I’ve heard this in many of the churches I’ve spent a significant amount of time in. They say “We need to grow,” and ask “How do we get people to come to church?” People are seen as numbers and dollar signs. Churches that are struggling financially are worried about how they are going to pay their bills, and so they think of more people in terms of more offerings. Even churches that aren’t struggling are told to measure their success by their numbers. If they have a lot of people each Sunday, and that number keeps growing, then they have a successful ministry.
A simple Google search for “how to grow a church” turns up articles on how to improve your services to attract new members. These articles tell you what they think people, particularly my generation, want, including more relevant worship, an extra service, and upbeat music. One site in particular listed “104 Ways to Grow a Church.” It includes tips such as making maps of where your members live and who they can invite to church, training key members of your church on how to attract and keep the different generations, radio/TV/newspaper advertising, planning “out-of-church fun events,” paying attention to how the church smells, getting the music director on board with your new music plan, having up-to-date and up-tempo music (because younger people don’t like “draggy, boring music”), and making sure worship leaders are both enlightening and entertaining. But what this article was missing is the same thing all the other articles are missing, the same thing that so many churches are missing:
Stop seeing people as numbers, and start seeing them as children of God.
In the secular world everything is about numbers: social security numbers, drivers license numbers, phone numbers, zip codes, bank accounts, credit card numbers, tax id numbers, insurance numbers. We’re constantly asked to identify ourselves by our numbers, we’re constantly being counted by where we live, how old we are, how much money we make.
Church should be different, because to God, we’re not just a number. Instead we’re a beloved child. To God we’re a soul worth saving, a soul worth dying for.
In an impersonal world that sees people as numbers, the church should offer respite. The church should be a place where everyone is seen as the human being they are, not just another number. We’re so distracted by numbers, we forget our mission. The point of the church isn’t to get people in the doors; the point is to get people to Christ. No one wants to be seen as a number. No one wants to feel like they’re just a means to an end. When a new person or family walks through the doors of your church, our minds shouldn’t jump to membership numbers and offerings. Our focus shouldn’t be how can new people help us, but how we can minister to them. If they are already a Christian, how can we help their faith to mature? If they are new to the faith, how can we help them to develop a relationship with Christ?
Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, if you aim for heaven, you get earth thrown in, but if you aim for earth you get neither. I’d like to change it a bit. If our goal is heaven, if we work to bring people to Christ, the numbers will follow. But if our goal is earthly things, if we are aiming for numbers, we will get neither. Aim for heaven. People can be treated as a number anywhere else, but in church, treat them as the children of God they are.