Making Disciples, or Drawing a Crowd?

The article printed below is from Leadership Journal, but it seemed so relevant to the conversations we’ve been having about the church lately that I wanted to post it here.  The author, Walt Kallestad, confesses that he was willing to do almost anything to get people to come to church, even if it meant turning worship into entertainment.  I don’t think Richmond’s First Baptist Church is in any danger of becoming only “a show,” but this article warns us against thinking that attendance figures are the most important thing. 

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“Showtime!” No More

Could our church shift from performance to mission?

by Walt Kallestad | posted 11/26/2008 11:49AM

My first Sunday back from some time away, I sat in the worship service and wept. It struck me as such a production, so performance driven. In a word, it was shallow. I couldn’t believe this had happened on my watch.

On the surface, all was well. I was a megachurch pastor with invitations to speak at conferences, write books, and mingle with dignitaries. Our church had state of the art facilities next to a major freeway. But that was on the surface. Deep down inside, I was mortified at what we’d become. We had to change. We just couldn’t keep going like this. Not anymore.

When I arrived in Phoenix to lead 200-member Community Church of Joy, my whole desire was to reach people—really, at my core I am an evangelist. Any day that I get to tell someone about Jesus is a good day for me. I long to see those who aren’t following Jesus transformed by the Spirit of God into empowered disciples.

Within a few years of assuming the helm at Joy, I was invited to a gathering of large-church pastors to dream about the future together. We envisioned what the church might 1ook like for a new generation. At the gathering, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, and others exchanged ideas about how to build a church “for people who don’t go to church.” Like men of Issachar (1 Chron. 12:32), we understood our times, at least for the 1980s and beyond. We knew that people didn’t want to give anything, sing anything, or do anything—they wanted anonymity, not community. They didn’t want theology lectures; they wanted to be entertained and inspired. So we set out to give them exactly what they wanted.

The concept came together for me while standing in a line at a Dallas Cineplex waiting to see the Batman premiere.

The only way to capture people’s attention is entertainment, I thought. If I want people to listen to my message, I’ve got to present it in a way that grabs their attention long enough for me to communicate the gospel.

It was an epiphany, a breakthrough understanding for me. So our church strategy revolved around the gravitational force of entertainment for evangelism. We hired the best musicians we could afford; we used marketing principles and programming specialists—for the gospel’s sake. Attendance skyrocketed. More people meant more staff, more programs, more facilities, more land, and of course the need for more money. We became a program-driven church attracting consumers looking for the latest and greatest religious presentations.

For us, worship was a show, and we played to a packed house. We grew by thousands, bought more land, and positioned ourselves to reach even more people. Not that any of this is wrong in and of itself—people coming to faith in Christ isn’t bad. I told myself it was good—I told others it was good. But now I was beginning to wonder if I’d led my church down a wrong path.

The show was killing me.

Attracting consumers was consuming me—not in the way vision consumes a leader. It was the opposite of that—I was losing sight of the vision. Our church was a great organization. But something was missing. We weren’t accomplishing our mission; we weren’t creating transformed, empowered disciples.

To read the rest of this article, click here.

2 thoughts on “Making Disciples, or Drawing a Crowd?

  1. Jim,
    As I was reading this thought provoking article, it struck me that the quote from Dr. Schuller might have to be one of the answers to the question, ” Will we still be doing church this way fifty years from now?” This was a great article and something I have been wondering about for a long time. I loved reading articles in “Leadership Journal” when I was working in the Pastor’s office for Dr. Flamming. I am glad you posted this one. Thank you.

  2. Interesting reading…as I had taught my now grown children while raising them, “when you become like the rest of the world, then you are just like the rest of the world.” We are to be in the world but not of the world.

    I come from a church that grew rapidly and was very Bible centered. After 20 years of attending, the message started to change in order to “not offend anyone” and to get people “so they feel comfortable.” The basic message went from salvation through Jesus Christ and the repentance of sin, to “asking Jesus to be your friend.” Gone was the power of a life redeemed, transformed, and rescued from sin and eternal hell and in its place was a “feel good” religion which helped no one and was easily forgotten when troubles came along.

    The church should be a place that is so different from the world where people that are hurting can find hope, love, acceptance and healing in the person of Jesus Christ through the ministries of His people. Granted, new programs and ministries come along as needs arise and as people find their calling and develop new ministries, BUT the message of Jesus Christ needs to be as unchangeable as the Bible and God himself..”the same yesterday, today and forever.”

    Thanks for letting me comment.

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