Discipleship or evangelism? Numbers or just the one? This is a question which seems to go around and around with banter and support from both sides of the aisle. It’s really about both but with different focus on each. As follower of Christ, we are to go into this world to reach people for Christ. We are to reach as many as possible. During the days of Jesus’ Earthly ministry, He definitely attracted large numbers of people with His message. In fact there is nothing wrong with drawing and attracting large numbers, so long as it’s done with the right motives and for the right reasons. We also have to look at the venue to which we are drawing people because there are differences between locality and purpose of that draw. If we are talking about church services on a Sunday, it most definitely should not be about entertainment. That’s simply a false Gospel going forth from wolves in sheep’s clothing.
We should not make the messages light and fluffy; the worship just a secular knock-off; and all the other church fixins just something to ‘wet’ the appetite of the unbeliever walking through the doors of the church. Yes, we should do things that can appeal to the unbeliever, making them feel welcomed and comfortable to an extent in an unfamiliar setting but not when it comes to the message being preached, the worship, prayer or anything else with regards to the Gospel. It’s intrinsic that we keep our core foundation solid and not modify our message for the sake of drawing numbers. Preach the Word, be faithful to Word, and let the Holy Spirit do the drawing and the saving. Now with all that said, there are venues where entertainment of course can be beneficial to drawing the masses. There are many community type outreaches where you may do things that attract people in the natural sense, but then you may have avenues of prayer and ministry taking place, converting over to the spiritual. These types of events can be used as bastions to bring in a large number of people while still keeping an emphasis on having some sort of spiritual target.
There is nothing inherently wrong with drawing the masses. Jesus Himself did so. The Word talks about ‘compelling’ them to come in. We see this in Luke 14 regarding the parable of the Great Banquet,
“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.’ (Luke 14:23)
Jesus would preach to the masses but He focused in on smaller numbers. He had various numbers of followers, all at different levels of spiritual intimacy and relational closeness to Christ. He sent out the 72 disciples to proclaim the kingdom in Luke 10. He called forth the 12 as His personal disciples (Luke 6) and sends them out in to preach (Luke 9) and even amidst that, He had the ring of the inner 3 which were closest to Him-John, James and Peter. Again, there is nothing wrong with numbers, for they represent souls that may be won into the kingdom of God. But we must not focus just on numbers, we need to focus on discipleship amidst bringing in the numbers to hear the message. If faith comes through hearing the Gospel, then we need to get as many as possible to hear, giving them opportunity to believe, as is written “How will they believe in one they have not heard about?” (Rom 10) Then we take those who believe on the Lord and begin discipling them, as modeled by the Lord.
The discipleship part is the part that gets a bit messy. I say messy because it involves personal investment into individuals, which of course, is what this is all about. It all comes down to relationship. The Gospel is all about people. I mean, that is what Jesus died for right? You and I? Yes we may want to reach the thousands but we have to do one person at a time. This is where many churches simply miss it. They only focus on the numbers game and then when people make a decision to follow Christ, they do little to follow up that decision, helping that person to learn to walk their brand new spiritual walk.
I personally look forward to praying with people after each service at our altars. I always make every attempt to not only pray with those who come forward to receive Christ but also to connect with them and begin the discipleship process. This is the really fun part…at least in my opinion. Connecting with individuals, coming alongside them in their journey with the Lord, teaching them what it means to be a disciple themselves and follow Christ in this world. The discipleship process should also involve, I believe, classes (or sessions) provided by the church, which facilitate the discipleship process to new believers. We need to take them aside and counsel them in the Word of God, as to the core tenets of the faith: Prayer; Baptism; Studying the Word; Evangelism; Spiritual giftings; Christian fellowship; Serving; Stewardship, etc. We can’t just get a decision from people, put another notch in our spiritual belts and move on. We would scoff at someone having a baby and simply leaving them out on the sidewalk to care for themselves. In fact, we would probably arrest that person and throw them into jail for child abuse. Yet Christians commit spiritual child abuse all the time, by not caring for, looking after and raising spiritual babes in Christ. We have a very real adversary in the devil and he is just looking for spiritual hatchlings to come and snatch away. We see this very thing in the parable of the sower. The birds of the air come and snatch away that which was sown along the path. This represents Satan stealing away the Word. 1 Peter 4 states the devil is like a roaring lion, looking for whom he may devour. Young Christians, that’s who!! We must, we must, we must disciple!!
With all this in mind, let’s go begin forward and combining the efforts of mass evangelism and individual discipleship. We want numbers but we don’t want empty numbers. We want quantity but also quality. Some can get too focused on just quality and miss opportunities to see others brought to the Lord. It’s like a fisherman going out into the ocean and dropping a single line, when he could drop an entire net. Bring in one or bring in many? Christ has called us to bring in the many and also to focus on few. God’s grace is sufficient. Let’s stop making this an either/or game and let’s work on winning at both! He who called us is faithful and by His grace we will do so for His glory!!