Several years ago, San Jose State, a college with an enrollment of approximately 30,000 tried a novel approach to get more students to attend their football games. In 2003, they averaged only 862 students per game and the average in 2004 was below that. So, they initiated the “Attend and Win” promotion. Here’s how it worked: students who came to a game received a raffle ticket for a drawing later in the season that would include prizes like computers, MP3s, vacations and even a Hummer H3.
Several years ago in Shreveport, Louisiana, an African-American minister wanted to have more diversity in his worship services. So, according to Reuters, he decided to pay white people $5 an hour on Sundays and $10 an hour on Thursdays if they would just come. The church, Greenwood Acres Full Gospel Baptist Church, had been almost exclusively black since its beginning back in 1958.
Bishop Fred Caldwell said, “That’s not the way Jesus wanted it.” In fact, the Bishop said, “the most segregated hour in America, depending on the time zone, is 11 o’ clock on Sunday morning.” His plan was to pay for white folks first and then move on to Hispanics, Asians and other ethnic groups. “I’m only paying for white folks in August,” Caldwell said. “We’ll probably move on to other ethnic groups from there.”
A winsome motive that won some. But a method that nonetheless makes us wince and, ironically, is one that Greenwood Acres is no longer employing.
It’s amazing what we’re willing to do to get a crowd . . . even though our Lord never seemed too interested in how big a crowd He could attract. Take the rich young ruler in Luke 18. He definitely came to Jesus wanting to join the “in” crowd (the group going to Glory). But he wanted to do it on “his” terms, not the Lord’s. Jesus said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven. Then, come follow Me” (Luke 18:22). Matthew 19 tells us, when the rich young ruler heard that, he went away sad.
Or how about the three fellows in Luke 9:57-61 who said they wanted to follow the Lord but each had something else they wanted to do first. Their statement, “Lord, let me first go . . .” sums up their sad state of mind. Somehow they thought they could call Jesus “Lord” and still live in a “me first” world. (Something millions are still attempting to do.) Jesus’ answer was a classic: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the Kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
Or how about the huge crowd in John 6 that got up and left after Jesus laid out the cost of following Him and being a disciple? You won’t hear the church growth experts quoting these verses. But John wasn’t afraid to write, “From this time on many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed Him” (John 6:66).
Offering raffle tickets, flat screen TVs, Hummers, seats to the Super Bowl or freshly printed Benjamin Franklins aren't the most effective ways to draw people to a football game or to draw people to Christ and His church. Cotton candy clergy who sugarcoat their sermons for the sake of not offending seekers and drawing bigger crowds will one day find themselves sick of the sweet stuff and devoid of the real stuff — genuine converts and authentic followers of Christ.
Discipleship is not about all the great things you get for free from following Christ. Rather, it’s what price are you willing to pay and what are you willing to go without in order to go on with Him? Here is the actual invitation of Jesus to those who desire to be His followers: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).
Clearly, our focus should not be on pleasing crowds, appeasing them or even in attracting them. We shouldn’t waste another moment on that. Instead, we should put all our efforts into pleasing the Lord and praising Him. When we do that, He’ll handle how many show up. We have His word on it.
Guess how big that crowd will be? Jesus said, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto Me” (John 12:32).
Isn’t it time you get in the game? Not for what you’ll get out of it, but simply because you love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30-31).
It’s almost time for kickoff.
© 2015. Barry L. Cameron
Barry L. Cameron has been the Senior Pastor of Crossroads since 1992 when the church was averaging 188 in morning worship. Pastor Cameron and his wife, Janis, have three children and two grandsons. He’s the author of the bestseller: The ABCs of Financial Freedom, Contagious Generosity, and The Financial Freedom Workbook. The Cameron family has been completely debt free since November 2001.