BreakPoint: Preach Scripture, Fill the Pews

Seekers Seek Truth

What’s the number one thing we can do to fill our churches? It’s probably not what you think.

According to a new Gallup survey, the quality of the worship band isn’t the main reason people go to church. Neither is it thriving kids’ programs. Or even a dynamic personality behind the pulpit. No, respondents said that “Sermons that teach about Scripture” are the reason they show up on Sunday mornings.

As Christianity Today reports, “Researchers found that 82 percent of Protestants and 76 percent of all regular worshipers consider sermons’ biblical lessons as a major factor that draws them to services.” They also want application: “80 percent of Protestants and 75 percent of worshipers valued sermons that connect faith to everyday life.”

Now it shouldn’t really surprise us that people are hungry for truth in this post-truth, post-fact culture, especially when it’s harder than ever to discern fact from fiction, reality from conspiracy theory.

Scripture tells us that God has “set eternity” in our hearts. Our first parents may have been expelled from the Garden, but we, their descendants, still cannot quite shake the memory of it. Augustine knew something about this insatiable search for truth and beauty, writing in prayer to God, “Our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.” Jerry Root and Stan Guthrie quote G.K. Chesteron in their book “The Sacrament of Evangelism,” people are ‘homesick in their homes.’ Chesteron knew that every time we lay our heads on our pillows at the end of the day, we lay them down in a foreign land.

Whatever our neighbors may say, whatever veneer they present, we know that many of them are hungry for what we’ve been given in Scripture—the Truth that is Christ Himself. Matt Woodley says in Preaching Today’s annual State of Preaching outlook, “In a distracted, outraged, shallow culture, people begin to hunger for something rare: the focused, balanced, and deep.”

So it’s time to, among other things, abandon the therapeutic-driven, self-centered sermons that characterize too much preaching these days. As my “BreakPoint This Week” co-host Ed Stetzer recently pointed out, Oklahoma-based Life.Church is one of many congregations that has started beefing up its teaching in response to people we sometimes call unchurched. “In other words,” Ed says, “those for whom sermons were being dumbed down aren’t dumb. They are interested in the truth or else they’d be out golfing.”

The goal of church cannot be to out-entertain the world. First, we can’t. In a world of instant gratification, 24/7 communication access, and virtually limitless glowing rectangles clamoring for our attention, the church just can’t win the entertainment battle. Second, it shouldn’t try. That’s not what church is about, nor is it what people need. Gathering for worship, though it can be exhilarating—or, on some days, boring—isn’t about entertainment, because it’s not about us.

It’s about meeting with God as a community of His people, giving Him His due, and being instructed, admonished, equipped, and encouraged by Him to join in His work, as Chuck Colson used to say, to make the invisible kingdom visible.

As Pastor Jared Wilson recently tweeted, “Someone will always have better coffee, music, facilities, and speaking. Showcase Christ and his gospel. No one can improve on that.” And to that I say Amen.

We should encourage our pastoral leaders to prepare deep, biblical sermons and education offerings that rest firmly on the authority of Scripture. This sort of thing requires hours of diligent study of the Word of God and prevailing, passionate prayer. There are no shortcuts if we are to end the tragedy of a church too often a mile wide and an inch deep.

And speaking of going deep, I’d love for you to consider studying with the Colson Center this year as a Colson Fellow. It’s a nine-month fellowship featuring in-depth Christian worldview teaching, cultural analysis and leadership training to prepare you to live out the faith in the areas of influence where God has placed you. The deadline for application is fast approaching: May 15. Check it out at ColsonFellows.org.

 

Further Reading and Information

Preach Scripture, Fill the Pews: Seekers Seek Truth

Take the opportunity to encourage your pastor and other church leaders to continue to preach the truth of Scripture. And pray that seekers will come to a point where they acknowledge that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life.

 

Find a BreakPoint radio station in your area–Click here.

Resources

Colson Fellows Program, website
  • Kate Shellnut | Christianity Today | April 18, 2017
The Hottest Thing at Church Is Not Your Pastor or Worship Leader
  • Kate Shellnutt | Christianity Today | April 18, 2017
The Point: Fake Faith Doesn’t Sell
  • John Stonestreet | BreakPoint.org | April 21, 2017
The Sacrament of Evangelism
  • Stan Guthrie, Jerry Root | Moody Publishers | April 2011

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  • I’m all about quality preaching – sermons that are true to the text, illuminating, and relevant. I was introduced to these skills in seminary. I practiced them diligently for decades, always honing my craft and working hard to improve.

    My classmates and I were taught “preach it and they will come.”

    There are, however, a couple of fundamental flaws in that rubric which are reflected in your article.

    First and foremost is a subtle error in logic. Polling what matters to those who are already in church tells us nothing about what matters to those who are not. The fact that my church members like solid exegetical preaching, light shows and smoke machines gives no insight into what would persuade the unchurch to become, well, churched. After all, if those things mattered to them, they’d probably be in church already.

    The “growth” this strategy (good preaching) leads to is not actual growth. Well, perhaps a very small percentage of a church’s increased attendance will be unbelievers and the “formerly churched” attending regularly. But the majority of the increase attributed to “good preaching” will be transfers from other congregations.

    Happens all the time.

    The second, more serious flaw in your thinking rests on a false assumption – that the church’s mission is to “bring them in.” In this view the church is a storefront for religious goods and services and the object is to provide the right mix that will draw and retain larger audiences.

    Such is not the case. Not at all. The church’s mission is, dare I say it?, missional. Rather than cobbling together attractive offerings that compel the unbeliever / unchurched to become faithful attenders (if such were even possible), our task is to compel the believers to go out in mission and service.

    “Preach it and they will come” may have worked 50 years ago. Today, as a mission tool, it is woefully misguided and ineffective.

    So, preach good sermons because that is our duty. “Study to show thyself a workman approved” and all that. But don’t preach to fill the pews. It’s a misguided notion.