Multitudes

Reaching people, valuing God.

Like a large portion of the population of Newcastle and Gateshead, I found myself in the new Krispy Kreme Hot-light store over the weekend. We had been cycling and the new store was on our way home; after thirty odd miles a few carbs seemed like the order of the day. Locking up our bikes I strolled across to the smiling fellow in the store uniform and asked if the line protruding from the front door was the line for individual doughnuts. “Yes,” he said, with a sense of pride and satisfaction, “but it’s not so long this evening, it’s only about a ten minute wait.”

It’s fascinating that a ten minute wait to get a single doughnut can be seen as a good thing, yet sure enough we queued and chatted happily for ten minutes and didn’t hear a single complaint from anyone in the queue. Five minutes of queuing in the bank is enough to make people apoplectic, but queuing for doughnuts? No problem. You see there is something in the way firms like Krispy Kreme do things that creates a buzz around the whole experience. They believe in the value of their product, and the experience flows out of the idea – correct or incorrect – that what they offer is superior.

Know the value of what we have…

This set me to thinking about how we present the gospel to people. I think sometimes as Christians we behave as though what we have to offer is something with only niche appeal; “Eternal, abundant, overflowing, life? Who’d be in the market for that?” We can go into sharing the gospel as though it’s something few people will want and if we do that we fail to place the value that we should on what we have. Effectively reaching our community flows out of a place of knowing the value of our salvation.

“Then He said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few…'”
– Matthew 9:37 (ESV)

Are we believing for a plentiful harvest in our cities, or do we fall for the lie that it’s bad soil? If we don’t think people have a thirst for the abundant life Christ gives then we need to align our perceptions to the word; we aren’t taking a niche product to a crowded market place, we’re taking something with massive appeal to a starving public.

God loves a crowd…

Numbers are often a touchy topic but, standing in a huge line of people waiting for doughnuts, I couldn’t help but think whether as churches we offer an experience people would flock to? Are we connecting the visitor with what they are looking for? If we look at the bible we see that throughout history God draws crowds. John the Baptist stood in the wilderness, in camel’s hair clothes, shouting an unpopular message, and yet multitudes flocked to him. (Matthew 3:1-5) Jesus drew the kind of crowds that we now associate with the biggest of rock stars. (Luke 5:1, Mark 5:24, Matthew 14:13) On the day of Pentecost 3,000 people gave their lives to Christ in one day. (Acts 2:41) We may not always be comfortable on the big stage but we serve a God who delights in it. If people selling doughnuts can draw a multitude, how much more so can we sharing the gospel?

I don’t say this to in any way devalue the great work so many small churches do, but sometimes there’s a kind of inverted snobbery against large churches as though they’re going against how things should be; whether a church of ten or ten thousand, the atmosphere and experience should be great because God is great. Reaching the multitudes is perfectly in line with biblical teaching; the bible shows us a God that loves people as individuals yet also draws huge crowds.

Be faithful in the small things…

So how does this happen? We need to remind ourselves that there is a world out there starving for what we have. We need to be faithful with what we’ve been given and let God do the rest. (Matthew 25:14-30) When Vernon Rudolph opened a doughnut store in Winston-Salem, NC, in 1937, he believed in the quality of his product and in providing a good experience. The chain’s growth comes from continuing those ideals faithfully. Hillsong Church is massive around the globe because Pastor Brian was faithful with Sydney CLC; my church, NCLC, has grown hugely in seven years because Pastors Jon and Dee were faithful with nine people in Starbucks. When we value the treasure God has given us, and seek to faithfully connect with Him and connect others to Him, He will bring the increase.

I believe that this is already happening in places. I’ve seen a queue spill out around the block with people wanting to worship at the O2 Academy in Newcastle on a Friday night, seen young people sat on the floor to hear the word as we’d ran out of seats. The buzz around Hillsong NYC is so huge that even with seven services on a Sunday they’re still attracting crowds and queues of people eager to get into church.

We live in a world where people will sleep over night outside a shop to get first in line for some doughnuts, people think nothing of getting up before daylight to be one of the first in line to get their hands on the new iPhone. People will do anything to chase what ever is the latest thing or has a buzz around it. What we have is of much more value than any of these things. What we have is eternal and not fleeting; we need to make sure we’re always putting the right value on it and endeavouring to make people’s experience with church a pleasure. When we do these things people will talk and, as Field of Dreams tells us, “if we build it, they will come”.

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Photo from Peter Jobes, all rights reserved.

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