I must admit that over the last 10 years, I have moved churches (read denominations) about three times. I don’t know if this is really a flattering record, suffice to say I am going to be very honest here as I address the rather thorny issue of numbers — and believers’ fluidity — in the church.
by PHILLIP CHIDAVAENZI
I have been in a church where “numbers” were considered very important. In fact, a lot of times you see and hear of churches setting targets of breaking certain “ceilings” and aiming at a membership of say, 500, 1 000 or 2 000 over a certain period and then aiming at becoming a “mega church” with a congregation running into tens of thousands.
There is too much fluidity in the body of Christ, with believers moving from one church to another. This is not always a good thing as it takes away the opportunity for “rooting”. Tragically, instead of prioritising the rooting of new converts to disciple them to maturity, we seem obsessed with the game of numbers in which we are constantly interested in how many people attended our last service and our targets for the next service.
Few, if any, hardly seek to establish where these new members are coming from. It is very sobering, and painfully so, to realise that most new members in our church pews are coming from other churches. How many times do we have someone coming right from a lost and dying world in desperate need of a saviour?
During one of our lessons on “Missions, Evangelism and Discipleship” at a Bible School in 2012, this subject came up, especially how “church-hopping” has now become a cancer in the body of Christ. This was quite a revealing discussion as we sought to thrash out the reasons behind church hopping against the background of a rather apathetic approach to evangelism by Pentecostal churches, as they are known in common parlance.
We have heard the rather disgraceful reports of pastors fighting over what is called “sheep-stealing”. This refers to a situation where a pastor of a church deliberately and actively lures members from another church to his own.
This is rather unnecessary, especially against a backdrop of the astronomical numbers of people who have not heard, or embraced, the gospel of Jesus Christ, some of whom are ripe for conversion if only a believer who feels a burden for lost souls approaches them to preach Christ. Romans 10:14 says, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?”
Sheep stealing is, therefore, uncalled for. Imagine, for instance, getting new people to join your church when they are coming from another church. Would you call that growth?
Instead of primarily trailing our gaze on the statistics, why don’t we first make disciples of those who would have joined our congregation and ensure that they are grounded and rooted in the ministry before dashing out for more people to further balloon the numbers? We are commanded not to make new converts — or new members — but disciples.
Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
It is only those who have been effectively “discipled” that will bring value into the church. Discipleship is a systematic teaching, training and coaching until someone is firmly grounded in a place or position. Sometimes it can be painful and, occasionally, one may feel offended.
I know of people who “church-hopped” simply because they could not take instruction, especially the kind that necessitated that they stepped out of their comfort zone. The grass may look greener the other side, but that is not always the case.
But, I am not saying I am against the idea of moving from one church to another. No, I have done it, too. But there should come a time in your walk of faith, as you mature in the things of the Spirit, that you need to stay in a church, be grounded there, and be fed the word. Get rooted.
I appreciate that people need solutions. And if one church does not seem able to provide them the solutions, they are bound to move and search on. Luke 5:31, “And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are in health have no need of a physician; but they that are sick.”
The Bible here says it is the sick who need the doctor, the physician. Christ — not the church — is the physician. I encourage you to seek Christ, not a church. You must have a relationship with Him. When you have found Him, you have found everything. You are ready to be a disciple, not a convert.
A disciple is a “follower”. When you follow someone, you observe them, you study them, and you pursue them. A convert just sits and looks. The church is full of converts. We cry out for disciples, and that way, the church of Jesus Christ will mature and effectively fulfil its mandate on the earth.