“And she will bring forth a Son and you shall call him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”   Matthew 1:21

“Then He appointed twelve that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach.”  Mark 3:14

“Jesus came and stood in the midst and said to them: ‘Peace be with you.'”  John 20:19

For the last 25 years, after leaving the military, I have found myself working in business.  At some points it’s been with Fortune 100 companies and sometimes with small, local businesses.  One mantra that has been consistent throughout those experiences concerns the importance of numbers; and when it comes to clients/customers more is always better.  We must have a higher market share; if you’re not gaining then you’re dying, we need x new customers by the end of the day, week, month; are just a few of the demands for numerical growth.  I have no particular complaint or concern about this from a business perspective.  However, when it is a driving motivation and fear in our churches, I have some concerns.

First, I do understand where the concern comes from.  In the western culture, especially in the United States, there are many individual congregations who look around and see their numbers dwindling.  We are bombarded with polls and data that show the shrinking number of people identifying themselves as Christian and out of those, the fewer that attend church on some regular basis.

What I’m most concerned with is the response that I’ve personally witnessed and have also read about to the dropping numbers.  I have heard gospel messages changed to be “more relevant” to today’s world. I have watched dubious marketing schemes be implemented to attract more people that have little to nothing to do with Christ’s message. I have attended leadership meeting after leadership meeting where there is only doom, fear and darkness spread.  I have felt love and spirit drift away as current congregations and their needs are marginalized in the desire to find the formula that will bring new people in.

Please don’t misinterpret what I am saying.  A church, any church, all churches should have as a fundamental purpose, the great commission: “Go, therefore and make disciples…….”.  A church has to be more than just an exclusive social club where members only care about who is already a member.  Yet Jesus miraculously fed all 5000 who were hungry whether they were going to follow Him or not.  That we help the poor in need of help, the destitute in need of shelter, the prisoner in need of a visit; we do that out of the love of Christ, not to have come corresponding increase in the pews next Sunday.  And as we plan, set goals concerning and strive for some ever increasing target let us pause and consider what Christ made a very specific point about when He said:  “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over onesinner who repents than over 99 just people with no need of repentance”.

So especially at this time of year, a time of year that is meant to be framed around a celebration of peace and joy because our Savior has come, I would ask us all, and especially Bishops, Pastors, Lay Leaders, to stop for a moment and take a deep, cleansing breath.  If there is a concern about numbers in your congregation, take a second deep breath and ponder the idea that the only real number that matters is one; The One.  The One that it all started with. The One and only One who is necessary for our salvation.  The One by whom and through whom all things are possible, including your or my church’s continued existence.  The One, Jesus Christ.

Also remember something else.  There was a group, a group in the neighborhood of eleven (Thomas was not there but Mary Magdalene may have been).  Scripture tells us this group was scared.  Scripture tells us they were not popular at that point with the outside world.  Scripture tells us, at this point they were not out preaching the gospel or witnessing to others.  This group was in an upper room, uncertain of what to do next.  Suddenly the risen Jesus Christ stands within their midst.  Now, if Christ had been a more human leader he might have stood there with His arms folded tapping His nail scarred foot.  He might have started off scolding them: “What are you doing in here! You’re not going to attract any followers hold up in here you cowards!  Are you the likes that I went through all this for?  Get your rear-ends out there and start getting me more disciples!”.  However, fortunately, mercifully Jesus Christ is God and human and God won out.  Jesus Christ knew what these humble human beings needed.  Christ knew who these people were and how they would go on, His eleven, to build a church of millions upon millions, like the grains of sand on the beach or the stars in the night sky.  What they needed right then was peace; His peace.  And so He spoke His peace to them.

That’s what we need as well.  His Peace.  And He will speak and give His peace to us too.  His Peace which will calm and overcome our fear.  His Peace which will shine like a beacon in us and through us to a troubled world.  His Peace, that when people see and experience us living it in harmony with each other, they will long to experience that peace as well and come and join us.  Let us set aside our fear, our concerns about numbers and be in the Peace of the One, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, the world teaches that numbers matter and the larger the numbers the better.  Yet we testify that although You had a heavenly army You could have sent to administer justice, You sent just One, Your only Son, Jesus Christ,  to administer salvation.  Forgive us when, through fear of smaller numbers, we doubt the power of the message of Christ and look to other ways to attract the world.  Give us Your Peace and Confidence that we may go out into the world and bring in those whom You have called from the beginning.  Knowing it is not about having faith in the number of our congregation but having complete faith in You that will see our churches be successful, thriving beacons of hope.  We pray this in the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen

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