People are going to Hell. Literally. Look around. That guy who sits down the table from you at lunch, the lady behind you in the line at Walmart, that cute family who visited at your church last week, your Aunt Susie, they could all be headed for Hell.
Do I have your attention?
Recently my husband and I read a pair of books by Thom Rainer, Breakout Churches: Discover how to make the Leap and Surprising Insights from the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them. The books had a lot of startling conclusions. But perhaps the most surprising of all was this - churches that preach a clear doctrine of Hell are churches that are likely to be growing.
I'll take counterintuitive for a 1,000, Alex.
I'd have supposed that itching ears were happy to hear some less Biblically rigorous doctrine. Perhaps they are, but still the churches who are "intolerant" and "exclusive" (notice I did not say harsh or unloving) are the churches that are growing. The survey concluded that if the leaders and the followers in a church don't believe with all their hearts that Jesus provides the one and only way to escape eternal punishment in Hell, the church will be remarkably ineffective in terms of evangelism.
And I think I know why. Churches grow evangelistically (not by sheep rustling- stealing members from the church down the road) when the whole church is involved in telling their friends about Jesus. And that's a high stakes game. When our friend says, "I've got NO life. Not a thing going this weekend! You?" And we say, "I'm going to church, wanna come?" We're really putting ourselves out there. When our friend says, "I just feel like there's something missing." And when we reply, "I used to feel that way too," proceeding to tell them the story of how we became a Christian, we've left our heart naked before them. No one likes being branded, no one likes being rejected. So what on earth is a strong enough motivator to get Joe Christian to step out like that? Why would we pay the cost?
I know. You thought I was going to say fear, as in a fear of the lake of fire.
But see, if my coworker is going to hell, and I don't love them, I don't care. Seriously, I might be sorry but not sorry enough to stretch out my neck. A good hellfire and brimstone sermon might bring ME to Christ but it is not nearly enough to make me tell someone I couldn't care less about.
But love? Love is a whole different story. Love will keep us up at night. Love makes our stomach hurt. Love makes us say things, hard things, honest things, because we care more about that person's well-being than peace in the relationship.
Moreover, loving God drives us to love people. He fashioned them. They are his spitting image. He DIED so that they could live. When we love him, really love him, when we know how much he loves them, we can't help but love them too. John puts it like this, "for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also."
Churches grow when each and every person sees the world in two categories: redeemed and redeemable. Churches grow when Christians look at their work-a-week coworkers, family members, and friends with Jesus' eyes. They see sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:33-35), and their hearts are moved by compassion. Churches grow when we believe that hell is real, people are lost, and that if we love them at all we have to tell them so.
More of Helene’s writings may be found at www.maidservantsofChrist.com