Jesus Never Told Us To Fill Church Buildings

feetGoing to church has never been the point.

Jesus didn’t tell us to “work really hard to gather people into large crowds to fill up your church buildings. Then I’ll know that you love me.” But when you look at how most pastors (including me) spend much of our time and energy, sometimes it feels like we think that.

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of Facebook posts and blogs longing for the “good old days” when churches were full on Sunday mornings, evenings and during the week. This expression is especially prevalent on sites where Small Church pastors tend to congregate.

I understand that longing. After all, I’ve experienced many a Sunday with depressingly small church attendance. But I have three big problems with the “good old days” mindset.

First, the “good old days” weren’t so good. We have selective memory. If we were transported back there, we’d all want to catch the first DeLorean back to today as fast as we could.

Second, longing for the past is setting ourselves up for defeat. We can’t go back there! Time travel only works in one direction and at one speed. No church or pastor should ever want to go backwards. Let’s honor the past, but live in the now and plan for the future.

Third, I don’t want to hear about churches filling up as a sign of revival, renewal or spiritual awakening any more!

I want to hear about churches emptying out. Out into their community to minister, to serve and to share the good news. That’s a greater sign of revival than an increase in church attendance will ever be. 

Our world doesn’t need bigger churches or filled-up Small Churches. We need transformed lives, families, cities and nations. That’s hard to do when all the Christians are cloistered inside church buildings.

 

Let’s Emphasize What Jesus Emphasized

Take a look at the Gospels. Did Jesus spend his time in church? Did he try to get people to go to church? Did the disciples?

No. Jesus and the disciples never emphasized going to church. They emphasized being the church and going into the world.

Jesus never told us to pray that church buildings would be filled. He told us to, “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (emphasis mine)

Church isn’t about filling a building. It’s about filling the neighborhood with the good news of the love of Jesus.

(For one idea of what that can look like, click here for a 3 minute video of something our church calls Share Days.)

Yes, I know some readers are already warming up their keyboards to remind me that Jesus told us to go the highways and alleyways “that my house will be full”. But any honest reading of the entire context of Luke 14, or any other similar passage shows us that Jesus’ emphasis was on us going out, not bringing them in. And even then, the “in” he was talking about had nothing to do with filling up church buildings. It was about filling up heaven at “the resurrection of the righteous”.

 

Church Is About Going Out, Not Just Gathering In

Of course it’s great when a church is filled with enthusiastic, worshiping believers and sincere seekers. But filling a church building should never be the goal.

A full church is a tool God wants to use to reach the world, not an end in itself.

There have been too many times in history when churches have been filled, while the neighborhood around them has gone to hell – in both senses of that term.

Every truly great church experience should be aimed towards two things:

  1. Magnifying the risen Christ
  2. Sending believers out better equipped to love, serve and share the good news in word and deed

Maybe we should start measuring church health and spiritual renewal by how we empty our churches, not just how we fill them.

 

So what do you think? Have you struggled with emphasizing bringing people in over sending them out?

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(Walking Feet photo from Jason Rogers • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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12 thoughts on “Jesus Never Told Us To Fill Church Buildings”

  1. A full church is a tool God wants to use to reach the world, not an end in itself. I love this statement and totally agree. We get equipped on the inside to go and spread the Word on the outside. Thank you so much for keeping the eyes of the “small” church opened the truth that we make a difference.

  2. And… getting them into the building isn’t the end in itself either, it’s actually just the beginning. Then you have to get to know them, love them, equip them, employ them in service, evangelism, etc. Those are HARD things to do with people in our churches. Too many of us, me, too often, shortcut the process by getting someone into our church, and then leaving them, while we go “out to get more”.

    You are talking about a much more holistic view of the body of Christ. I agree with you Karl. There is the body of Christ, and then there is the 21st century American church (culture) and the two are almost always very different things. Anyone can create a 21st Century American church – growing it into the body of Christ is another thing altogether.

    But then again, that’s a whole other conversation! 🙂

  3. My simply thoughts as a Pastor, go out into the world, make disciples, bring them in, but for one reason, to send them out to make disciples. We each grow as disciples as we go. The only place where I teach or speak and send people is in other countries. When I traveled I would ask the Pastor’s if I may send your people out to their neighborhoods, at the end of my talk. They were always joyous and would say yes, of course. Now back to our country, many are afraid if they send everyone out, they will lose their numbers.

  4. You are so right Karl when you wrote. “A full church is a tool God wants to use to reach the world, not an end in itself.”

    My wife and I serve a church where we have several long time church goers. It has been a slow process to change the culture to lead them to see church as “out there.” It is really great though when their light bulb goes off then begin to see the possibilities.

  5. Pingback: GLOUCESTER CATHEDRAL: Church Buildings Officer (Maternity Cover)Guardian_News | Guardian_News

  6. It is easy to get caught up in numbers. The article confirms some things I’ve been thinking about. So many people do not attend church. God has employed us to spread the good news. The church should be the training school to do so. Another point you made about the past and not wanting to go back. I can feel you on that. There are some things I don’t want go through again.

  7. Great points Pastor.Im getting a message on A Full Church VS A Filled Church.Thanks for some nuggets on the message.Where I pastor I’m in the process of continuing to have our congregation to be a church without walls.God bless.

  8. I totally agree with the equipping of the saints and sending them out to minister to the lost,hurting and sick.We have a new pastor who is a lovely fellow, but he labours on looking after the church members and their families and never talks about reaching out into the community.I am feeling it’s time to find another church,But the pastor told me once that to want to leave a church is equivalent to witchcraft. Surely this is a form of control, I love God and I’m seeking Him with all of my heart on this subject

    1. Hilary, I’m always the first person to stand up for pastors, but what you’re describing does sound like a very dangerous and controlling situation. I’d recommend talking with some Godly, mature believers who know something about the situation to get some wise counsel.

      1. Thank you for replying , The majority of members in our church are nearly all young converts. When our pastor was appointed, over half of the folk left the church, my husband I felt we shouldn’t leave the sinking ship but now I feel very uncomfortable and want to go.

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