The Church Growth Movement can be summarized in two words: Numbers Matter. The more noses in the pews and nickels in the plate, the more successful are the church and pastor. The mantra: “We count people because people count.” Additionally, the Church Growth Movement promoted the notion that churches grow best as homogeneous units. That is churches grow bigger and better when people with similar background, socio-economic status and/or skin color cluster together. Grow a crowd where everyone looks the same was the goal. But is that the description of the church or a political rally?
Numbers didn’t seem to matter to Jesus. He frequently refused to do the popular thing, in order to do the right thing. Often those on the receiving end of a Jesus miracle were told NOT to tell anyone. He seemed to be more (or at the very least as much) interested in the twelve who gathered for the last supper, than the 5,000 who benefitted from the free fish and bread lunch. Moreover, the picture of heaven with “every nation, tribe, people and language” (see Revelation 7:9) standing before the throne tosses homogeneous units onto the trash heap of bad ideas.
Maybe the best outcome of the pandemic is to put a nail in the Church Growth Movement coffin. Tabulating numbers in a pandemic is impossible. Who really knows who is being impacted by a church on-line? Three of the twelve people in my current church membership class have barely been in the church building. They started “attending church” in earnest when the church went virtual. Yesterday a lady, who had been “attending” church on-line since March, was in the church building for first time.
If attendance and dollars aren’t the best indicators of the health of a church, what metrics should be used? (True confession: I still look at attendance and offering totals. You can take the kid out of the church growth movement, but you can’t take church growth mentality out of the kid. At least not easily).
The church is to be a fulfilment of Jesus’ prayer that the Kingdom of God would come and God’s will might be accomplished on earth as it is in heaven. It’s doing the things Jesus did– caring for the sick and lonely. It’s being the best neighbor. It’s fulfilling the great commission of baptizing and teaching the ways of Christ. The church doesn’t have to be “cool,” but instead should strive to be warm, inviting and safe. But how do you count “warm”?
When the pandemic is done (and it will be done), when people are healthy again, let’s make our churches healthy too. Our metrics for success must shift from butts in the pews to hearts in discipleship, hands in service and voices in kindness and praise. Counting hours of service, discipleship and prayer groups started, baptisms, people helped, individuals involved in ministry are just a few countable ways to better determine the church’s effectiveness and health. Church health is more important than church growth. Let’s let Jesus worry about any future church growth and let the church endeavor to be faithful.
Rest in peace Church Growth Movement. The new church health movement will strive to be more like Jesus!