You know those commercials where clients or patients had amazing results, only to hear a hurried voice at the end telling you “individual results may vary”?
It might be helpful if church growth books, blogs, podcasts and conferences had that, too.
The reason those commercials have that qualifier is because the fantastic results they advertise aren’t typical. They’re the best examples, not the usual ones.
I understand why commercials do that. If you want to promote something, you talk about your success stories.
But if you’re looking to buy or invest in something, you shouldn’t just look at the best examples, you need to know what the typical ones are. Look at averages, not exceptions. What’s normal, not what’s unusual.
It’s the same with church growth.
No Church Growth Guarantees
The principles that have been discovered by the church growth movement are helpful and important. The methods that have been devised to help us take advantage of those principles are valuable. And the people who promote those principles and methods are doing their best to help churches and ministries.
In short, the majority of church growth material is great.
But it’s not fool-proof. There are no guarantees.
Except one. The one given by Jesus that he would build his church.
But Jesus never promised relentless, unceasing, inevitable numerical growth for any congregation. Not even for the faithful ones, (as we see in the struggling, faithful congregations in the New Testament).
Facts Are Our Friends
Without using the right principles, no congregation will ever make any progress towards health, effectiveness and greater ministry impact. But using all the right principles is no guarantee that your church will explode with growth.
Individual results vary.
Some churches have tried all the new methods and have had great success. We should all thank God for that. Other churches have tried them with moderate success. And a lot of churches have tried them and seen little more than lost time, money and energy.
That’s not the usual message we hear about this. And I’m not trying to discourage anyone or disparage the church growth movement or its proponents. But, as my friends in church growth like to tell us, “facts are our friends.” And these are the facts.
Not every church that uses church growth principles grows as a result of them.
Eyes Wide Open
So what should we do? Abandon church growth principles and methods?
We should keep learning, keep working, keep praying, keep experimenting and keep teaching what we learn.
But we need to look at this with our eyes wide open.
Be aware of your church and your ministry context. Don’t expect that what worked in another context will necessarily work in yours.
Try new things, get creative, be brave, stay hopeful.
And practice wisdom and discretion.
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