“. . . the American church has not treated [growth in Christ] with an equivalent urgency [compared to evangelism]. The American church runs on the euphoria and adrenaline of new birth–getting people into the church, into the kingdom, into causes, into crusades, into programs. We turn matters of growing up over to Sunday school teachers, specialists in Christian education, committees to revise curricula, retreat centers, and deeper life conferences, farming it out to parachurch groups for remedial assistance. I don’t find pastors and professors, for the most part, very interested in matters of formation in holiness. They have higher profile things to tend to” (Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection, p5).
Customer service is always the best when the customer is new. The new customer gets the best deal, latest program, most attention and grandest promises. Maintaining loyal customers takes far more hard work than finding new ones. Let the disgruntled, underserved old customers leave. We’ll find three new ones to replace them.
You can always find someone new to buy what you’re selling as long as the sales pitch is relevant and right. A regular influx of new customers gives the appearance of a vibrant, healthy business and we love appearances more than substance. We want to know how much we’ve generated new business, not how much we’ve retained and cultivated old business.
This mystery is great, but I am speaking with reference to American business and the church.
This is the Americanization of congregation. It means turning each congregation into a market for religious consumers, an ecclesiastical business run along the lines of advertising techniques and organization flow charts, and then energized by impressive motivational rhetoric (Ibid., p24).
We need look not much farther than a church’s membership roll to see the effects of this “Americanization.” Churches attract thousands of members (customers) with slick programming and irresistible sales pitches. And over time those members regularly drift into obscurity with little to no accountability or spiritual formation. The church is then awash in pragmatism, having to keep up with the market to stay alive.
There is little to no concern because thousands have come in to replace them. And so on and so on. Not until there is a down trend in new customers will there likely be any angst among the ranks. Therefore, pastors shepherd a number rather than individual sheep and churches pride themselves on new “customers” despite the overwhelming number of old “customers” they were glad to see drift away into the wolves’ land. Who cares which 2,000 sheep we have as long as we kept 2,000? Who cares if 500 members went AWOL last year if we added 1,000 new ones?
All the while, our Great Shepherd would not stand for replacement sheep (Lk 15.3-7). If even only one strayed from the flock he would not find a replacement. He would leave ninety-nine secure sheep to retrieve the lost one. He wouldn’t have just any old hundred sheep, but the one hundred he knew by name.
It is God’s will that all those given to Jesus will be raised up by Jesus on the last day (Jn 6.39). Jesus will not lose one of them, which is a good thing because we lose them all the time. Our Lord is not content to lose one of his children. Yet, our flippant, weak view of church life (“congregation” to use Peterson’s word) implies he just might. It implies Jesus cares only about those who seemingly start well rather than those who finish well. He’ll simply replace those who wander rather than bother with finding and retrieving them.
If Jesus will not lose one of his own on the last day, then let us resolve not to lose one on this day.