The only thing that really matters is butts in seats.
For the American church, that is the bottom line. So to speak. Large churches keep score by attendance figures. Small and medium churches fret over declining numbers in the pews. Often, when leaders talk about outreach and evangelism, they really mean convincing people to sit in a pew for an hour on Sunday morning.
Crowds coming together to hear people talk and sing about God can be a good thing. But that shouldn’t be the end game.
As the church–the Body of Christ–we’re here to love God and love others. The true bottom line is not about bottoms. It’s about hearts and souls. One by one.
I’m convinced the American church will not thrive–by any measure–until its leaders and members lose this fleshy fixation on the numerical size of the Sunday morning flock and begin pursuing that one lost sheep, and the individuals’ individual relationship with Jesus and other people.
A couple in my town have shepherded an effort to do just that in an interesting way. After Dennis and Barbara Miller started a Lifetree Cafe outreach in a local hotel, the director of a homeless day shelter asked if they’d consider setting up a Lifetree Cafe in the shelter.
The Millers jumped at the opportunity. Now, every week they provide Lifetree’s “hour of stories and conversation to feed the soul” to the community’s homeless. And the homeless are responding, engaging in the conversations, and basking in God’s love. “They’re hungry,” Barbara said. “They want to know about the Lord.”
But the Millers said their new homeless friends do not feel comfortable going to a church. “They’re smelly. They’re dirty. They’re unshaven,” Barbara said. The Millers have no illusion that these people will ever occupy a pew at their church, or become a “giving unit.”
But that’s not the bottom line for the Millers. They and their enthusiastic volunteers are rediscovering what it means to be the church.