Friday, September 8, 2023

Church Growth

If we think of the church as a family - and we should - then that necessarily has to shape how we think about church growth. 

Most of the time, when we ask the question about whether or not a church is growing, we get numerical answers. Yes, we're growing; we have increased our attendance by 20 families per week! We're definitely growing; we just hired a new staff member! You bet we're growing; we're about to launch a third campus!

While these are the metrics that churches seem to think that we're interested in, these aren't really the mechanisms for actual church growth - not when we think of the church as a family and consider growth in the model of disciples making disciples or families establishing new traditions in new generations at a new grandma's house. 

It's entirely possible to increase your attendance without increasing your growth. This would be the equivalent of adding a bunch of roots to a tree, but not a lot of branches. Your numerical growth helps to stabilize, you think, the structure that you already have in place, which is nothing more than a sapling or...a stick. If you have a hierarchical church structure where the leadership is centered into a few - such as the model that keeps a board of elders and trains others only to take over those spots in the eldership as others age out - it doesn't matter how many families you spread around the base of the tree - you're still just a stick in the mud. There's no branching out. No growth. 

It's possible to hire a new staff member and not actually grow your church at all. If you take that new staff member and plug them into the system you're already operating and expect them to function and to work entirely in that system, you're really only asking them to make your stick taller - not broader or wider or more capable of reproducing and stretching out on its own. 

And the same is true if you have twenty campuses for your church. Having your church in multiple locations doesn't mean your church is growing. You might just be planting a bunch of sticks next to each other and still not making any new branches. 

Do you see what I'm getting at? 

Churches are families, and they are meant to grow like families. Branching out. Forming their own things. Taking their own shapes in spreading directions. Disciples making disciples making disciples making disciples. 

This causes a little bit of panic in some church folk. If we're always trying to branch out and giving our people permission to grow, it seems, away from us, how will we ever survive as a church? 

But your cousins are still your cousins even if you don't meet at grandma's house any more. 

That's what we don't seem to be understanding about all of this. What most of us are trying to do is to establish a permanent gathering place, but that's not how families work. That's not how generations work. And I don't love my cousins any less because I don't see them all the time any more. Rather, there is somehow even more joy on those occasions when we manage to get together in spite of the way that we have all grown and branched out. 

Have you been there? Have you gone to a family reunion after so many years have passed, then you walk away with this beautiful little peace in your soul and all you can think is, "That was nice"? That's what's supposed to happen with the church. We're supposed to grow and branch out and make our tree - and His tree - bigger and become the kind of church family under which our community finds shelter. And sometimes, yes, that means we don't see each other all the time any more, but it doesn't mean we don't see each other at all. What it means is that when we do, our joy is increased

It's just something to think about. 

When I ask you if your church is growing, I'm not asking you about numbers. I'm asking you to think about whether you're making your stick taller or if you're actually branching out. 

If you're not branching out, you're missing something really beautiful about being the family of God. 

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