The old, oft trotted adage is certainly true: what you win them with you win them to. We have to be clear what we are winning people with because that is ultimately what we have to keep them with. That is to say, we have to be clear what we actually want to win people to and then make sure that is what we front and centre.
In the church, the ever-present temptation is to win people with whatever will win them. It is to take something of a pragmatic approach to church growth. If people are more likely to come in because we do something or other, then let’s do that something or other in order to win them. Aside from being a principle that literally opens the door to any nonsense and ungodly activity so long as it brings them in, it actually doesn’t even work. It may get people in the door, but if they’re only coming for the thing, they ain’t coming because of Jesus.
I am reminded of some of the issues that cropped up in the earlier years of my ministry. The frequent refrain was that we effectively needed less Bible, less of the Word, and more of a bunch of other things that are more likely to bring people in and keep them. Perhaps, I was once told, if the Spirit so moved us we should ditch the sermon altogether and just spend the entire service singing. Maybe, I was told another time, we could limit the sermon to a 5-minute sermonette because 40 minutes of preaching probably isn’t that appealing. You probably should, someone once insisted, stop preaching about sin, Hell and judgement and all that because people don’t like that sort of thing and they may not want to come back.
Needless to say, I did not heed that advice. Similarly needless to say, that decision was not universally liked or well received. I wanted to win people with the Word so that they would be people of the Word. I wanted people to love Jesus; the Jesus who is met in the Word. If I wasn’t winning them with that, I wasn’t really winning them to anything overtly Christian, nothing that would save them, something other than the gospel. Not only did that seem wrong to me from a church perspective – winning people to something that would hardly make them valuable members of the church who would grow up to maturity in Christ – but it seemed utterly disastrous from a personal salvation perspective for those people to whom we would be doing a severe disservice and gross injustice comforting them in a belief that was neither Christ nor Word centric.
It is interesting to me, in recent years, that we have seen a number of people begin coming to us specifically because of the importance we place on the Word. The Lord has brought people to us who have grown weary false gospels, prosperity preaching and shallow Word ministry. The Lord seems to have brought us people who have checked us out online for some time before deciding to come, making sure that we are preaching and teaching the Word regularly and faithfully. We have people who through their own reading of the Word have determined that they need a church where the Word is central and Jesus is preached as of utmost importance. It is interesting that those who would have us front and centre something else in order to win people would, ironically, have failed to win the very people who have since sought us out specifically because Jesus and his Word are central to us.
I am reminded of this every time new people come to our church. What we front and centre – if they are going to be won at all – is what they will be won to. If we front and centre anything other than Jesus and the Word of God, we will be winning them to something much less, something deficient. What we communicate about Jesus and his Word matters because, if we front and centre anything else or try to win people by other means, that is what we have to keep them with. Not only that, but that is what they are really coming for. And if it ain’t Jesus, what’s the point?