The critical decision that the modern church must make is whether or not to raise up disciples or customers. The results will be very different.
You can have a very big church filled with customers. Appeal to the expectations, calm every complaint, give the old guard what they want, and appease the donors. This can generate a gathering of satisfied church-attenders who bring their friends, promising them a similar customer-satisfaction experience.
On the other hand, a church can create disciples. This necessarily requires telling people that they can’t have what they want, that Jesus’ call is to take up your cross and to die to yourself. A church in a frenzy of attracting customers can never deliver a message like this. A church that delivers a message like this will never attract customers. But it is fundamentally the road to discipleship. Churches that create disciples define their purpose by their mission, not by the whims of their shareholders.
The result of a disciple-making church is a most likely initially smaller but impassioned group of people who are truly committed to the mission of Jesus in the world. But when a gathering of people takes Jesus’ mission to heart, they become an unstoppable force for the kingdom.
The leadership of the church just has to decide at the beginning, when the groundwork for the church is being laid: customers or disciples?
I found an interesting piece of trivia about the church at which I pastor, Glenkirk Church. Apparently, back in 1965, the church was meeting in a little chapel at another location, and the day came when the congregation had grown too large for the little chapel. The pastor at that time named the need to build a bigger sanctuary on that lot. Apparently the congregation was divided on this. I wasn’t there, so I can only guess how the conversations went.
“It’s too expensive! Why would we spend so much money on ourselves?”
“Why do we need to grow anymore? The church is fine the way it is!”
I know these kinds of questions came up, because as it was told to me by one of the old-timers who remembers, “It passed by one vote.”
Just one person enough to move that congregation forward. I don’t know who that person was (or technically, who that 51% was), but I owe a debt of thanks. Without them, we wouldn’t be here. The church wouldn’t have grown. It wouldn’t have gone through a later move to an even larger campus on which it could keep growing. Children wouldn’t have received Christian education. People wouldn’t have been sent into full time missions. Countless people would not have become Christians at Glenkirk. Hundreds of thousands of dollars would not have been spent on missions with the poor.
To that one person who voted “yes” – thank you so much!
Because of you, there are three children of Glenkirk who are now in full time ministry in Muslim countries. There is one who is a youth pastor on an island in the Atlantic. There is one family who became Christians at Glenkirk and are now rebuilding an orphanage in Haiti that fell down in the 2010 earthquake. One is a chaplain at Fuller Seminary. Without you, my two children, along with many others, wouldn’t have been baptized at Glenkirk. And now each week, we gather as a family, young and old, to sing to a good God, as we have since that 1965 vote.
Thank you so much! Without you, I wouldn’t pass each week through the shadow of this cross and remember the One who said “yes” to God’s call for the sake of we who would come after him. Whoever you are – well done!