Thinning the Church Herd

800px-Cattle_herdA megachurch pastor was once asked if he thought too many people were coming to the church for the wrong reasons. He said as long as people come, he would not change a thing. Such an approach to organizational structure and culture is fine . . . if you are managing the U.S. Postal Service. The question to the pastor came up in response to the observation that this particular megachurch was perhaps getting too entertainment oriented in worship and other facets of church life. Granted, the contemporary church model often gets wrongly accused of a showy and shallow focus in worship and spiritual growth. Not all big churches with growing numbers become mere venues for entertaining the masses.

Still, I have some misgivings about the as-long-as-people-come-we-won’t-change-a-thing approach to church. Don’t get me wrong, I am not one of THOSE people who think all change is good because it leads to improvement. (If I exchanged my wife for a newer model, my life would not improve after I got out of the hospital.) But I find it fascinating that while we tend to believe growing numbers of people attending church is a good thing, Christ often felt wary of growing crowds of “followers.” Why? Read John 6 where it describes how the crowds were starting to follow Jesus after he performed some astounding miracles. Jesus had healed the sick, fed the five thousand with a couple pieces of bread and fish, and walked on water. Many in the crowd focused on Jesus’ miracles and his ability to take care of their physical needs. Jesus confronted the crowd about their motives for following him. He tested them with an uncomfortable teaching about himself. Near the end of the chapter, Jesus teaches the crowd that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life. He was speaking metaphorically, but the crowds were grossed out and offended because they thought he spoke literally. Most of the crowd stopped following Jesus and he was left with a few committed followers.

I believe Jesus was thinning the heard, culling people who were showing up for the wrong reasons. Granted, it was easier for Jesus to thin the crowd because he knew their hearts. A pastor who leads a church can’t always discern the motives of people in the congregation. Some people go to church for the business networking opportunities. Some go because their family members attend. Some go to belong to a community of people and make friends. Some go because they believe it is part of the American way of life. Some go to place their children in wholesome activities. Some go for an emotional experience. Some go because they have a significant need in their life. Of course, not all of these reasons are bad.

Even if a large number of people go to church for the wrong reasons, there will be a precious group who attend to get closer to Christ and discover what he has to offer, which is not always what we think we need. Nevertheless, too many people coming for the wrong reasons can derail those who come for the right reasons. Leaders can unwittingly begin to cater to the desires of the masses, even if those desires are not the right direction for the people of the church. I believe this is one reason why Jesus felt it necessary to thin the crowd. Rapidly growing churches do well to periodically examine why folks in their congregation are coming to the church. As for the mechanics of thinning the crowd, I am not sure how church leaders could do it in a healthy way. (Hey, I know what would thin the congregation—compulsory service in the nursery.) All I know is that Jesus had to say some uncomfortable things to whittle down the crowd. The first step for church leaders is to recognize the need, and they must also have the will to act.


Posted on March 20, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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