Great expectations

Many North American Christians grab the latest church growth strategy and run with it.

And often we are somewhat – or even deeply – disappointed that what worked elsewhere doesn’t work for us.  The great strategy didn’t meet our expectations.

Part of this is the lure of numbers.  As a church prayer leader, I admit to being dazzled by numbers.

But, if we’re honest, we have to acknowledge that church growth strategies have yet to transform our society and the people in our nations.

Overall church attendance – especially among young people – is declining – even in evangelical churches.  And moral standards are no better in Christian churches than in society as a whole.

At the same time, the word of Christ is spreading like wildfire in Asia, Africa and South America.  In many of these countries, Christianity is persecuted or the people are very poor.

In many places, the strategy is simple – the Book of Acts.  It breaks down to the great commandments in action – loving God with total commitment and loving our neighbours with the love of God.

God is certainly interested in numbers – he wants everyone to enter his kingdom.  But he wants more than a lot of people sitting in pews.  He wants each one of us steadily becoming more like Christ and going beyond our comfort zone in loving other people.

I realize I’m not saying anything new.  I fall well short of loving God and loving others the way I should.

But I am convicted about this.

So, what should we do?

I heard Jim Cymbala, pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle Church in New York, say something that sticks with me.  His church is a success story in North American eyes – it grew from 35 people to many thousands when Cymbala turned to prayer and made the prayer gathering the main event every week.

Cymbala said at a conference I attended that many pastors ask him what to do so that they can copy his success.  He tells them to go home, look at their own situation, pray and seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance.  Then, they can decide what steps they should take in introducing their people to prayer.

Isn’t that what we should do in everything in our churches?  Didn’t Moses listen to God before acting?  Didn’t Jesus listen to the Father before speaking and healing many in the huge crowds he faced every day?

I say this to myself because, even though I am a prayer leader, I act too often before praying and seeking God.

Changed hearts come before numbers.

But once a spark flies a fire may well spread.

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