One of the great weaknesses of American Christianity is that success is defined almost completely by the number of people any particular person or group can get to attend their church or come to their event or buy their book or watch their program, etc. While large numbers are not, in and of themselves, a bad thing, (3000 converts on the day of Pentecost, for example and a growing church is a good thing – the more people joining the kingdom the better, of course) they are certainly not the sole measure of a successful ministry according to orthodox Christianity.
In fact, in many instances, large numbers of followers indicates that it may not be orthodox Christianity you are proclaiming. As Paul warned Timothy, people gravitate toward leaders who tell them what they want to hear, whether or not that message happens to be true.
For the time will come when men will not
put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they
will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their
itching ears want to hear.
Jesus, of course, was "despised and rejected of men," primarily for telling people a message they did not like. He told his disciples that they would be persecuted, not wildly accepted, and that while the way of the cross is narrow and hard, most choose the wide and easy path.
I was reminded of all this while reading an interview (a video clip is also available) with mega-church pastor and best selling author Joel Osteen. When asked about his ability to fill huge sports arenas and sell millions of books, Osteen explained clearly that the secret to his "success" was his message: no talk of sin, no discussions of the cost of discipleship, in fact, barely any mention of Jesus at all.
No wonder the itching ears are turning to him for a scratch.