C.S. Lewis wrote, ""The Christian way is different: harder and easier. Christ says, ‘Give me all. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you — No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent, as well as the ones you think wicked — the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.’"
As a pastor I often receive invitations to attend seminars addressed to the need of how to make the church more relevant to modern man or, more specifically, how to make the church more appealing to the unchurched. According to one study, in a five mile radius of Gateway Community Church there are some 35,000 people who do not attend church at all anywhere or any time. This staggering number does not include anyone who goes to church even on Christmas and Easter. The seminars I referred to above are aimed at trying to help churches reach these people.
Some of the information is good while some of the suggestions are great marketing techniques but very weak on the truth side. One major denomination is wasting large sums of money on the mistaken philosophy that "it takes a new church to reach a new person."
If we believe that Jesus is exactly who he claimed to be (God come looking for us), certainly we want to do all within our power to reach those whom the Bible describes as people "without hope and without God in the world" (Ephesians 2:12 NIV). The reason we are generally failing (as the church) in this area is precisely because we have institutionalized a process; we are trying by programs and schemes to address on a corporate level (i.e., church) a problem which exists on an individual level.
Friedrich Nietzsche, a philosopher who had no love for Christianity, is quoted as saying, "I shall not believe in the redeemer of these (Christians) until they show me they are redeemed." Methodist clergyman Donald Soper wrote, "Christianity must mean everything to us before it means anything to them." It is my opinion that in these two quotes lie the real secret to church growth, the foundation we so desperately need before the unchurched ever stand up and take a new interest in our churches.
The great disconnect of our day is a vast multitude of people who claim to be Christian who don’t even know the fundamentals of the Christian message (to them it is simply another religion like any other — one way to heaven but certainly not as the one they profess to follow) and, second, those who do know and ascribe to the fundamentals of the faith, do so without realizing the impact their beliefs should have on their everyday lives. Soper is right, until Christianity means everything (see Lewis’ quote above) to the professed believer, it will mean nothing to a watching, skeptical world.
The Bible reminds us, "It’s judgment time for God’s own family. We’re first in line. If it starts with us, think what it’s going to be like for those who refuse God’s Message!" (1 Peter 4:17, The Message). Church growth will never be sustained through institutionalized programs; real growth (reaching the unchurched instead of rustling sheep from other churches) will only happen when those who claim to be redeemed begin living their everyday lives as redeemed people.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church.E-mail him at email@example.com. For more information, visit the Gateway Web site at www.gatewaycommunity.org.