I recently met a pastor in passing who offered me encouragement regarding our upcoming church plant. He pastors a massive church (several thousand) so he took the opportunity to overflow some of his wisdom in our direction.
After the brief conversation, I quickly realized that his methods weren’t exactly going to help me grow a church spiritually, but they would certainly help me launch a social club. Here are 4 of his heavy-hitting growth tactics:
- Drop all churchy language. The Bible is old and dated. Try to use slang whenever you can.
- Play golf with influencers more than you study. Preaching doesn’t matter, just use sermons from other preachers and focus on hanging out with people. Playing golf with influencers grows the church. Preaching isn’t that important.
- Put sports on all the TVs around the church campus if you have one. Men will come to church and hang out for that.
- Make children’s ministry a party. If the kids have fun everyone comes back.
In that list (which is not exaggerated), there are a few ideas that aren’t bad. Golf is a great chance to bond with brothers, we all want children to enjoy church, and some pastors would do well to explain things in simpler language. But, that’s not the driving motive behind advice like this. The goal of this advice is church growth. It’s pragmatism; the idea that if it works it must be good. Or in the church world: if it works it must be God. In this sphere of thinking the Bible is a footnote, Jesus is a good luck charm, and the church is a social gathering for suburb folks who dabble in soft moralism.
Is that what Jesus died for? Is that what discipleship is? Did He call His Church to turn on the playoffs to make His house more attractive?
If Jesus was alive today, the church growth gurus who eat, sleep, and breathe pragmatism would fire Him from their staff on His first day of work. They might even toss His resume in the trash before it ever hits the executive pastor’s desk.
When the crowds got the biggest, Jesus preached the hardest.
In Luke 14:25 we’re told that large crowds were following Jesus. Why large crowds? In Luke 4 He healed many, in Luke 5 He healed a leper and paralyzed man, in Luke 6 He healed a withered hand, in Luke 7 He raised the widow’s son from the dead, in Luke 8 He calmed a storm, healed a woman who barely touched His robe, and cast out demons. In Luke 9 He fed the 5000!
At this point in His ministry, church-growth strategists would be saying, “Jesus, keep giving the people what they want and you’ll have a megachurch and be a megastar!”
Instead of taking their advice, Jesus turns to the crowd and says: “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26).
The word hate in this context means, “a lesser love” (cf. Matthew 10:37 when He says “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.”) Jesus’ message to such a large multitude was essentially this: following Me is not about you!
He makes this statement in the strongest way possible, declaring that He is to be loved most. This is not following Jesus as a footnote to your already happy life. He’s not the cherry on top of your Sunday or Sundae. He’s not a “homeboy” or a “good luck charm.” He is King of kings and Lord of lords. He’s the Son of God who now ensures that superficial followers are thinned out of the masses by laying out the hard truth. He must be everything! There are no middle-ground disciples. Real followers of Jesus run towards that truth, fake followers run from it.
The seeker-driven church movement may have a formula for drawing a crowd but don’t for a second think it means they’re drawing people to Christ. Countless people are attracted to programs, entertainment, and even the casual nature of anything deemed “worship.”
But when we look at the example of Jesus, He pulled no punches. When the crowds grew large because He was healing the sick, He turned to them and went straight for their soul.
Jesus promised that loyalty to Him and allegiance to the truth would be the mark of true discipleship (Luke 12:25-35; Matthew 10:34-39). He also said that loving one another would be how the world would know we are His disciples (John 13:34-35). What truth is there in pragmatic manipulation? What love is there in shallow religion? What is loving about sugar-coating what Christ calls us to do? How is it loving to make church about entertainment rather than worship? The simple truth is: loyalty to Christ and love for others must be defined biblically.
Do you love Him most?