Are our churches successful?

Father David Epps's picture

We priests and pastors are often concerned about whether our churches are successful. Unfortunately, we tend to think in a business model and measure them on the basis of land, buildings, numbers, finances, fame, and the like. Jesus, during his last days on earth, gave commands to the disciples that easily serve as goals and as measures of success.

In Matthew 28: 16-20, Jesus indicates that (1) small numbers did not matter. The first goals were given to just 11 men (vs. 16). (2) The fact that some had more faith and some had less faith was of no consequence (vs. 17). (3) The reality of powerful opposition – the Roman army, the established religion of the region, fickle followers — did not matter (vs 18). The goals were to be accomplished.

Jesus first instructed his followers to “Go.” However, nearly all church growth and evangelism methods are based on “Come.” “Come to this event, come to our church, come over here.”

The most that many people do is invite people to church, which is a good thing, but it falls far short of the instructions given to followers. Already, we are in danger of failure.

In essence, the Matthew 28 goals for successful Christians and churches are:

1. Make disciples of all nations. Not converts, but “disciples”, disciplined followers of Christ. The goal wasn’t to get people “saved” for a future escape from hell but to assist them in being totally transformed into Christ-like persons, with Christ-like attributes, Christ-like attitudes, Christ-like behavior, and Christ-like love and compassion.

I once served a church that claimed to see over 4,000 people “saved,” yet the attendance was barely a tenth of that number. Somewhere along the line 3,600 people dropped through the cracks. As the pastor, that was my fault and my failure.

2. Baptize the new disciples in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The biblical method of calling people to be Christians is not an altar call or praying a “sinner’s prayer,” both of which are recent innovations, but in seeing people repent and be baptized in water (Acts 2:38-40).

3. Teach believers to obey everything that Jesus commanded. Notice that Jesus did not say “teach them to believe correctly,” but teach them to obey. Often people ask, “What does your church believe?” The question ought to be, “How well does your church obey Christ?”

It matters little what we believe about the second coming of Christ, which church government is more correct, how much water to use in baptism, whether to use musical instruments or incense, or which translation of the Bible is more correct, if we are not simply obeying “... everything that I have commanded them.”

Did you know that surveys indicate that 85 percent of people who visit a church do so because they were invited by a friend or family member who is already a part of that church? Why then do we religious leaders insist on spending hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising, programs, gimmicks, and technology — all of which have limited results — rather than encouraging people to simply do what Jesus said — to “Go?”

It is said that one of the reasons that the early Church grew so rapidly during times of diabolical persecution is that the people were committed to a radical Christianity — that is, they simply determined to obey the teachings of Christ.

They were willing to live and, if need be, to die being true and authentic followers of Jesus Christ. This radical obedience drew people, even during times of great danger.

Today, instead of radical commitment, we have marketing schemes and clever programs. I once knew of a pastor who promised to eat a live goldfish in the pulpit if attendance goals were met. St. Paul said, “Test yourselves and see if you are in the faith: examine yourselves!” (2 Cor, 13:5a NASB).

Perhaps if we wish the people who are outside the church to take us seriously and be converted, we should first take our own faith and responsibilities seriously and commit to surrender our own schemes and to determine to obey the words and example of Christ. Perhaps then we will find true success.

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