Church Growth
Feeding the Flock In a Count-the-Sheep Culture
Is it possible to find success in ministry outside the church growth numbers? It depends who gets the credit.

We want numbers to verify our successes.

There are two huge problems with that sentence – and they’re found in the words numbers and our.

First, not all successes have numbers to verify them.

Second, the successes of the church are not our successes.

We need to start getting comfortable, in the first instance, with Success Without Numbers and in the the second instance, with Success That’s Not Ours.

(This post is an excerpt from my book, The Grasshopper Myth: Chapter 11 – A New Way to Define Success)

Success Without Numbers

For years I was told and believed this premise of the church growth movement: that, just like the fruit of a healthy tree is other trees, the fruit of a healthy church is other churches. I believed it because it’s the truth. Unfortunately it’s not the whole truth.

Half the fruit of a healthy tree is another tree. The other half of the fruit of a healthy tree is, not surprisingly, fruit. Not all seeds are destined for the numerical growth of other trees. Most aren’t. Most seeds get eaten with the fruit while it’s offering its life-sustaining energy for the benefit of others. It gets consumed, not planted.

Sorry, all my seed-faith friends, you do need to eat some of your seed.

It’s easy to calculate the value of healthy seeds that plant other trees because you can count those new trees. It’s much harder to calculate the value of the healthful fruit that is eaten by the farmer’s family. But that use of fruit is just as valuable.

If all the seeds are being planted but none of the fruit is being eaten, what are we planting the trees for?

It could even be argued that the eating of healthful fruit is the ultimate goal of the seed, rather than the planting of other healthy trees. After all, if all the seeds are being planted but none of the fruit is being eaten, what are we planting the trees for?

Both uses of the fruit and seeds are valuable. But, unlike the tree-producing-a-tree-metaphor, the tree-producing-fruit metaphor is in the Bible.

Jesus never said anything about trees needing to produce other trees. What he did say was, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:19)

Also, when Jesus cursed the fig tree, he didn’t do so because he wanted to get seeds from it to plant other trees. He got angry because he was hungry and it was offering him nothing to eat.

Support our work. Subscribe to CT and get one year free.

Join in the conversation about this post on Facebook.

Recent Posts

Read More from Karl

Follow Christianity Today

Free Newsletters

More Newsletters ...