When it comes to pastoral ministry, I've discovered an interesting (and sometimes frustrating) paradox.
The more I care for people, the less concern I have for increasing the size of the crowd – while the more I work to increase the size of the crowd, the less caring my ministry becomes.
Does anyone else in pastoral ministry find that to be true for you?
Living In Numerical Growth Mode
This isn’t about scaling for numerical growth. It’s about how we behave when we’re doing ministry to care for people compared to how we behave when we’re pushing to get the size of the crowds up.
We’ve convinced ourselves that any pastor can do both. In fact, we’ve been told that if we really care for people we will inevitably see an increase in the size of the crowd.
To those who have been able to do that, I say “way to go!”
Seriously, if you‘ve seen a significant increase in the size of your church crowd without compromising your message and methods, you have my full admiration and respect.
But I have never been able to pull that off.
When I’m caring for people, I preach, teach, disciple, manage and minister a certain way. When I’m pushing for numerical growth, I preach, teach, disciple, manage and minister an entirely different way. And it’s not better a better way.
In fact, I don’t like myself when I’m in numerical growth mode.
Keeping Our Integrity
Even when it comes to writing this blog, when I concentrate on writing the best, most helpful content for readers, I write one way. But when I’m trying to get the number of page views up, I write differently.
It’s more trendy, more controversial, more fleeting and more confrontational. But it’s not better.
Certainly, there are times when I’ve written purely for content and it’s also clicked with an audience for a ton of page views. In those cases, I get to keep my integrity and see big numbers, too.
But when I write in a way to get the numbers up, I never feel good about what I’ve written in the long run.
(To be clear, I’ve only written that way a handful of times. It’s never been mean-spirited, and it’s never caused me to write anything theologically compromised. Also I haven’t written one like that in several years, so it will be a waste of your time to go scrolling back to see which articles I’m talking about.)
A Matter Of Priorities
People or numbers?
Sometimes you can’t have both.
So we need to put loving God and caring for people first.
If that also happens to bring the attendance numbers up, then we need to adapt our pastoral approach and church systems to accommodate for that. But if it doesn’t, at least we cared for people, and that’s always good.
The question isn’t whether to care for people or have growing attendance numbers. It’s “what will we prioritize?”
Pushing for greater numbers at the cost of caring for people is too high a price to pay.
Caring for people, even if it comes at the cost of numerical increase, is always the better choice.
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