Sometimes, when a ministry makes much of Jesus and the gospel, the results do include numeric gains or stellar retention rates. Seven weeks after Jesus erupted alive from a garden tomb, three thousand women and men confessed Jesus as the risen Lord, and the congregation still kept growing (Acts 2:41–47). Before long, well over five thousand names could be found on the church rolls (Acts 4:4). Even after two church members dropped dead while trying to bamboozle the apostle Peter, new believers still swarmed into the community (Acts 5:1–14). The earliest Christians rightly thanked God and recognized this growth as a glorious and wonderful outpouring of God’s grace (Acts 2:47). And yet, gospel-centered proclamation of Jesus Christ doesn’t always result in visible growth.

Sometimes, it’s possible to make much of Jesus with negligible results, at least as far as any human eye can see. The same Word of God that yields manifold fruit in one heart may be rejected as repulsive in another (Luke 8:4–18). The results of proclaiming God’s truth could even include outcomes that seem negative from the perspective of retention rates (1 John 2:19). Furthermore, it is possible to attract and even to retain a multitude of followers for all the wrong reasons (2 Peter 2:1–2).

Yes, growth is part of God’s good design for his cosmos (Genesis 1:11–12; 2:9) and for his church (1 Corinthians 3:6–7; Ephesians 2:21; 4:15–16; Colossians 2:18–19; 2 Thessalonians 1:3). And yes, the proclamation of God’s Word does result in growth and in the fulfillment of God’s purposes (Isaiah 55:10–11), but this growth may take place in ways that are difficult to quantify in ratios of attrition and retention. Growth often unfolds less like a series of figures on a ledger sheet and more like seeds sprouting in the soil or like yeast seeping through a lump of dough (Luke 13:18–21). Godly growth is sometimes slow, often hidden, and frequently frustrates our dreams and designs. But it is always centered on Jesus and the gospel.

:: The Impact of Gospel-Motivated Ministry ::

All of this has profound implications for why and how a church ministers to families. If the congregation’s motive for forming a family ministry is to find a programmatic panacea to solve a perceived problem of losing young adults, the strategy will have failed before family ministry even begins—even if every church member applauds the new program as a resounding success. Such a congregation has bought into the soul-draining delusion that growth depends not on the Word of God but on implementing the right programs to respond to each problem.

This sort of family ministry results, at first, in a rapid flurry of family-friendly activities. Then, as soon as new problems and new programs come along, the family events fade into the background as the newest quick-fix takes center stage. Such patterns reflect much of the pragmatic consumerism of Western culture and little of gospel-centered community. According to the apostle Paul, the pagans of past cultures “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles” (Romans 1:23). In our own way, we too trade the glory of God for the short-lived pleasures of lesser gods. Whereas the pagans exchanged divine glory for images of terrestrial beauty, we tend to substitute one more curriculum, one more series of steps to success, one more problem-solving program that eclipses the gospel.

Gospel-motivated family ministry is not a program to fix a congregation’s retention problems. It cannot be reduced to a series of conferences or activities or seminars. The kind of family ministry is a movement that equips Christian households to function as outposts of God’s kingdom mission in the world. Families become contexts where Christian community is consistently practiced with the goal of sharing the good news of God’s victory far beyond our families. The gospel is rehearsed in families and reinforced at church so that God’s truth can be revealed to the world.

For more on gospel-motivated family ministry, try this resource.