Friday, February 21, 2014


I'm thinking it very well may be that the single greatest weakness of far too many present day church leaders is that a philosophy has developed of using people to build programs instead of using programs to build people?  This is generally not noticed by leaders and would probably be denied by most of them.

But one of the sure signs of an emphasis being the former instead of the latter is when “how many were in attendance” is the first thing thought of and reported on when church leaders get together to commensurate on how things are going in the local church.

Take as an example of this any report sheet for a local SBC church that is given to the associational office at the end of the church year for records keeping in that association. [You’d have to be Southern Baptist to understand that]  Check it out sometime. I have many times. There are places for recording enrollment and attendance on that report for all kinds of programs and organizations within the fellowship plus a few other various kinds of minor numerical facts. So what's the problem you ask!

No where on that report sheet is there a place for reporting things like how many marriages were saved, how many people fought and won battles against addictions, how many people overcame extreme debt or a host of other personal and individual struggles that all believers face one way or another and one would assume that church life should be about assisting and encouraging such people during any given year. But how many were helped and in what ways they were helped is seldom, if ever, the question or even the concern, sadly.

I would even say it has been my experience in leading in many pastor’s and staff conferences over the past several years that staff members often report, unfortunately, that the major pressure put on them by the congregation and other leaders of the fellowship is to improve the number of attendees in the programs over which they have responsibility. This, above every other goal.

I want to say emphatically that I do not believe the issue is having too many programs. It takes multiple types of programs to build people in all kinds of necessary ways. 
After forty years of pastoring I'm fully aware of that. But to gage the effectiveness of any program by how many people are attending misses the point entirely. That kind of thinking will mistakenly lead people to associate spiritual growth with attendance in programs offered by the church and that’s a tragedy. 

Just how wrong can we be!

In that environment a person begins to think if they want to grow some as a Christian just get busy attending church programs, and if you want to REALLY become spiritual, go to EVERYTHING that comes down the pike and is going on down at the church building. [If someone thinks I'm putting attending church services down they're missing the point entirely.]

As you can tell, I’m thinking church programs may need to be re-thought and maybe even altered or re-invented. And the new way they are done, however they are done, must NEVER use attendance as a measure for success or failure for us so we can recapture church as an organism rather than SIMPLY an organization.

What I’m saying is not new by any means or even original with me. Years ago my very dear friend, Peter Lord, then pastor of a fellowship in Titusville Florida, would use September every year as a month of prayer and searching while suspending EVERY SINGLE program, except corporate worship, in order to find the mind of God on what programs, new or old, really could help meet the needs of the people and therefore needed to be continued or started BECAUSE of that discernment.

Someone might complain that to run a church that way would mess things up and maybe ruin a church just as it would ruin any business to do it that way. They are correct of course. But to think that the local church IS a business and TO FAIL to change [mess things up] with the needs of the people in mind, would be to perhaps miss the Holy Spirit entirely, and that may be precisely our greatest problem in local church life. We’re doing things in manner and method that show we don't need the Holy Spirit at all. It seems to me that we’re reaping the results of that as well.    
I can not get away from the fact that in scripture the amazing thing that stood out about the people who were Christ-followers in that day was that they loved their Lord and one another. This was later spoken in testimony by Tertullian who is reported to have said, "See how they [speaking of believers] love one another."  

If Jesus tarries in His return, [and I'm trusting He won't] I'm afraid future generations may say of our present generation of believers, "See how they attended church," Remember, it doesn't take the Holy Spirit to do that. You don't even have to be a believer to accomplish it.

Paul B.



Aussie John said...


"Using people to build programs"? Sticking my neck out now, but programs don't make disciples :).

Reports to associational offices are ego boosting opportunities for some who inhabit such offices,and do nothing to further the work of making disciples. Aus. Baptists do the same.

"marriages saved"? I attended a marriage guidance councilors seminar sponsored by a Baptist association, which began by making the statement,"I want to make it clear that we are not hear to talk about saving marriages, but to make sure that a whole person comes out of the situation, whether in divorce,or simply separating".

I politely asked to be excused!

Church attendance. You could not have stated the case better," Remember, it doesn't take the Holy Spirit to do that. You don't even have to be a believer to accomplish it."

In the final Baptist church in which I was "pastor", a deacon roundly chastised me for speaking on the role of the third person of the trinity.

Whooo! I sound rather negative today, but, the truth can be that way.

Steve Miller said...


Sometimes the struggle with church programs is in fact the term "programs." I would prefer the term "ministries" for this reason. Years ago you exhorted me to not seek a ministry but rather a life surrendered to Jesus and the ministry would take care of itself as the Spirit led. Oh so true this has played out in over the last 30 years.

With that said, what this means to me is that if as a leader in the church I am focused on a life centered in Christ and I pray for His leading to raise others with that focus then how they relate to the body or those outside the body is Christ focused not number or self focused. You may keep track of numbers as an indicator of what God is doing but never as the motivation for making the Gospel visible.

Also, I believe certain ministries have a life cycle dependent upon what God is doing at a particular time for a particular reason. What I mean is just because we have always had this one program or ministry does not mean it cannot be evaluated and even ceased; especially if there is no fruit or worse, not even prayed for but just accomplished.

When the focus is on what does The Lord desire, are we as a church receptive to finding His desire (through prayer) and letting changed lives be the validation and not administrative routine, then perhaps we will think ministry and not program and He gets the glory. Thanks for the blog.


Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J, Steve,

You guys have nailed it.

I'm thinking that "programs" are just "tools" and no tool fits all. They do have a use, life span and even uniqueness, but success in life or ministry is never really measured with any "tool" in mind. That's why attendance at a tool [program] is of so little value it ought not to even register much less waste time talking about it.

Good comments!

Bob Cleveland said...

Wouldn't it make sense to take all the programs that the SBC, its state entities, and the local associations have started, conducted and closed in the 33 years I've been a Baptist, and analyze what has happened over those same years, to see how effective they've been?

My sense is that we're just not getting it right. In the past 14 years, our church has had tons of initiatives, lots of revivals, and our attendance is 20% less than it was, then. And the Spirit of the church is probably worse off than that.

Programs are generally, IMO, a substitute for the church acting like the church ... gifted people doing what they're gifted to do.

But nobody seems to be listening.

Aussie John said...


Amen, and Amen!!