Numbers in Churches - Good or Bad?
Apologies to Luke who left some comments on an entry I wrote this morning before running to work. I was disturbed to find some nasty spam mail had made it onto the entry again so I deleted it, investigated the problem and found that I can do a clever thing that verifies comments as "real" ... or something. Anyway - apologies that you now have to enter in a few letters before commenting. Please don't let that stop you! I love reading comments and being challenged.
The entry in question was thinking through a number of comments left on Dave Skipper's blog by a theologian called Gary North. North belonged to a group of theologians that came from the USA in the late eighties called "Christian Reconstructionism". They were very en vogue at my home church in Dunstable for a time, and we had David Chilton and Greg Bahnsen to come and speak. For those who don't know, Christian Reconstructionism can be summed up with seven 'Ps' (thanks to my pastor Dr Stanley Jebb for this). 1. Post-millenial in eschatology. 2. Preterist in their interpretation of Revelation. 3. Positive in their expectation of victory. 4. Presbyterian in their churchmanship. 5. Paedo-baptist in their view of baptism. 6. Powerful in their scholastic ability. (Founder R J Rushdoony had a personal library of 30, 000 books!) 7. Prolific in their writings.
The quotes from Dave's site struck a chord with me as being extremely similar to the quote I found by Bryn Jones in the January 1978 Restoration magazine. North said;
"There are well over six billion people alive today. About five billion either have not heard about Christ's mercy or have rejected the message. These people are running out of time. Only one thing can save them: mass conversion".
Bryn Jones said:
"It is tragic to hear Christians self-congratulatingly referring to their church as numbering over 200 or 300 people without mentioning the fact that this is still one thousandth of the population of their city!".
The question that I posed was whether we had any right becoming obsessed with numbers. When someone asks, "How is your church?" should our first response be, "Oh it's growing you now ... we now have X amount of members!". Or rather should our concern be with the prayer meeting, the personal devotion and commitment of members, the disciples that are being made (THAT was what the mandate from the Risen Christ was - not to fill pews!).
Now Luke challenged me quite rightly, that we shouldn't swing to excess and be afraid of numbers. He cited a key prophecy that was brought at Church of Christ the King in Brighton that was quite simply; "7 x 7 = 14". The prophecy was weighed and felt to be concerning growth and the fact that their congregation would double. As a response to this word, Peter Brookes (the former senior pastor) preached an outstanding visionary message on it that I was actually fortunate enough to be at and hear. Furthermore they doubled their meetings to begin having evening meetings. So yes - lets not be afraid of numbers. They are a measure and mark of God's blessing I guess. But on the other hand, lets not allow numbers to become our sole passion - and rather wonder whether it should be an issue of quality over quantity.
It's all very well having churches of thousands and thousands of churches, but what is the use if none of them have a clue about the God they have been invited to know? That is why Luke's shameless plug is so timely and apt. Let us hear Terry Virgo's call:
“It’s difficult to overstate the value of systematic Bible reading. To do so with the aid of helpful notes from a gifted Christian teacher simply multiplies the blessing. Let me encourage you to take advantage of Closer to God and ‘discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness’ (1 Timothy 4:7 NASB).”
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