THE NUMBERS GAME

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Once you see a large church, know that the attraction cannot be the gospel.

I was standing in the parking lot of the building where I lived in Lagos, talking to Bimbo Dada, now Director of Library, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, when a man walked through the gate and came to talk to me.  He said he worked for an oil-company but had recently been posted out of town.  There was a lunch-hour fellowship meeting every week in his house and he was at a loss what to do about it now he was leaving.  So he had been asking the Lord for guidance. 

On that particular day, the Lord told him to stop praying.  He told him to go out of the house and walk down the road.  When he got to our gate, the Lord told him to go in.  Then he said to him: “You are to hand over the lunch-hour fellowship to that man talking to the lady over there.”  So the man said to me: “The Lord said I should hand over the lunch-hour fellowship meeting in my house to you.”

I told him the Lord himself would have to speak to me directly.  After getting the confirmation I required, I agreed to take over the fellowship.  That was how I inherited a 20-man lunch-hour fellowship in 1994.

 

Rapid church growth 

In my zeal, I took three quick decisions.  I moved the fellowship from my living-room to the parking-lot of our building.  I bought one-hundred plastic chairs and paid for a weekly supply of meat-pies and soft-drinks.  The membership of the fellowship grew by leaps and bounds.  Soon, all the one-hundred chairs I bought were filled.

In 1997, I moved the fellowship to a new rented location which seated 120.  That capacity was also soon exceeded.  I knocked down some walls and extended the seating-space to 180.  That capacity was also quickly exceeded.  I then decided to hold the fellowship twice a week.  For the next six years, I preached to some 200 people in Victoria Island, Lagos every lunch-hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I gave them all meat-pies and soft-drinks out of my own pocket, as I had done the previous three years.

 

Revised strategy

Certain things prompted me to review this strategy in 2003.  It dawned on me that most people came just for the meat-pies.  I noticed that some even came as late as five minutes to the end of the fellowship, just in time for the snacks.  So I changed the rules.  If you were not in the hall before thirty minutes after the start of the fellowship, you were not allowed to enter.  This caused a problem because some late-comers would create a scene by banging loudly on the glass doors; disturbing the proceedings.

I recalled that Jesus fed 5,000 people by multiplying loaves of bread and fish.  But when the multitude followed him across the water the next day wanting to be fed yet again, he refused to oblige.  He only fed them with the word of God.  Therefore, I decided to suspend temporarily the meat-pies and the soft drinks. 

I could not believe what happened.  Exactly as in the case of Jesus, within a few weeks, the crowds shrank from the roughly two hundred people who attended each fellowship to only about twenty.

I was then confronted with a dilemma.  Do I go back to the meat-pies and the two-hundred crowds; or do without the meat-pies and have only twenty people?  I decided the two hundred meat-pie crowd was a waste of time.  As Jesus observes, they were only labourers for perishable food (John 6:27).  Only the twenty were really interested in Christ.  So I stopped giving meat-pies permanently.

 

Kingdom of a chosen few

In the kingdom of God, good things come in small congregations.  God says: “The more my people multiplied, the more they sinned against me” (Hosea 4:7).  Therefore he says: “I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion” (Jeremiah 3:14). 

Jesus promises to be where two or three are gathered together in his name; thereby expressing a distinct preference for small gatherings (Matthew 18:20).  Elsewhere, he points out that the kingdom of God is specifically for a small fellowship: “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). 

The true gospel message is not attractive to the large flock.  It requires us to hate our lives in this world.  It demands that we forsake all, lay down our lives and follow Jesus.  It is a hard way through a narrow gate that few are able to find (Matthew 7:14).    

So once you see a large church, know that the attraction cannot be the gospel.