Over the past few months, I've had several of the typically phrased questions asked of me that folks in churches that are declining in attendance ask (I guess because the church I help lead has new people, young people, people who are living a little different from the rest of the world, etc). Questions like, "How do we get people to Church?" Or if they have some people, maybe "How do we get young people to church?" Or if they have a few young people, maybe "how do we keep our young people coming to church?" Maybe they have some people but they aren't seeing much spiritual maturity or freedom, so that question is more like "how do we get people to stop sinning" or "How do we get people to take faith seriously?"
I'm tired of trying to answer these questions; not because I don't think there's an answer, but because the answer is the same for all of them, people just don't seem to want to hear it. Or maybe the answer just seems too simple for such seemingly complex issues.
Here it is... ready... you already know what I'm going to say... do I really even need to say it... I'll just say it.
There, I said it... again.
Those aren't bad questions, they just usually have skip over the preceding question. The one we need to start with is "How do we get people to Jesus?" Unfortunately - and I don't know how this is even possible - Jesus got overshadowed. Being at church on a Sunday or being on a church member list became a proxy for being close to Jesus. Don't get me wrong, being with a bunch of other people who know Jesus is vital, it's just that church is often about something else. Looking like you're a good person who doesn't do bad things or has good morals has become a proxy for being close to Jesus. Don't get me wrong, the closer you get to Jesus, the less you want to be a crappy person, but I know lots of nice, moral people (at least as nice and moral as the people I go to church with) who don't know Jesus. Knowledge about God, Jesus, theology, doctrine, etc., have become a proxy for actually knowing Jesus, which is a spiritual thing that only happens by the Holy Spirit. If you don't know Jesus yet by the spirit, it's not going to matter if you can tell me the difference between classic dispensationalism or progressive covenantalism (if you message me with the answer to that question I'll give you 10 bonus points). Don't get me wrong, it's important to know what you believe, but only if you you first know who you believe.
People would come up to Jesus all the time and ask things like, how do I get to heaven? And Jesus would say things, well why don't you leave everything else behind, follow me around and I'll show you. Some left everything, some went away sad. Same is true now. Not only did Jesus make the way to get to heaven through his blood, sweat, tears, death and resurrection, but he set the whole deal up so we could see heaven come to earth now. And if we're following Jesus around, people will start following us around, which will probably include "going to church."
Sometimes people would ask Jesus what's the most important commandment. And he'd say, Love God and love other people, that'll take care of all the rest of them. Some people got it and some said, "yeah but..." Same is true now. Jesus left us with a new command to love people the way he loved his friends, unconditionally, without condemning of all their many faults and struggles, in the midst of their sinfulness. No "yeah, but..." If we treat people like that, they'll soon see who Jesus is and maybe some of that stuff will change, either way, Jesus will still love them and love us.
Or people would say, what's the kingdom of heaven like, and Jesus would say, it's simple, go ask that little kid, they see it. And some people would get it, because they knew how much they loved their own kids, and some people didn't because kids were a burden to them. Same is true now. Our broken brains tell us our father couldn't be that loving, we must be making him angry or at least annoyed by our constant failure and weakness. Not the prob Bob. Jesus went out of his way to show his love for the weakest people around. We all start out weak, we all have a pile of brokeness. When we stop pretending we don't have that, other people who have stopped pretending they don't will start getting together and Jesus will start putting the pieces back together. His strength will be evident in our weakness.
People left everything behind because a rabbi showed them love and gave them a chance when they'd failed by worlds standards. People got the most important commands because they knew they needed God in order to see those be real and they'd only fail in trying to keep the others on their own. People recognized the kingdom of heaven because they saw joy and gentleness and dependence on someone greater than them when they saw Jesus with kids.
Nothing has changed. If your church is about Jesus, all those other questions will get answered. If you're like me you'll be in awe of what Jesus will do while you're following him around. People will go to your church, young and old alike if Jesus is there. People will mature in their faith and start to look more like him if you make your gatherings about him. Spiritual transformation will happen right in front of your eyeballs which has very little to do with you and everything to do with how Jesus is using you. People will take their faith very seriously when they see and experience what the Holy Spirit does in us and through us. You won't have to beg them come to a prayer meeting, you won't have to bribe them with... I mean offer incentives like... tax receipts to get them to give when there's a need. You won't have to force feed them bible lessons and doctrine, they'll come looking for living water and spiritual food.
You want people to come to church, you want them to keep coming, you want them to be free from sin, you want them to take faith seriously.
Maybe it's not the answer you thought you were looking for but He is.