Subversive Math

IF we define the church simply as:

  • “Where the word of God is preached and the sacraments rightly administered.”


  • “A weekly event where I hear biblical preaching and join with others in musical worship.”

And if our our primary concerns are:

  • Converting as many people to a gospel that can be communicated within a half hour


  • Having Christians grow in their understanding of the faith, which will in turn, make them better disciples

There also isn’t any reason why we shouldn’t try to grow as large as possible. If one agrees with the above, and believes that their church is doing a good job, why not try to gather as large a crowd as possible? Sure, there may be some things that condition how we understand the above…we might want to do it in a multicultural way, if that is a value of ours. Or we may wish to do it in a liturgical way, if that is a value of ours.

I think many churches see things the way I’ve laid out. That is why we have so many churches that are intentionally trying to “grow” their Sunday services and are trying to find ways of making things even bigger. They are being consistent with their ecclesiology. In their ecclesiology, numbers are very important. But so is biblical truth. But these two things are kept in tension. Some churches that want to attract a larger crowd will avoid the more provocative or heady parts of our faith. They will address is down the road in their small group programming or adult education programming. These folks may be accused of neglecting “biblical preaching” but they merely temper it a bit their desire for conversion. Other folks may have stronger preaching, believing that true seekers will still come, and that the congregation will be better equipped to go out and share their faith. They may be accused of neglecting seekers, but they merely temper their heart for seekers with a passion for biblical preaching. Other groups may hold these in tension with a commitment to the liturgy, or to some other core value, but it still makes sense to try to gather as big of a crowd as possible and perhaps even do such things as launching satellite congregations or building bigger sanctuaries. Such a move is faithful to their ecclesiology, which focuses a great deal on the worship service and the sermon. Most of the church budget for most churches is tied up in the weekly event–cost of a building for worship services, the cost of production each week, the pastor’s salary (who spends much, if not most, of his/her time preparing for the sermon), etc.

We shouldn’t get mad at people because their church is bigger or because they are starting satellite services or if they are building a larger building, or if they are always sending out mailers to reach out to more and more people. We shouldn’t be frustrated about how much these churches focus on numbers as a sign of success. If we define church the same way they do, then we have no reason to be upset.  I just thing that Church shouldn’t be centered around an event.

Worship is a way of life, not just a 30 minute music set. The Gospel can’t be adequately communicated in 30 minutes (unless, perhaps, the person already understands a lot about Christianity). And, while preaching is important, it lacks the fundamental “one-another-ness” that we read about throughout the New Testament.

Many Christians will agree with what I am saying, but at the same time will do the “church as event” approach. If you think church isn’t about numbers, then stop counting.

If you think worship is about lifestyle, then don’t overvalue singing.

If you think church is a place to explore truth, then start discussing, rather than spend so much of your time listening to a sanctified lecture each week.

If you think church is a family of faith, then spend time in relationship
(Gospel Community) rather than treating church as a 2 hour long weekly commitment.

If you agree that church is people, not a building, then stop saying “I’m GOING to church.”

We spend so much time attracting people to hear the “gospel” when we need to spend more much more energy in understanding how we can best embody and articulate the Gospel. We need, more than ever, to start developing the QUALITY of the church, and stop paying so much attention to QUANTITY. We need to use subversive math. Where we stop counting, and figure out what counts.


About Jon Nelson

I am just a nobody trying to tell everybody about Somebody [Christ Jesus]!

Posted on November 16, 2009, in ...from Jon, Theology. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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