10.4 People-Keeping Vs. People-Processing.


Some pastors and church leaders mistakenly think ministry is about people keeping. “We got to keep these people coming every Sunday. We got to keep these people giving. We got to keep these people listening to our messages. And most of all, we got to keep these people from going anywhere else.” As leaders, we’re not in the people keeping business. We’re in the people processing business. Some are like raw lumber still out in the forest when we first meet them. Or they may be in the mill or on their way to the factory. Wherever we find them and in whatever state they’re in, our job is to bring them in, and with God’s help, make them thoroughly Christian. We need to find out where these people are in this process of maturing and help them along. John Wimber


John Wimber saw the great need for pastors not to “keep” people but freely give away our very best among us. I believe that he was right on with his assessment of Americanized discipleship programs back in the 1980s. As I see it, his words are still spot-on correct today.

Throughout this book, I’ve been pretty upfront about my own confession of being a 3-B pastor for most of my thirty years in ministry. Who knows, maybe you are as well? Keep in mind that a 3-B pastor is one who measures his or her success (or failure) in ministry by measuring the numbers associated with (B)uilding size, (B)ucks in the offering, and (B)utts in the seats.

Today, as a recovering 3-B pastor, on my way to becoming a contemplative activist, I’ve joined the ranks of a growing number of pastors and key leaders across North America who have decided to step out of the 3-B traffic, so that we might better align ourselves with Jesus of Nazareth; who, quite honestly, evaluates our effectiveness in ministry much better than anyone else! Sadly, it’s taken much of my six decades of life to come to this conclusion, but as they say; better late than never, right?

In my assessment, 3-B pastors are just the kind of pastors Wimber talks about in the quote above as he addresses the problem of “people-keeping” versus “people processing.” When a true dyed-in-the-wool 3-B pastor looks at a person who attends his or her church, that individual represents “success” or “failure” based on whether or not the programming of the church can “keep” that person coming to church on Sunday mornings, paying their tithe, and supporting any building projects the church might soon be conducting.

Now some of you will say, “Shame on you, Marty Boller, for saying such a thing,” but let me give you my deep-down dirty confession. A confession, from my spot on the playing field, that more pastors across North America need to make.

Let’s start with the positive. Yes, most pastors I know, myself included, don’t really keep the 3-Bs of (B)uildings, (B)ucks, and (B)utts at the core of our beings. In our hearts, most of us truly love people and we want the best for each person God sends our way. I know many pastors who stay up at night trying to think of more creative ways in assisting people to grow in Christ, becoming more and more of what Wimber talks about here, true followers of Christ who will successfully live mature lives that glorify God.

But, here’s the rub.

Because of the underlying pressures to be “successful” in the realm of the 3-Bs, pastors, many times, don’t realize that so much of our church programming is actually working against true discipleship. The cold hard truth is that for way too many years at my church, we spent way too little time focusing on how we could aid people in their spiritual growth, while being consumed on how to keep parishioners from slipping out our back door!

As Wimber states above, if pastors would focus more on “processing” the people currently attending our churches instead of sweating bullets on how to “keep” people in our buildings, I think we’d probably see a big increase in our effectiveness toward true discipleship, as it is defined in the New Testament.

I often challenge pastors on this “people-keeping” problem by mentioning to them that Jesus would never be invited to speak at many of our church growth conferences today. Why? Because in today’s 3-B culture, breaking the illustrious 200-barrier in church attendance is a pre-requisite for “success” in today’s church world. I remind pastors that while Jesus ministered to thousands during his three years of ministry on earth, the Master was not very good at “people-keeping.” For heaven’s sake, on that day he stood outside Jerusalem, giving his final instructions to his closest associates (see Acts 1), Jesus of Nazareth had gathered only about 120 folks who were faithfully attending his church. Gosh, even the Master, after dying on the cross and rising from the grave, could only muster a church of 120!

So much for people-keeping, huh?

Let’s take an honest gut-check, dear fellow pastors and church leaders. How about if we go back to the basics and re-align our church programming so that it truly works toward recruiting, training, building up, and sending out disciples, not just getting and keeping more in our church so that we can feel really successful at growing our church according to 3-B standards?

Anybody up for the 3-B challenge?


Father, I’m quick to confess that I can so easily slip into a “people-keeping” agenda in pastoral ministry. I truly believe that Jesus was not nearly as interested in “keeping” people in church as he was “processing” people for the kingdom of God. Holy Spirit, help me to let go of “keeping” people and allow me the grace to love those who come and go in my church, knowing that your charge to me is to make certain each individual is growing in their personal discipleship, becoming more like Jesus rather than just being another number on my church roles. For your name’s sake. Amen!


  • Where am I allowing the 3-Bs to become my primary measuring stick for “success”?
  • Am I too focused on (B)uildings, (B)ucks, and (B)utts in the seats?
  • Is it more important for me to close the back door of the church to get our numbers up than it is to make certain each person currently attending is being fully encouraged to grow in their personalized life with Jesus?

So what is God speaking to you today as you ponder the Wisdom of Wimber?

Between Easter 2016 and the end of August, we are sharing with you a blog series we call The Wisdom of Wimber: As I See It. In order to keep all 64 blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Wisdom of Wimber page for ease of use. Might we also suggest that you order a copy or two of our book by the same title! It’s available in both paperback and e-book formats…and will soon be available in Spanish! Click here for more info. ENJOY!

If you like what you’re reading, might we suggest you share this page with others! 

Click here to go on to the next blog in this series…

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