By C. Wayne Zunkel
In every class I have ever taken, I have always been suspicious of a professor who pretends to be without bias. The classes I have found most helpful are those where, for example, a political science professor may say, “I am a moderate Republican. I voted for Nixon, Ford, and Reagan. These are some of my biases so you may be aware of them as I present my material.”
The following are some of the assumptions I make.
Assumption 1: Our Christian Faith Is The Most Important Thing We Have To Share.
Donald McGavran, in his book, Understanding Church Growth, wrote about the challenge we face:
As in the light of Christ we look at the world its exploding knowledge, peoples, revolutions, physical needs, desperate spiritual hunger and nakedness, and enslavement to false gods and demonic ideologies we realize that Christian mission must certainly engage in many labors. A multitude of excellent enterprises lie around us. So great is the number and so urgent the calls, that Christians can easily lose their way among them, seeing them all equally as mission. But in doing good, they can fail of the best. In winning the preliminaries, they can lose the main game. They can be treating a troublesome itch, while the patient dies of cholera.
People need bread… justice… peace. Make no mistake about that. Our Lord gave large blocks of time to meeting the physical needs of the poor and oppressed who crowded around Him.
One of the thrilling signs of our times is to see denominations and congregations labeled “evangelical” reaching out so dramatically to meet basic human need. Robert Schuller is criticized by those who feel the money spent on the Crystal Cathedral should have been spent on the poor. Schuller’s response to a radio interviewer was that their offering on the day of dedication totaled $100,000 and it all went toward a new hospital in southern Mexico. With its treatment center it would serve 100,000 families. Projections are to raise nearly two million dollars during the next four years for needy causes. Schuller sees the church as providing a base for reaching out to hurting people around the world.
Jesus ’80, in one concert in Anaheim Stadium on May 17, 1980, raised $250,000 for Cambodian refugees.
Christians of all persuasions are coming to recognize that people need bread… justice… peace.
But even more, they need solid ground on which to stand, a strong faith around which to orient their lives.
The first church I served, in inner-city Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was surrounded by multi-problem families. There were many fatherless homes, much unemployment, many people with little education, much alcoholism, and poor diets—children living on potato chips and Cokes. Some babies died of malnutrition.
We developed a full community program: after-school scrap crafts for young children; a basketball league for teenage boys, using a large Presbyterian church gym nearby; cooking classes and sewing classes for young mothers; a study hall and tutoring program; a civic association; a home for young women who moved to the city; a day-care center; a well-baby clinic; and on and on. But very soon I came to realize that if that was all we did, we were simply making middle-class pagans out of lower-class pagans. People needed more if their lives were to be reoriented and full.
If the Scriptures say anything, it is this: People can survive all manner of physical hardships if they have faith. They can manage hunger, prison, oppressive governments, sickness, loss of goods and family, even the prospect of the loss of life itself. Martin Luther could sing, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also. The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still. His kingdom is forever.”
And the Scriptures address the other side of that. Physical well-being without faith is disastrous.
“What does it profit,” Jesus asked, “if you gain the whole world and lose your own soul?”
Marilyn Koehler, an evangelism counselor in Iowa, put it in these terms:
We have offered
Peace … without the Peacemaker
Service . . . without the Servant
Knowledge … without the Mind of Christ
Equality, liberation, respectability…
Without the cross as a leveling experience
Fellowship and ecumenicity…
Without knowing Christ as brother and God as Father.
Too often we have shared half a loaf or a crust of bread when people hungered for the whole Bread of life, a cup of cold water when they thirsted even more for that Spring that never runs dry.
Assumption 2: Evangelsm Is More Than “Seeking.”
It is not enough to beam radio broadcasts or to plaster billboards or to distribute bumper stickers.
It is not enough to open doors of the church and announce that, of course, all people are welcome.
It is not enough to open our hearts as hurting people come to us.
It is not enough for the shepherd to stand at the gate of the fold and call to the lost sheep out on the hillside. God wants more than kindly messages or powdered milk sent to the son in the far country. He is not happy until He sees that son or daughter walking back into the home once again.
An Anglican publication said it so well:
Christ is not pleased with…
* Fishing without catching. (Luke 5: 4-11)
* Empty banquet tables. (Luke 14:15-23)
* Sowing without reaping. (Matthew 13: 3-9)
* A fig tree that bears no fruit. (Luke 13: 6-9)
* Lost sheep that are not brought into the fold. (Matthew 18:11-14)
* A lost coin that is sought but not found. (Luke 15: 8-10)
* Harvests that are not reaped. (Matthew 9:36-38)
* Proclamation without response. (Matthew 10:14)
* Sons and daughters outside the Father’s house. (Luke 15:11-32)
Evangelism, New Testament style, is satisfied with nothing less than finding the hurt, the lonely, the lost.
Assumption 3: Numbers Matter.
A census taker in the hills of West Virginia knocked at a door and asked the woman of the house how many lived there. She replied, “Well, there’s Willie, and there’s Sarah Jane, and there’s Butch, and there’s Alfred…
“No, no, no,” interrupted the census taker. “Not the names, just the number.”
“Mister,” said the lady, rising to her full five feet, two inches, “in this house we don’t have numbers. We all have names.”
Every number has a name.
A woman was visiting a psychiatrist. ‘He had established that she was married and had several children. Almost in passing he asked which of the children she loved the most. She replied that she loved them all the same.
Her answer seemed too glib. He decided to press her. “Come now,” he said, “nobody loves all of their children the same.”
She insisted it was true.
He decided to press some more. “Look, lady, if you won’t be honest with me and level with me, you are wasting your time and mine.”
