I have very few pet peeves, and I’m usually fairly laid back. (For people who knew me in high school and college, this is probably difficult to believe. I used to be much more of a hothead.) However, there are a few things that just get under my skin. Here’s one of them: Somebody walks into a room, usually at church, looks around at the people who are there, and complains out loud, “Nobody’s here” or they ask, “Where is everybody?”
In order for me to hear someone say that, I have to be in the room with them. The room where “nobody” is. So, apparently, in that situation, the people in the room and I are “nobody.” This especially bothers me at the church where I serve. It’s got to be one of the only churches in the world where someone can walk into a room with 100 people in it and say, “Nobody’s here!” It seems like people in the church spend a lot of time worrying about how many people there are, how many people are going on youth trips, how many people are in worship, how many members there are in the church, etc.
Surely Jesus never had to worry about numbers and crowds and attendance, right? I’m sure he probably always made everybody happy and his crowds always grew because he was so awesome, right?
Here in John 6, there’s a long section of Jesus’ teaching that many people who are listening find very difficult to accept. So, rather than accept Jesus and his teaching, many people turn away. John 6:66 says it like this, “At this, many of his disciples turned away and no longer accompanied him.” (Am I the only one that picked up on the fact that John “666” talks about people deciding to no longer follow Jesus? Weird, huh?)
According to this story, the people who judge the health of churches based solely on attendance need to reevaluate the way they look at things. Sometimes, people respond to the teachings of Jesus by turning away. Not everybody chooses to follow Christ.
Maybe we all need to consider for a second that the measure of success for a church shouldn’t be attendance, but faithfulness to Christ. Faithfulness to Christ, not numerical growth, should be our goal and our aim. Faithfulness does not always lead to growth. It often does, but sometimes, as is the case here in this story about Jesus, it leads to losing people. People sometimes decide that following Jesus and enacting his teachings in their lives is just too difficult. They’re not ready to commit to do it.
So, if people stop coming to your church, you’re in great company. Here’s what you should do:
1) Realize you’re in good company. Hundreds of people stopped following Jesus during his lifetime.
2) Stop worrying about and focusing on attendance, saying, “Nobody’s here,” and asking what you can do to get more people there. Spend some time appreciating the people who ARE there.
3) Instead, ask the question every person in a church, every member, every leader, every pastor should ask: are we being faithful to Christ in all that we do, even when it’s difficult? Or do we only want to follow Jesus when it’s easy and fun and draws big crowds of people?
God, increase my faithfulness to Christ and my willingness to follow him no matter how difficult it is to accept his teaching or do what he says.