“….I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” Matthew 16:18
We’ve all seen them. Churches that could easily cover at least 1 or 2 square blocks. Churches that require traffic detail to help people get into the parking lot, and that have shuttle vans (or BUSES) to get those people from the far reaches of their parking lot to the front door. Churches that have more planned activities than your typical community center. Churches that, if one of the thousands of church members were to run into the pastor in their local Wal-Mart, he wouldn’t know who they were.
My husband asked a question last night. It was something like, “What does it really mean that Jesus will build his church?” Then he made the contrast between our tiny church with about 15 members and those churches that are considered the charismatic, Word of Faith churches that have several hundred members. If Jesus is building His church, why do we have so little in attendance while the WOF churches have so many?
I think the first thing we need to understand is that when Jesus is speaking about the church, He’s referring to the universal, invisible church as a whole, not just one local church in a small town in Alabama.
Next, we need to understand WHO the church is comprised of. The universal, invisible church are those who are the Elect. That’s just a fancy theological phrase used to describe those who are saved. You can have a church of 1500 people and 80% of them profess to be Christian, but in reality, that number may be less than that because the church either has a skewed view of what the gospel is, or the people themselves may not know what it truly means to be a Christian. When you look at these bigger churches, you have to wonder: How ARE they getting all these people into their church?
I think many pastors are so hung up on numbers that they would do just about anything to bring people in and add their names to the church membership roll because they think that it is THEIR job to grow the church. In fact, it seems to have become somewhat of a competition to see who can get the largest number of people to come. They put out ads and send out flyers touting the next big promotion all in the effort to lure people in just so they can say, “Look at us!! Look at what WE did!!” Even though they may say, “Look at what God did”, in reality, God probably had not one thing to do with it because He doesn’t NEED gimmicks and promotions. He uses the GOSPEL to grow His church.
We have to understand how it is that people are saved. Salvation is a work of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that opens the eyes, mind, and heart of a lost person to the reality of their sinfulness and that it is Christ and Him ALONE that saves. But, then, we have to have the understanding of how this work comes about. Romans 10:9-15 explains it this way:
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
Jesus WILL grow His church and He does it through the preaching of the gospel. It’s not through entertainment. It’s not through activities or events or gimmicks. People may say, “But we need to get them through the door so they can hear the gospel.” Okay. But when churches place the emphasis on the activities and the entertainment, more times than not, most people who came for those events end up leaving because they aren’t interested in the gospel. They came for the gimmicks and that’s what it would take to keep them there. And even then, it’s very questionable that some of these churches even know what the true gospel is. I can think of a rather large church in Houston, TX, where the “pastor” there has NO CLUE what the gospel is, yet his church at or near capacity each week.
While other churches are constructing bigger buildings to hold all the people they’re luring in through promotions and gimmicks, it seems that many of the churches that focus mainly on the truth of the gospel tend to be much smaller. And that makes you wonder: just what ARE people attending church for? The events, activities, and programs? Or, for hearing God’s truth to help them in their growth and maturity as a Christian? Put it out there to someone. Give them a choice. Present them with Church A that has a Family Life Center that allows them to play sports, has a large youth complex with games and TV, and an area offering coffee and donuts, but the preaching is sub-par and man-centered, and the pastor’s doctrine is sketchy, or Church B that has no specialized groups segregated by age or gender, no fancy Family Life Center where the young and young-at-heart can play sports, and no hip-looking area where the attendees can sip coffee and chat before services, but the preaching is Christ-centered and the pastor’s doctrine is biblically sound. You will be able to tell a lot about a person’s spirituality by the choice they make. God doesn’t call people to salvation through their need for entertainment. He calls them to salvation through the preaching of the gospel.
One last thing. The Bible says “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those that enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” Matthew 7:13-14. A bigger church doesn’t equate to a gospel-centered church. A place that calls itself a “church” doesn’t necessarily mean it is a part of THE CHURCH that Jesus said He would build. They may THINK they are, but as I told my husband last night, many of these folks will wake up in eternity and find out otherwise when Jesus says, “Depart from me for I never knew you.”