By Megan Rawlings
When I was a child, probably around the age of 10, I perceived a few natural phenomena as threats to me on my journey to adulthood. For example, I spent hours researching and watching videos on how to escape quicksand and run away from volcanic lava. I didn’t realize, though, that neither of those was a threat to me in my southern Ohio hometown!
I have prepared for one natural disaster my whole life, knowing that living in southern Ohio it was possible (notice I did not say “probable”). I could experience a tornado. I knew that the many times I forced my family to practice grabbing a twin-sized mattress to cover us in the bathtub would pay off one day!
But it hasn’t. In fact, I’ve never even seen a funnel cloud!
As much as I would love to tell you that all the effort exerted toward easing my fears helped me, the truth is that I have never had an opportunity to put my impassioned skills to use. My childhood trepidations have thus far proven to be unwarranted.
What You Experience, Think, and Feel Might Not Be the Reality
Just as my childhood fear of quicksand, lava, and tornadoes led me to search for information about surviving disasters, many pastors and church leaders study and research how to combat “issues” projected upon them by someone with a platform. Assertions such as “Your church isn’t diverse enough” or “If your church is not a certain size, you are not successful” are just the tip of the iceberg.
Let’s look at a couple of the most common debatable issues that are unjustly aimed at churches:
Numbers: It’s not about numbers . . . but it is about numbers. I am not so naïve to think we can write off attendance, baptisms, or growth. I have been around long enough to see that these things do matter, but can we use these to identify success? Can we use these stats to mark our self-worth?
The Gospel Coalition noted that about half of churchgoers attend churches with fewer than 65 members. Some reasons people gave for attending smaller churches had to do with the family-like environment, teaching that was relatable to the congregation, and closer relationships with ministerial staff.
The size of one’s church obviously has nothing to do with its effectiveness or success. However, regardless of their size, every church and ministry should look for opportunities to reach out to others. Many choose to volunteer at nursing homes or with the homeless, but other ideas could include taking up donations of baby clothes and related items for organizations that help families in need or hosting a movie night at the church and inviting the community. The options are many!
Diversity: It is not fair to tell a pastor his church is not diverse enough when it accurately reflects the ethnicity and the way of life of that church’s community. Not all areas are multicultural, especially some rural regions. Church leaders should keep their eyes open for opportunities to add to the diversity of their congregation, of course, but they should not feel guilty when opportunities are limited.
What Should We Be Preparing Our Pastors and Congregations For?
Unlike the disasters I only imagined might befall me when I was 10, there are now legitimate “disastrous storms” that are affecting (or will affect) the church. Here are three for which we all should prepare ourselves.
Loneliness: Our people are going to experience serious loneliness as more and more people turn to online services. Humans crave relationships but tend to pick comfort over these desires. This isolation is a recipe for depression. What is the church doing to combat that loneliness? How are we going to orchestrate community in an evolving online world?
Knowing the Gospel: Do your people know the gospel—the true, simple gospel that Jesus died in their place, taking on their sin and punishment, and conquering sin and death in the process? Are you sure? Have you asked the recipients of your preaching, “What is the gospel?” Their answers might surprise you. Never assume folks know the gospel. Preach it in every sermon.
Recognizing the Great Commission: According to Barna, 51 percent of churchgoers have not heard of the Great Commission. To look at the issue from a different angle, Barna presented churchgoers with five Scripture passages and asked them to identify which one is known as the Great Commission. A little more than one-third of them (37 percent) correctly identified the passage from Matthew 28, while 31 percent identified other familiar New Testament passages as the Great Commission and 33 percent said they weren’t sure if any of the five passages listed were the Great Commission.
So . . . Do the Numbers Matter?
Well, yes and no.
Statistics are important for monitoring the accountability, growth, and effectiveness of our ministries. However, these numbers should not be used to compare churches or to determine our identity as messengers for Christ. God wants to use us where we are, regardless of the size of our congregations. We have other metrics for measuring success, including, “Is your congregation making disciples?”