For a long time now, the church growth world has told us to get as many people to our church services as possible and keep them there as long as possible. The thought is that if they are in church they will hear the Word, be saved and go to heaven.
We even classified people in two categories: "the churched" and "the unchurched" as if they were those in Christ and those who are not. But of course this is wrong and now we are realizing it. Lately the fasted growing segment when it comes to attending church is the "uncommitted." These may actually be highly committed when it comes to Christ, just not church service attenders. I for one fall into this rising category.
In church growth speak we used to hear about assimilating visitors so that they become attenders, and hopefully, members of the church. The language we used was that we need to "close the back door" to the church–implying that we need to keep people from leaving. Wow, when I say that it sounds awful doesn't it? [Cue the sinister Vincent Price laugh–ha ha haaaa!] While it sounds like a mouse trap offering cheese at the end–but no escape–nevertheless (much to the chagrin of the fire department) that is the language that we pastor-types would use.
Lately, however, I am of a different opinion on the matter.
Having become more familiar with the important parable of the soils
(Mark 4:1-20; Matt13:3-23; Luke 8:4-15) I have come to think we ought to open the back door as
wide as possible and let the people go. Actually, I've come to realize that this is the Jesus
According to Jesus' words, two thirds of the people are
not good soil and will not bear fruit (Okay, I know the passage is not
prescribing a percentage, but it is clear that more will be bad soil
than good). Keeping them in the church really may not be the best
solution if you desire a fruitful church.
I think that if people want to
leave, let them leave. Don't waste your life trying to make people want something that they don't really want. I often say: If the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus isn't enough to motivate these people, my sermon isn't likely to do it.
Jesus let the rich, young, ruler walk away, even though He loved him very much (Mark 10:17-22). He never tried to convince people to follow Him, in fact, He did the opposite. He intentionally tried to thin the crowd on more than one occasion (Luke 11:29; 14:25-26; John 6:60-71). When a large crowd was gathered He would tell the few disciples it is time to leave and go somewhere else (Matt 8:18; Mark 1:36-38). Jesus invested in a few disciples and never gave his affection and trust to the larger gatherings (John 2: 23-25)
I've said for years: what you win them with is what you win them to.
If you entice people to come with entertaining services you need to
keep them the same way. Suddenly you find yourself competing with other
entertaining churches to keep people attending your service–people that only want to be entertained.
Open the back door!
Too often, in our desire to keep people, we change church to accommodate bad soil and end up with larger fruitless congregations that
want all their needs met and have no desire to serve others. Open the
Jesus drew huge crowds. But the Gospel accounts specifically tell us that He never gave His heart to the crowd because He knew that their motives were selfish. Open the back door!
Large crowds never changed the world. Real movements always are ignited with a few highly committed people. Open the back door!