Healthy things do grow, but perhaps differently than expected

Monday’s post was about the prevalent church growth mantra “healthy things grow.”

After seeing firsthand and hearing other eyewitness stories of church growth, I decided to maintain a shred of suspicion towards anyone who says that.

My somewhat over the top response is, cancer grows–is it healthy? Moreover,  Poison Ivy. Wildfires. Discord. Rumors. Bitterness. These  things, generally agreed upon as bad, grow. And usually at a rapid pace!

The first post was to suggest that perhaps growth (numerically) isn’t the best indicator of a church’s health. It can be. But not necessarily.

So to follow up, let’s ask another question , namely, what kind of growth are we talking about?

Those who employ the healthy things grow rhetoric have in mind quantitative growth. In other words, that which is measured via tangible metrics such as nickels and noses.

  • How much money is coming in?
  • What’s our budget this year?
  • How many people showed up Sunday?
  • What was our count for Easter?

So to flesh it out more honestly, “healthy things grow” could better read “healthy things increase in number.” More people will attend and more will be given. If more people aren’t attending, then what you have, dear friend, is not healthy. Nobody ever tells you how many people have to attend and at what pace that number must grow in order to remain healthy.

I’m a bivocational pastor of a church that rests in a rural town with a population less than that of a suburban Wal-Mart at 5pm. 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 sheer numbers, depression is the only logical destination.

In order to continue in ministry and not be eeyorethe  Eeyore of east Tennessee, I’ve been pondering more deeply qualitative growth—quantitative’s lesser known and somewhat marginalized third cousin twice removed.

A dear friend and mentor (we’ll call him Mike because that’s his name) advised me how to answer the inevitable pastor question, ‘What are you runnin’?

  • So you know, how a pastor answers that question  tells the questioner nearly everything they 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. Some even lie.

So should I be ashamed to answer 100? 110? 120?
Because that would be my answer every week.

Mike suggested I give them a real number (not the preacher count) and then nuance it like this: “We have 130 who call our church home, but we have 10 people who really get it.”

      Say what?

In other words, there are 10 disciples of Jesus who truly believe that Jesus demands all and are willing to give all. 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 so forth, charting those percentages over a specified time. 

Somehow you’re trying to ascertain whether people are becoming more rooted and built up in their faith. And is that rootedness bearing fruit–such as a life of gratitude (Colossians 2:6-7).

Whatever measures we use, let’s fight viciously against the long-standing notion that more equals better and therefore healthier.

There are very sick churches with lots of people coming on Sunday.

-conversely-

There are very healthy churches with few people coming on Sunday.

Numbers are not gospel. It’s nearly impossible to quantify soul-growth. That growth is only 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 (too snide?).

“You’re just bitter because you have a small church!”

That could be a fair retort.

But, 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).

Unlike some, 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 is healthy or more faithful.

With all of these things in mind, one thing I’ve resolved to do this year is to be far more FOR churches of various flavors (provided they aren’t heretical). So churches I wouldn’t necessarily attend or pastors I wouldn’t gel with on all matters…I still want to maintain a posture of support and cheer them on in gospel-true faithfulness and fruitfulness. Join me?

 

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