Found Online: Family Ministry: Gut Feelings, the Gospel, and the Big Lie About Nine-Out-of-Ten

Lots of great stuff in this article, about how “9 out of 10 youth drop out of church after High School”.

Right now, in my context, the best takeaway comes at the end:

So what’s the problem with allowing retention rates to become the central focus in a ministry model? Simply this: It turns the visible growth and maintenance of a local congregation into the primary focus instead of Jesus and the gospel. When retention rates determine how we envision a church’s future, we have made too much of our own visions and dreams for the community of faith and too little of the One in whom we place our faith. Ministry leaders become visionary idealists seeking numeric gains rather than shepherds seeking to join in God’s mission and to equip God’s flock. In the process, we lose sight of the true vitality and value of the very community that we were planning to preserve.

Please don’t misread my point: The local, gathered community of faith is important. Jesus loves the church, and he gave his life to “present the church to himself in splendor” (Ephesians 5:25–27). Whenever anyone drops out of active involvement in Christian community, the congregation is correct to be concerned! Yet neither numeric retention nor expansion should, in themselves, constitute the points of focus for reshaping a church’s practices. Jesus is the paradigm for the growth of God’s people (Philippians 2:5; Hebrews 12:2). The church is the body of Christ, and the church’s value and identity flow from the all-surpassing glory of Jesus (Ephesians 4:12–16; Colossians 1:24–27; 3:1–4). “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this,” German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote. “We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ.”

The goal of the gospel is not a human ideal of retaining members in a visible community; the goal is to call people to Jesus. And so, the crucial question is not, “How many participants have we retained?” but “Who has glimpsed the truth of Jesus and the gospel in what we are doing?” Retention rates aren’t the launching pad or the endpoint of God’s plan; Jesus is (Revelation 22:13).

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