Attracting Followers

But the multitudes saw them departing, and many knew Him and ran there on foot from all the cities. They arrived before them and came together to Him.  And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things. – Mark 6:33-34 (NKJV)

Megachurch… Purpose Driven… Seeker Friendly… Missional… Emergent… Relevant… Contemporary… Reformational…  Pick any phrase regarding the modern western church and you will find a correlating method and strategy of doing church growth.  Browse through the shelves of any local Christian bookstore and one will quickly find scores of authors peddling their concepts and recommendations for attracting membership and adding to church roles.  Some of the hottest selling books on the market for pastors and ministers are of the leadership genre.  The world-wide web provides, in the blink of an eye or a quick Google, a vast multitude of blogs and websites designed to enable church leaders to increase their numbers and “grow” the church they serve.

Please don’t assume that I am being negative or that I am opposed to these things.  There has perhaps never been a time when church leaders have had such immediate access to help and counsel and educational resources enabling them to be successful in the work to which they have been called.  There is no way I would want or try to place a negative on that!  No!  I have availed myself of a large number of books and resources designed to increase my own ability to lead and to minister, and they have proven excellent and effective.  Having said that, I am recently discovering (actually rediscovering) that for all of the methods, strategies, resources and ideas presented in this modern age, none of them can effectively replace or improve upon those found in The Bible or the example of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

At the pinnacle of Jesus’ brief ministry up to His crucifixion, the repeating description of the crowds surrounding him is the word, “multitudes.”  Often that word is further defined by multiple thousands.  Additionally, we are also told that many of these people were coming from many miles away during a time when automobiles, well-paved roads, and other convenient means of transportation were non-existant.  In fact, the demand for ministering to these throngs of followers was laborious, often exacting a wearying toll on Jesus and His core group of disciples.  Jesus, long before Willow Creek or Saddleback or any other well-known modern model was doing MEGACHURCH!  But, if we are to follow His model, we would do well to at least attempt to understand why and how (apart from the fact that He was the Son of God) He was so successful in attracting such masses of followers.

Forgive me for cutting to the chase, but I believe that a hint of why so many people were being drawn to Jesus’ ministry can be found in one phrase in Mark 6:34.  It says that when Jesus “saw” how many people were coming out from surrounding towns, villages and communities to where He was, that He was “moved with compassion for them.”  Now, I could go into the original Greek meaning of this phrase and discuss all of the theological and ecclesiological intricacies, but may I state simply that Jesus looked at them and He cared.  He didn’t see just faces and numbers.  He saw what they brought with them.  They brought situations and circumstances of suffering, disease, abuse, oppression, loneliness, hunger, betrayal, poverty, fear, despairand most of all spiritual emptiness.  Jesus saw this and He cared.  He cared enough to do something about it!

Did any of these people come out of curiosity because they had heard about Jesus and because of His growing reputation as a powerful miracle worker?  For sure!  Did any of them come, thinking that this might just be the One who could stir up enough revolutionary spirit among the people to overthrow the ruling Roman government as the political and military Messiah they had been told to expect?  Probably, but they had seen many such potential leaders in their history.  No, the primary reason that the people flocked to Jesus was that they had desperate needs in their lives and they heard that this man was miraculously fulfilling such needs.  His reputation as a miracle worker was authentic for sure, but it only takes a short accounting of all of His miracles to discover that not one of them was performed for show or to impress for the sake of attraction.  All of Jesus’ miracles were  intended to benefit and meet the needs of those He was sent to minister to.  And let it be noted that that ministry was supremely sacrificial to the very end.  This was not missed by those hearing of Jesus’ reputation and thus…they came!

It has been rightly stated that “People don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.”  People may be attracted to our churches because they have heard about our great music, or that the preacher is a powerful speaker or that our core doctrine and theology is sound, or that our small groups and discipleship programs are second to none.  They may come because their own church is boring and they have heard that ours is exciting and vibrant and new.  Most importantly, and hopefully, people will be being attracted to our churches from a void in their spirits that tells them of their deeper need for a Savior.  They may come and they may come initially because of our well executed church growth strategy, but for certain if they do and they sense that we do not care about and for them and their needs in the model and manner of Jesus…. they will not stay.

The best way to attract followers?  Be “moved with compassion” for them, do something about it, and they will come in “multitudes.”


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January 2011
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