Mission is not a numbers game

An interesting conversation after church yesterday with a bloke who usually worships at a small, dying ‘Piskie church.

And we went through the usual perceptions. Firstly, that it is natural for churches to be in decline. It is what we should expect. Except I know it isn’t. I was part of a team which turned round decline in a small church. I was there, it happened.

Secondly that ‘mission’ means ‘getting bums on seats’. Well, it does not. It means being there for others. It means service. Jesus spent all of his years in his active ministry telling his disciples that following him meant service, that the first jolly well ought to be last, and that anybody who thought they were a lord and master ought to find the waiter’s apron and put it on, and ask humbly what the others wanted for dinner – just how likely is it that he would ever, ever, think his church ought to be looking for people to join it in order to help pay the bills? Or for the sake of the institution in any way, shape or form?

Yet so ingrained in this way of thinking that conversations about mission keep on and on coming back to this point. ‘If we do this or that good bit of service, then we will get people to join us.’

And quite likely, yes, we will. Because generally speaking doing the right thing has a way of being attractive at least to some people. But the point of doing the right thing is what it has always been – that we should do the right thing. That we serve others because they need us.

And the point of encouraging others to be part of church? Because it is empowering. Because it keeps one headed in the right direction, the most fulfilling direction. I go to church on a Sunday because I want to, need to. Sometimes I am asked if it is because I feel guilty if I don’t. No, not at all. But I feel empty, or emptier. I feel unfulfilled. And there is absolutely no point in encouraging others to join you in church unless you think that they will feel fuller for going.

So spread the word. Mission has nothing to do with making the church grow (expect in the sense that the new people may well help the church grow in insight and spirituality), and everything to do with helping people grow.

And maybe if we all say it loud and clear, in the end somebody will hear.


8 responses to “Mission is not a numbers game

  1. Agree absolutely. I think the reason why people are unwilling to face this is that it has wide-reaching potential implications for financing of charges and for models of ministry, including policies on recruitment and training. I don’t have the answers, but I’m sure we should be pressing the questions.

  2. How strange – only two days ago I was having that conversation about why I go to church, and gave the same answer as you do here. On another tack: the two of us who write about our services for the local paper had a lovely mail from the journalist who deals with our copy, saying what a difference we made to her day merely by what we were reporting. No bums on seats – but someone helped because we were there!

  3. You appear to have hinted at one of the more concise definitions of mission I’ve encountered. This is a good thing 🙂

  4. ‘helping people grow’?

    you are such a dangerous subversive!

  5. This is true.

  6. Rosemary Hannah

    Hi Christine, yes exactly and who knows if it will be very important, or just rather good – that is in the hands of God and the other person. Eamonn, tim, yes indeedy.

    Um, Kimberly, shmeekins – I am deffo missing something. Should I have said something more radical? I think I probably mean, helping people change almost everything about the way they think about the world, and how they relate to it, but that they can probably only do it a step at a time by growing.

  7. Couldn’t agree with you more about mission. Growing in love and care for the poor, marginalised and vulnerable….. Go for it! Every Blessing

  8. I meant your post in general was right.

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