What dictates whether or not a ministry/church is successful?
For most, its all about the Numbers.
For many, it's all that matters. Numbers, numbers, numbers.
I've seen youth ministers and have heard of pastors who lost their jobs because the numbers weren't growing the way the leadership thought they should be. Now whether or not the people who WERE there were growing in their faith didn't seem to matter.
I sat in a meeting where the leaders were being reprimanded because a particular couple had found another church and were happy there. If those on visitation would have done their job then we could have recruited them instead of some other church. It's like there was a production goal that had to be met or else heads would roll.
We need numbers. We need numbers to make us feel like we are doing something right. The more people, the more successful.
The conversations usually go something like this...
"what do you do?"
"Oh Really? How many kids do you have?"
"Oh, your doing a book discussion, how many people come?"
"You are doing a home church, how many attend?"
"Where are you going to church now?... How many members go there?"
"How many baptisms have you guys had lately?"
"How many people came forward at the end of the service?"
Or my personal favorite...
"I see that hand."
Whether they would admit it or not, most church's measure success on the numbers. And yet many of those same churches' hold to eschatological theologies which calculate God's final numbers to be pretty low in the end.
What does that say about God? What does that say about us?
I am not merely referring to any one particular belief or view here, but instead am referring to those who get angry, dismiss, or slander those who may hold to a more inclusive eschaton.
Could there be something deeper, something psychological going on here? In our own ministries we need more, more, more, because in some ways this reflects how good of a job we have done, how good of a speaker we are, and how cool our church looks.
In the end however, we still need to feel special and unique. We need to feel as if we are part of the elite. We have done something, we have found special favor with God, we have believed something that others haven't. We had faith and "those people" didn't. And not just any faith, a specific kind of faith... A certain belief system.
Oh we will say that it's by grace alone so we shouldn't boast, but we will boast anyway. Because the minute you suggest that someone else may be "in" all hell breaks loose.
"But they weren't as faithful as me?"
"they didn't believe the things I did."
"they didn't say that prayer."
"but they are Catholic"
"That's not fair!"
And hence the scandal of grace, it's not fair. It doesn't make sense. It's the kind of thing that makes the first, last and the last, first. The powerful, weak and the weak, powerful.
Grace is the kind of thing that makes the religious, heathens and the heathens righteous.
It's the kind of thing that welcomes sinners to the table with Jesus with no pre-requisites. And it's the kind of thing that offends pharisees, the "already in" crowd, the "good enoughs".
I heard a pastor say recently...
"There is something more shocking than hell, and that is GRACE!"
And I would have to agree with him.