger members, things will inevitably change, or the young people, for the most part, will leave. Young people (generally) is bad news for older churches who want to stay the same, because of the tendency to rock the boat and ask things like “why can’t we do it this way?” Unless by new members, we really mean “new members like us.”
Had I known what I know now when the pastor was telling me his dreams for new members, I would’ve told him that growth is a lousy goal for a church. Focusing on growing the numbers of the church, that’s a lousy goal to get behind. Instead, if we focused on discipleship and servanthood, I honestly believe our actions in love will pique the curiosity of the already curious.
In the early church in Acts, their actions, their way of life, their sharing of love and possessions, it was unique, it was radical, it was irresistible, and that led God to add their numbers. The messages of the Peter “cut to the heart” of the people.
To say “our goal in 2010 is to reach so and so for our worship and membership” is missing the point. If we truly live out our faith, truly be loud in love and grace, and truly be missional and do things Jesus did, we just may find people, who we’ve never seen, trickle into worship and want to be more involved in our church and mission.