Building it doesn’t mean they’ll come

By Leonard Lauriault

It’s basketball season. A recent article from the University of Kentucky (one of my alma maters where basketball is king and football is a pastime until basketball season) compared attendance at their home basketball games with other schools.

The Kentucky Wildcats’ home court is Rupp Arena, which had the largest seating capacity when it was built 30 years ago. Other schools now have bigger arenas, but Wildcat basketball still draws the largest attendance, averaging near-capacity crowds at 23,421 for the 2006-07 season. That’s almost 2,000 more than second place Syracuse who plays basketball in the 33,000-seat Carrier Dome. After reading that article, I thought, “Building bigger arenas doesn’t mean they’ll come.”

At about the same time, a friend mentioned a church that built a facility for attracting crowds for Sunday afternoon special events. The only problem, he thought, was that during the course of the entertainment, you had to listen to a sermon. The timely occurrence of the article and my friend’s comments stirred my imagination regarding churches and their programs.

Again, just because you build it doesn’t mean they’ll come. That’s not how the church is to operate evangelistically anyway.
Jesus said to go out and preach (Matthew 28: 18-20; Mark 16: 15, 16; Acts 1: 8; 8: 4). Preaching isn’t necessarily limited to public speaking. Our Christian attitude and lifestyle are to speak louder than words instilling interest in Christianity (Titus 2: 10; John 13: 34, 35; Matthew 5: 14-16; 1 Peter 2: 12; 3: 15, 16).

Although Kentucky did better in football this year than they’re doing in basketball, attendance at home basketball games remains high because the people want to see their team – win, lose, or draw. They’re attracted to the long-term winning tradition based on teamwork rather than any specific player or even that season’s team.

Most Kentucky Wildcat fans saw their parents and friends stay up late to watch delayed broadcasts of “blacked out” games and then talk about them, sometimes even after the next game. This also instilled in them the desire to make the pilgrimage to Rupp Arena to see a live game. They’re not interested in the building; it was built to accommodate their desire to come to games demonstrated by overcrowding at the previous facility.

I’ve heard many times (and mostly agree) that you win people to what you win them with (John 6: 26, 27). Jesus said when he was lifted up he’d draw all men to himself (John 12: 32). Generally, that refers to his being lifted up on the cross; but it also can refer to when he’s exalted (lifted up) in the hearts and lives of his people (Philippians 1: 20, 21; 2 Corinthians 4: 5-7).

A church that uses programming designed specifically to attract non-Christians to the church building may only be attracting them to the building or the programs rather than Christ. When they fail to continue having bigger and better programs (entertainment) they lose those attracted only by the program (Matthew 13: 3-9, 18-23). If we’re not following Jesus’ construction plans, whatever we build won’t be his eternal church and our efforts will have been wasted (Psalm 127:1; Matthew 16: 18; 7: 24-27; 23: 37-39).

On the other hand, when we let Christ attract people to himself through our lifestyle, we’ll be more likely to keep them and have an opportunity to lead them all the way to Christ (1 Corinthians 9: 19-27). God always blesses us with growth when we follow his plans (1 Corinthians 3: 5-9). When God’s people demonstrate their desire to attend church because that’s one of the places he said he’d meet us, the interested people of the world will follow (Matthew 18: 20; Psalm 84: 1-11; Hebrews 10: 19-25; Luke 16: 16: Matthew 11: 12; 21: 31, 32).

Sadly, no matter how attractively we present the truths of the gospel, some people will eventually grumble like my friend did because a sermon interrupted the entertainment. You just won’t win them all. Although the Israelites had seen the great works of God, they became concerned about what they’d eat, eventually even complaining about the food God provided (Exodus 16: 1-17: 7; Matthew 6: 31-33; Philippians 2: 12-16).

Despite man’s hard-headedness throughout the ages, God’s plans are still successful for their intended purpose (Isaiah 55: 10, 11). When we live appropriately, giving the Biblically correct answers when people ask, some will accept our teaching because it’s backed by our lifestyle example, and Jesus adds them to his church (Acts 2: 36-47; Ephesians 2: 19-21).
Are you lifting up Christ and the cross in your lifestyle? Once we’ve done this initially, we’re to do it daily to draw others to him (Luke 9: 23-36; Romans 6: 3-13).

Leonard Lauriault, church of Christ