I talked in the first post on church growth half-truths about the mantra “healthy things grow.” My response to that statement has always been, “Yep, and unhealthy things grow too.” Cancer, for instance, spreads faster than anyone wishes. Poison Ivy. Wildfires. Discord. Rumors. These things, generally agreed upon as bad, grow–usually quite rapidly.
I want to ask another question in relation to this half-truth, namely, what kind of growth are we talking about?
Those who use this rhetoric have in mind quantitative growth. In other words, that which is measured via counting horizontally–nickels and noses usually. How much is our budget? And how many people showed up–whether for Sunday service or our seasonal attraction?
So “healthy things grow” could easily be understood as “healthy things will increase in number.” More people will be attending. If more people aren’t attending, then what you have, dear friend or pastor, is not healthy.
Now that I am out of the mega context and pastor a rural congregation in a city of less than 2,000 (yes, less than), there is no reason to suspect that our city or church will experience an influx of people any time soon. That isn’t to say our church cannot experience quantitative growth, but if I measure my success or effectiveness by that, depression is my only logical destination.
Rather than focus on quantitative growth, I’ve been pondering more deeply qualitative growth, quantitative’s lesser known and somewhat marginalized 3rd cousin twice removed.
A dear friend and mentor advised me how to answer the inevitable pastor question, What are you runnin’? (Because that tells me nearly everything I need to know about you. Pastors young and old feel the need to explain why the numbers are lagging or aren’t as high as others; this I know from experience).
So should I be ashamed to answer 130? 150? 110?
He suggested I give them a real number (not some magically inflated number) and then nuance it like this: “We have 130 who call our church home, but we have 10 people who really get it.”
That is to say, there are 10 disciples of Jesus who truly believe Jesus demands all of us. To be Christian isn’t to go about life as normal and tag Jesus on when necessary. So however many that may be in your particular context, that’s more of a qualitative measure.
–> Now you can go about figuring that out in different ways. Perhaps you measure a combination of how many folks serve on Sunday and in their community, how many are in a community/small/life group, and how many exude a seriousness about the things of God. Somehow you’re trying to answer whether people are becoming more rooted in their faith as displayed in their lives.
Whatever measures we use, let’s viciously fight the long-standing notion that more = better and healthier. There are very sick churches with lots of people coming on Sunday. Conversely, there are churches with very few people by comparison who are pictures of health.
May we all be cognizant of the truth that numbers are never an adequate measure of health when talking of churches. Why? Because it’s nearly impossible to quantify soul-growth. That is proven over the long haul and becomes difficult to boast of–it also makes it harder to decide who should speak at all those conferences.
“You’re just bitter because you have a small church…”
…said the person who doesn’t know me.
As the apostle Paul said, God will look at our labors, not our results. Only He gives growth that matters (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).
P.S. I do not think that a small church has somehow been more faithful to the gospel and the Bible thus resulting in their smallness. In the same way I don’t think that because a church is large it as sold out so-to-speak. We must be cautious in levying our judgments, for only God can judge one’s labors and motivations.