If I were to sum up the most used hashtag at every church conference over the last several years, it’s going to include “growth”. Maybe it’s #churchgrowth or #smallgroupgrowth or, simply, #growth, but there is a huge amount of attention and effort aimed at growing churches. I celebrate growth, but I respect health.
I’ve been watching The Nines online conference for the past two days and have taken away a lot of What’s Working stories and, at least for me, the best stories have been about What’s Not Working. I love that Leadership Network has created this brilliant concept, but I also have a caution in my heart when so much of the content talks about or at least mentions church growth. It reminds me of hearing a pastor I love and respect say this truthful statement to a packed out room of thousands of pastors: “Healthy things grow.” That’s true, but what I saw blow up on the conference Twitter stream and in conversations after the talk was the emphasis on “growth”.
Yes, healthy things do grow. But what God spoke to me immediately was “Cancer grows, too.”
The focus on growth is emphasizing the wrong end of the sentence. “HEALTHY things (grow).” Growth is the by-product, not the point.
Do I not want or endorse growth? Not at all. Healthy things DO grow and there SHOULD be a numerical increase that follows spiritual formation. Evangelism will yield more believers. Discipleship will produce more leaders. But measuring numbers before measuring spiritual fruit is always problematic, because it places the emphasis on quantitative measurement instead of first measuring qualitative growth.
I’ve been to hundreds of churches over the years in my consulting, so I’ve seen declining churches, plateaued churches and growing churches. Having spent time with the leadership and entire weekends in close proximity to their staff and lay leaders, I can say with humility and honesty that only a small percent of these are demonstrating healthy team dynamics and/or healthy church polity. I wish this wasn’t the case, but when looking for character attributes and the obvious evidence of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, it’s often not displayed in intra-team discussions and communication.
Perhaps the reason that health is not a focus before growth is because it requires leading with a culture of grace in an atmosphere of productivity. When you see churches that lead with this kind of Gospel-oriented accountability, the results always include numeric growth as a direct result of a healthy culture.