No longer interested in church growth

I am no longer interested in growing the church.

For one, I don’t think that is my responsibility. I think it’s God’s. But theological perspectives aside, I am not sure how helpful the language of “growing the church” is, and frankly, I am not that interested in it.

I find myself in a wonderful, confusing, exciting, and anxiety producing situation. I pastor a numerically growing church. We are approaching a couple of different growth barriers regarding size and pastoral capacity. All this means we have to do something different. We have to expand seating capacity in the sanctuary, hire additional staff, and possibly go to a second service. In reality, we probably need to do a combination, if not all of, these three things.

As we consider the options and the practical aspects of these changes I have read countless articles and books on church growth. Many cups of coffee with those who have “grown” the church have been had trying to pick their brain and learn from their successes and mistakes. It is all good stuff, it is exciting to be in this situation, but early in the morning over a cup of coffee I have this nagging thought…

I’m not really interested in growing the church.

Don’t get me wrong. I want to see people come to Christ and I understand people coming to Christ means there will numerically be growth. I want to see the church impact the community to such a degree that it is seen as a resource and refuge to those in local proximity. I want the church to have, not just a local impact, but a global one as well. So please don’t hear me say I don’t want these things to increase or grow. I do.

Church growth, or “growing the church”, conjures up an image of people concerned solely with numerical growth. While there are instances where this is true, in my experience I have found this to be mostly a stereotype. There are many people who pursue church growth with very kingdom minded concerns who are not egotistical or just concerned with building a kingdom to themselves. But because the language of church growth has become associated with strict numerical growth I find myself having to constantly explain what I mean by church growth. So I think I will abandon it altogether.

Here is where I find myself. I am interested in strengthening the church.

Jesus told Peter to “feed my sheep.” In other words, “Keep the sheep healthy. Keep them strong.” To be a shepherd and to be successful is to work for the strengthening of the flock. Yes, that includes growing it numerically, but it is so much more. It is increasing the unity of the church so that manifold wisdom of God is proclaimed to the universe (Ephesians 3:10). It is discipleship, which moves people towards deeper obedience so that by the work of the Spirit they are transformed from one degree of glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3:18). It is the equipping of the people to live into the purpose God created them for from the beginning of time (Ephesians 2:10).

Which, as pastors – better yet as Christ followers, is what our work as the church should be about.

So what do you think, is the language of church growth helpful? Is there a better way to describe this work?

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3 thoughts on “No longer interested in church growth

  1. As always, I love your thinking. Here’s what I’ve been thinking about church growth. Is it possible to be committed to church growth while limiting the size of an individual congregation.

    The church is a living organism. All living organisms have a normal size (within a range). Outside of that normal size, they are limited in their capacity to do what they are designed to do. What if congregations have a normal size within a range? What if church growth was not about finding ways to become a larger and larger congregation but is about growing to maturity and then giving birth to healthy church starts that grow to a normal size (maturity) and then give birth to other healthy church starts. This seems to follow the biological pattern of families and other living things.

    So, what’s the range of “normal” for the size of a congregation. I’m not sure, but I think it’s worth thinking about and talking about.

  2. Growth should be a byproduct which comes about naturally when one simply preaches/teaches truth, and seeks to lift up Christ at all times. Image bearers of the creator are to worship the creator. Growth must be dealt with as it happens because of the needs brought about by the growth. The problem occurs when the importance of growth, and the issues which come with it become the focal point rather than Christ. The real “magic” only happens when Christ is the center!

    I think it is a western “Church” problem much more so than for a Church in the 3rd world. Spoiled American Christians require that the “going to church” experience must be just right, or they just might go elsewhere. It has been said that the church in America is 2,000 miles wide, and only 1/2 inch deep. Maybe this is the answer, preach the beauty of Christ, be extremely truthful with what is found in scripture no matter ones personal-tradition bent, make worship worthy of the God we seek, and growth will be an organic process with true seekers rising to the top! In that case the growth would be a natural and healthy byproduct because the true worshipers would desire to share the Good News with others, and invite them to join in.
    Growing “to big” by the reason mentioned above would be a healthy and good problem to have.

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