We seem to be living in a time and place where people seem to be mesmerized by numbers. The bigger the better, the more the merrier. If the numbers are not large, then it is not valuable. This seems to be how many think about many things, including religion.
A striking feature of most of the documents written to churches in the New Testament is the lack of reference to “numbers” (the size of congregations). I realize that the Gospel accounts will note the number of followers of Christ at different times during His ministry and that Luke tracks the numerical growth of the first few years of Christianity (especially in Jerusalem and Judea). However, when one moves to the rest of the NT, the information concerning the size of congregations becomes virtually non-existent.
While having big numbers is great, it seems that Jesus is looking for something more important than the size of a congregation. Michael Gorman writes, “Christ desires a church characterized by the fullness of orthodoxy and orthopraxy, faithfulness and fearlessness, devotion to Jesus but not to the state, and a preference for the poor rather than the rich” (Reading Revelation Responsibly, 100).
The “letters to the seven churches of Asia” (Revelation 2 and 3) press the reader (hearers) to consider one’s situation in relationship to Jesus. This is about “perspective.” The oracles to the seven churches encourage the congregations to see themselves as God sees them. This is especially clear when Jesus tells the church at Sardis, “I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Rev. 3:1).
Jesus fires off five imperatives (“commands”) to the church at Sardis in Revelation 3:2–3. The imperatives are: wake up, strengthen, remember, obey, and repent. These five imperatives exhort the church to activate spiritual vigilance. Even though this church is in trouble there is still hope.
These imperatives provide a framework for a congregational restart. It involves (1) remembrance, (2) repentance, and (3) renewal through appropriating past values and strengthening present life. Failure to either be resolute or repent will result in spiritual death.