It is really common to see pastors writing about how many people made decisions for Christ in their most recent Sunday services. And I confess that I always have mixed emotions about this.
First, it excites me to hear reports about how God is possibly moving in the lives of so many people and through the local church. I am not against numbers per se because behind every number, there is a real person who needs to repent and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. Additionally, the Bible is happy to report about numbers. Acts 2:41 reports, “So then those who had received his word were baptized, and that day there were added about three thousand souls.”
Moreover, the Bible tells us about how much celebrating there is in heavenly places when one sinner repents. See Luke 15.
At the same time, I have reservations about some types of this kind of reporting publicly.
One question that always runs through my mind when hundred’s are reported to have made decisions for Christ is this: what ever happens to these people. Are they made into disciples? Does anyone oversee and shepherd them? Are these people not only asked to raise hands about receiving Christ as Savior, but also to raise their hands if they are willing to take up their cross and die to self?
The parable of the soils (see Matt 13) teaches us that many people will initally respond well to the good news of Jesus Christ. But many of those responses are not decisions that endure. In other words, they are not saving decisions.
A Spurgeon quote I read years ago really hit home on this issue: It is rather lengthy, but here goes:
But, still, all hurry to get members into the church is most mischievous, both to the church and to the supposed converts. I remember very well several young men, who were of good moral character, and religiously hopeful; but instead of searching their hearts, and aiming at their real conversion, the pastor never gave them any rest till he had persuaded them to make a profession. He thought that they would be under more bonds to holy things if they professed religion, and he felt quite safe in pressing them, for “they were so hopeful.” He imagined that to discourage them by vigilant examination might drive them away, and so, to secure them, he made them hypocrites. These young men are, at the present time, much further off from the Church of God than they would have been if they had been affronted by being kept in their proper places, and warned that they were not converted to God. It is a serious injury to a person to receive him into the number of the faithful unless there is good reason to believe that he is really regenerate. I am sure it is so, for I speak after careful observation. Some of the most glaring sinners known to me were once members of a church; and were, as I believe, led to make a profession by undue pressure, well-meant but ill-judged. Do not, therefore, consider that soul-winning is or can be secured by the multiplication of baptisms, and the swelling of the size of your church. What mean these despatches from the battle-field? “Last night, fourteen souls were under conviction, fifteen were justified, and eight received full sanctification.” I am weary of this public bragging, this counting of unhatched chickens, this exhibition of doubtful spoils. Lay aside such numberings of the people, such idle pretence of certifying in half a minute that which will need the testing of a lifetime. Hope for the best, but in your highest excitements be reasonable. Enquiry-rooms are all very well; but if they lead to idle boastings, they will grieve the Holy Spirit, and work abounding evil (Spurgeon, The Soul Winner, chapter 1).
So, I have wondered how wise it is to report so quickly on such decisions until some time has passed and fruit becomes apparent. This leads me to ponder why pastors are not so eager to report on other numbers…numbers of disciples who have made good growth in sanctification each year through the ministry of these local churches they are a part of? Maybe the pastors do not know what is going on in many people’s lives. Maybe not much responsibility and accountability is given to people after decisons are made except baptism and a half hearted gesture to join a home group, sunday school class, etc.
What would really be something to read about,which would warm the soul, especially in a time and place (21st century America) where so many empty decisions are made, is for pastors to report on the lives of saints who have died under their care enduring in the gospel. How wonderful it would be to read about from the pastor when this saint came to repent and trust in Christ. The pastor would continue to report how wonderful it was to watch this saint grow, serve, and love others like Christ did. The pastor might even throw in a mention about some trials that this saint endured and persevered through by the grace of God. And then the Pastor would finally write about how this saint was called home to be with the Lord. He finished the race. He persevered in Christ to the very end.
What about these numbers? I doubt we will see them. The reasons are many. There are some pastors who refuse to do these things because preaching at funerals are routinely rejected. Are not funerals for saints opportunities to celebrate too…Philippians 1:21? Perhaps many pastors cannot report of things like this because they only interact with a handful of leaders and rarely interact personally with others except when they preach. Perhaps, some pastors have hidden motives for reporting in the first place.
It is far easier to report on hands raised than to report on progress in discipleship. It is easier to report on mere numbers, than to learn their names and their stories and forward them to others. Numbers do not inspire, personal testimonies inspire. It is far easier and less time consuming to report on hands for Jesus than to have some degree of patience and report about men and women truly grasping hold of Christ forsaking the world.
I hope we will see many more different kinds of numbers reported in the future.