Church Health and Church Growth

Kevin Hendricks, over at Church Marketing Sucks blog, asks the question, "Are all healthy churches growing?" in response to a recent storm of contention over Out of Ur blog post poking fun at megachurches (see above).

So let me ask you the same question: Do all healthy churches grow?

Well obviously that requires a definition of "grow." Want to know my answer?

Yes—quantitatively and qualitatively.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that if a church is not growing quantitatively, neither is it growing qualitatively. The latter is the (super)natural result of the former. This is extremely biblical. For making disciples involves (1) increasing the number of disciples, and (2) increasing the maturity/quality of disciples.

We should nuance this in a couple of ways. First, the concept of "pruning" (purging?) is also biblical. Churches go through periods where the genuineness of the faith of the "members" is tested, and the false believers fall away. The early church period underwent this in the extreme. (One might argue the Western church is undergoing something similar, if different.) Certainly, then, churches go through "cycles."

Second, when evaluating whether one's church is healthy (growing according to biblical patterns) it's important to examine at intervals (e.g., annually, biannually) rather than constantly. The latter can create an unhealthy amount of paranoia and underdependence on the Spirit, as well as an inability to see whether changes that are made actually are working. That said, if your church is not growing for a year, two, three... you need to step back and do some hard evaluation, starting with soul searching.

There is another distinction that needs to be made:
Churches that are growing according to the biblical pattern are not just "growing", but also multiplying or reproducing.
As they expand their reach, they appoint new elders and "plant" new congregations. OR, in the mega model, they continue to build bigger and better barns in which to herd the growing flock. Research indicates that churches have a numerical threshold past which the percentage of the community (from which their members commute) that church can reach decreases significantly. In other words, smaller churches have greater potential to reach the people in their communities (their neighbors) than do larger churches.

How does this rub you? What about all the small church pastors whose churches aren't growing, haven't grown for some time, or are perhaps even declining? Should we stay hush hush about all this growth business, so we don't hurt their feelings?

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