She burst into tears and cried a little. Then, pulling herself together, she said, “All right. When one of my children is hurt, I love that child the most. When one of my children is sick, I love that child the most. When one of .my children is bad—I don’t mean naughty, I mean really bad —I love that child the most. But aside from that, I love them all the same.”
Augustine said, “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”
Numbers matter. Because each number represents a child of God.
McGavran tells of a missionary who refused to submit numbers of converts on his report forms to the home office because he was not interested in numbers. But at the bottom he carefully detailed the number of goats, mules, chickens, and pets.
Turnaround Management, which we referred to earlier, suggests that a beginning point in any turn-around operation is a “line-by-line, item-by-item analysis.”
Carl George, a Church Growth consultant, tells how in the early days of his ministry he served on a staff of several people in a large church. Every Mon-day morning was spent in what, at the time, he regarded as a totally wasteful exercise. These highly trained persons, with salaries of professionals, some fresh from seminary and obviously (by their own admission) “terribly bright and talented,” were gathered into the church office to stand around for the entire Monday morning, counting the offerings of the various church school classes and tallying the records of attendance. Only later did he realize what was happening.
As they worked, they talked about who had been there and who had not, and about which church members had not attended for several weeks. They shared names of newcomers to the worship service, or perhaps one individual who showed up in a class somewhere. They shared the chance comments good and bad they had heard. They reviewed it all.
In that seemingly wasteful exercise, which George felt was far beneath his calling, the staff was, in fact, taking a “line-by-line, item-by-item analysis” and discovering assignments for the week: who needed to be followed up on, which visits were most critical, what phone calls or actions deserved top priority, what adjustments in the program were necessary.
In a large church, people can easily get lost in the cracks. But it can happen in a smaller church, too. Even a church with fewer than 50 in attendance.
One exercise I set for myself my first years in small churches was to personally mail out bulletins on Monday morning to those absent the previous day. I often wrote, “I missed you.” Or “Hope your trip went well.” Or “Here’s something you might be interested in,” circling the item.
It took several hours of time, but it kept me right on top of the “inventory” of the rich treasure en-trusted to my care as pastor.
Numbers matter. Even one matters. Jesus said that.
Numbers matter for another reason. Numbers can tell us things. We depend on them in almost every field: business, industry, science.
We say we are interested in quality, not in quantity. Yet in almost every field we measure quality by quantity.
As far as I know, there is no evidence in medical history that a thermometer ever healed anyone.
But in medicine, doctors and nurses take vital signs: temperature, pulse, respiration, blood pressure. EKGs, blood and urine tests, X rays, electroencephalograms, and other diagnostic testing is done. And on the basis of such tests, a doctor proceeds.
My kids, who are baseball fans, can tell you the batting average figured out to thousandths on any given Sunday afternoon for almost every single major league player. They know earned-run aver-ages and the standings. In sports, we measure quality by quantity, and we have reams of material on it daily that many men, at least, commit to memory and discuss with joy and great excitement.
A harsh example of measuring is the bathroom scale. I can give up Frosties at Wendy’s and quit eating between snacks. But I step on those scales, and they tell me things I do not want to know.
My father was pastor of a church in Wenatchee, Washington, when I was in junior high school. When my father left in 1948, the church had a membership of 649, a worship attendance of 257, and a church school attendance of 235. In 1968 I was back at that church for a week’s preaching mission. In 1978 I was there again for a special dedication program.
It is a strong church. Good families. Lay people who have served on denominational committees. They have had strong pastoral leadership and a fine church plant. To look out over that congregation on a Sunday morning is inspiring. But look at the figures on this graph. Lay a paper at the tops of the “worship” and “church school” columns, so that the edge of the paper just touches the top right corners of the “worship” columns. The graph covers three decades. Look where that paper takes you in the next three decades if the trend continues. That church will not survive… unless it experiences a dramatic turnaround.
The graph tells us other things. Back when my father was pastor, there was a large gap between membership and attendance. Church Growth people project that about 200 to 350 people are all that one person can adequately pastor.5 In 1948 there was trouble on the horizon because two-thirds of the membership was inactive, not drawn into the life of the church in a vital way.
We have also drawn graphs for the two churches I now serve. We did one for the Panorama City church from 1945, the year it began. As you look at it, you see a portrait of a church. A chart is as valuable as any doctor’s set of X rays.
You see the early growth which often comes to a new congregation. You see periodic dips when a new pastor came and the heading back up only after people and pastor began to work together. You see the church school foretelling what happened in worship, as the experts predict.
Any church serious about its future will engage in such studies.
Numbers matter very much in the health of our physical bodies and in the health of the Body of Christ, the church.
Assumption 4: Workable Strategies Exist. They are Biblical And They Can Be Monitored.
How could the apostle Paul accomplish so much in ten short years? Did he simply head out, empowered with the Holy Spirit, with no plan, no idea where he would head or what he was about?
Roland Allen, in a book first published in 1912 entitled Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? suggested that growth in the New Testament church was not accidental. Paul, he argued, had a very careful strategy for growth. We may argue about some of Allen’s conclusions, but he is convincing when he proceeds to list these observations from Acts:
Paul limited his work to Rome-administered areas.
He focused on tow or three centers in each area.
He went to centers of Jewish influence.
In new communities, he used contacts supplied by relatives of people from established churches.
He reached whole families.
This article “Some Assumptions” written by C. Wayne Zunkel is excerpted from Growing The Small Church: A Guide For Church Leaders written by C. Wayne Zunkel.
“This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”