In case you were wondering, church growth is a good thing.
Because of The Grasshopper Myth and this blog, I’ve had so many conversations that range from fantastic to heartbreaking in the last few years. I’ve met and heard stories from hundreds of small church pastors who now feel free to celebrate the ministry God is doing in their church, without stressing over numbers. I’m deeply grateful to God that this ministry has become a safe place for that.
But I’ve also noticed a very strange mini-trend that I never thought I’d see.
Every once-in-a-while, as I’m talking with a pastor who’s excited about what God is doing in their church, there’s an awkward pause when it comes to the numbers part.
They might be telling me about how their church is getting healthy, prayerful, missional, etc. Then, just as they’re about to tell me about their numerical growth, things get weird.
Sometimes they’ll change course awkwardly in mid-sentence. Or they’ll tell me about their numerical growth, then apologize for their enthusiasm, with something like “I know numbers aren’t supposed to matter, but sometimes I can’t help it.”
My response to them is always the same.
Never apologize for church growth. Ever.
Don’t Ignore Numbers, Just Use Them Properly
For the record, I have never said numbers don’t matter. Numbers matter. They’re just not the only thing that matters. And they need to be applied properly.
We need to remember that numbers don’t tell the whole story and that some of the most important things can’t be measured. Numbers can also be very seductive if we’re not careful. Weekend attendance is not the only (or even the best) measure of church health and growth.
But I have no problem whatsoever with churches getting bigger. In fact, I rejoice in it. We all should.
It is the very nature of the church to be a growing organism – both the worldwide church and local congregations.
Church growth is a very good thing.
Always Celebrate the Growth of the Church
Is your church growing numerically? I have no problem with a pastor getting excited when the numbers are up. In fact, there would be something wrong with a pastor who wasn’t excited by that. My church has been growing numerically in the last couple of years, too. And I love it!
The problem with churches and numbers isn’t when we celebrate growth. It’s when we make attendance numbers our only factor for growth and health. Or when numbers become such an overwhelming part of how we measure church success that it belittles churches that aren’t experiencing numerical growth.
When we think increased numbers are the only way churches grow, we become unable to see and appreciate the other signs of health. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pray for more people to be brought to Jesus and attend our churches.
Church growth should always be a part of every pastor’s prayers, passion and strategy. Especially when it’s kingdom growth.
Being a supporter and encourager of small churches does not mean I’m against church growth. Quite the opposite. I want to see every church healthy, growing and involved in the Great Commission to its fullest potential. Big or small.
We should never idealize or despise any church merely because of its size. And we must never get caught in the trap of diminishing the value and joy of a growing church.
Tell Your Church’s Whole Story
So yes, a lot of what I do is about encouraging pastors and churches that are not experiencing the numerical growth they’ve been falsely told is inevitable. But that’s not the whole picture.
The next time you’re busting to tell someone about your church’s recent big Sunday, a surprisingly well-attended outreach event, or prolonged growth spurt I want to hear about it. If your is growing larger and reaching more people for Jesus, I want to celebrate that with you.
We’re on the same team. Your successes are our successes. And they’re all for the glory of God.
A growing church is always worth celebrating.
Copyright © 2016 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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