As a pastor I feel the burden to “grow the church.” Yes, I know that the pastor doesn’t build the church, but I still feel the pressure. As a result of this burden, I used to find myself giving a slick sales approach so as to sell the church to newcomers.
“Why yes, we have nursery on Sunday Mornings… fully staffed I might add.”
“Yes, we have some great ministries here and you will fit in just fine.”
“We have a great youth leader and youth group too, as well as Kid’s Club on Wednesday night!”
It is very natural to highlight the unique features and benefits of the church to newcomers with the intent to entice and hook them into the church isn’t it?
Several years ago, the church that I’ve been serving the last 4 years went through a tremendous struggle. To make it simple, let’s just call it a church split. This conflict essentially made it impossible for me to use the methodology of selling the church. What could I possibly sell or promote in the context of struggle, conflict and pain? I can recall coming clean with a new couple in the midst of the struggle saying something to the effect,
“Here at SLBC we have a lot of problems. We have failed in about every way possible. I guess you could say that we have a lot of experience in the sin department. As a pastor I am certain that I will fail you too. However, I do believe you will hear Jesus and the forgiveness of sins in the midst of our failures. I do believe that you will see a savior for sinners and the hope of the Gospel that speaks confidently in spite of our circumstances.”
In all seriousness I was attempting to do them a favor and let them know what they were getting into and what they could expect. I can remember thinking that this was one of the most anti-church growth things I had ever said, however, as I soon found out, it was one of the more Christocentric things I’ve said to a newcomer. Several weeks later this couple approached me and said, “Pastor, that was one of the most refreshing things we’ve ever heard a pastor say.” I am happy to say that this couple has been members of the church body ever since.
It seems to me that the error in my ideology was not only my own sin of performance but also my mentality that the church needs to sell its unique benefits and features to newcomers. However, is not the good news of the Gospel (i.e. the forgiveness of sins) enough? I believe it is.
Now, please don’t mistake me! I am not condemning programs and the unique features of a church, what I am merely trying to point out is that the structures, programs and features of the church are not the Gospel itself, they are secondary. These things are not of primary importance, thus they cannot and should not be the primary thrust of the church. Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures and was buried and He was raised on the third day, this is what the church hinges on. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) The Gospel is what we get to offer to newcomers for that is the main reason why the church exists!
At SLBC I now continually try to focus on highlighting and extending the Gospel to newcomers and I also notify them that they will also be gifted some disjointed programs, an imperfect pastor and some messy parishioners that come with that as well. 🙂