After Jesus had fed the five thousand, many came after Him and desired to make Him king. Jesus knew that the only reason these people came after Him was because of the bread. (John 6:26) It makes sense. Here was a man that could take care of all of their needs. No more toiling in the dirt. No more worrying about where their next meal will come from. Hakuna Matata! Instead of gathering a large following, Jesus began to teach them difficult truths. In fact, these teachings were so disturbing to the crowds, that they all left. Even many of Jesus' disciples had enough and took off. (John 6:66)
The modern day Church should take a close look at this passage from John. Jesus was not trying to build a large following. Today's Christian leaders see dynamic growth as a sign that God is blessing a Church. A pastor is worth his salt once his congregation has reached Mega Church status. (I think the number is around 2000 nowadays, but don't take my word for it.) Even then, the pressure is on for continued and sustained growth. A church with 10,000 members is no longer an anomaly.
This mentality has shifted to the mission field as well. Numbers have become indicators of a missionary's usefulness. Mega Churches are popping up around the world. Even Thailand, with it's less than one percent Christian population, has made the list. If Thailand can have a church of 2000 members, surely that has to be a move from God, right?
Maybe you, the reader, have already seen through the facade of the Mega Church aura. You understand that smaller communities of believers is a healthier way to do Church. The question still remains, how do you determine if God is blessing a Church? Do you look to see if these smaller churches are multiplying? Is it all about how many Churches are planted each year? Again, success is indicated by the numbers.
But is surging growth really an indication that the Holy Spirit is moving? How do we know if people have true saving faith and are becoming spiritually mature Christians? Paul warned Timothy about false teachings that would lead many astray. (2 Timothy 4:3,4) Do we know if a Church is growing because of the power of the gospel or is it because pastors are scratching itching ears?
When it comes to gauging a Church's effectiveness, I propose we throw away the numbers altogether. Counting souls won to the kingdom of God is like trying to count dust particles in the air on a windy afternoon. Ultimately we cannot know what only God knows.
My guess is that God is moving greatly in Churches that are shrinking in size. A better indicator would be to look at the worship service itself. Does the worship glorify God or man? Is the pastor boldly proclaiming the law of God to convict people of their sins? Does he proclaim the gospel to comfort them week in and week out? These are just a few things to look at, but I would put them as my top diagnostics.
Here's my challenge to today's Mega Church pastor. See if you can shrink your Church. Below, I propose six steps in doing this.
1) Remove all worship songs that glorify man:
Modern worship has slowly taken the focus off of God and put the focus on the individual. (I blame American culture.) Worship songs have become all about what I am suppose to do for God. Instead of praising God for who He is and what He has done, we are now singing about me, me, me. Can a church be blessed by God when the focus in on man instead of Him?
2) Bring back the Lord's Supper:
This is another aspect where the focus is on what God has done for us. (The body of Jesus broken for you. The blood of Christ poured out for you.) When did taking the Lord's Supper become passé? This used to be practiced on a weekly basis, but has now taken a back seat in order to have longer sessions with the praise band. The idea behind this is to create a more dynamic worship "experience." The Lord's Supper is too traditional and boring. By replacing it with relevant music, the Church will draw in more people. Yet that is not how Jesus instructed His disciples. Can a Church be blessed by God when they fail to practice what the Lord has instituted?
3) Proclaim the deity of Jesus:
Unfortunately, some of the largest churches today don't teach this necessary doctrine. Some of the more liberal denominations deny the incarnation by refusing to acknowledge the virgin birth among many other miracles of God. And then there are modalist Churches that deny the Trinity. Instead of describing God as one God in three Persons, they will use the term manifestations. It may not sound like much of a difference, but it truly is a heresy. Can a Church be blessed by God when they deny His true nature?
4) Call the members of your Church sinners:
This is probably one of the more difficult ones for a pastor to understand. That is because God's law can be proclaimed lawfully or unlawfully. (1 Timothy 1:8-10) (For details on this, I recommend checking out this blog post by Tullian Tchividjian.) Many pastors today will bring in self-help tips and strategies and call it Christian sanctification. They will use modern Psychology in their sermons instead of reading from God's Word. People are made to feel that unless their life is in order (i.e. finances are ok, sex life is ok, children are obedient, they have found their "purpose" in life) they are not following God's will. This is using the law unlawfully. The proper use of the law is to show people who they truly are, sinful men and women in need of a savior. But to do this, the pastor has to call out real sins, such as adultery, theft, lying, etc. (Exodus 20:1-17) A pastor needs to learn the word "REPENT!" Can a Church be blessed by God when they deny their own sinful nature and still try to live moral lives?
5) Take away the ability for members of your Church to save themselves:
Curtailing off of step four, I suggest that pastors stop sharing tips and strategies to a better life and start telling his members that they cannot save themselves. Start proclaiming the gospel to your Church. Even Christians need to hear the gospel. They need to hear that their sins are forgiven through the death and resurrection of Christ. They need to understand that this rat wheel of a life they are living is not where our hope lies. If this is your best life now, then the only option you have after death is an eternity in the lake of fire. The focus needs to be turned away from self redeeming tips and trends and pointed to Jesus on the cross. Can a Church be blessed by God when they do not proclaim the gospel?
6) Take away the ability for members of your Church to sanctify themselves:
This last one will strike many as funny and odd, but I assure you that it is warranted. Again, from sermons that I hear, one would think that justification is something God does, while sanctification is something we do. That is just not the case. (1 Thessalonians 5:23) Sanctification is a process that God does to a believer. You could say that God is cleansing His people; preparing them for His kingdom. How does He do this? Again, it is through the proclamation of His law, lawfully given, and the proclamation of the gospel. It is through the means of grace He has established such as the Lord's Supper and worship that lauds God's name. Unfortunately, the mindset of most Mega Churches don't see sanctification as something God does, but rather practical steps Christians have to take. Can a Church be blessed by God when they teach self-sanctification?
If you follow these six steps, your church will most likely shrink, unless you have been doing these all along. Yet, shrinking isn't a bad thing. Yes, your offerings will take a hit, but you will also weed out false converts. You will no longer be scratching itching ears. Rather you will be feeding God's sheep. You will strengthen the Body of Christ, which in the long run will advance His kingdom further than any Mega Church can. So pastors, trust God's Word. Trust in His gospel. Do not be afraid to lose your Mega Church status. Start building the foundation of His Church on the Rock.