Just To Be Clear: Church Growth Is a GOOD Thing

Thumb Up Just To Be Clear: Church Growth Is a GOOD ThingNever apologize for church growth.

Because of The Grasshopper Myth and this blog, I’ve had some of the greatest conversations of my life in the past year. I’ve met and heard stories from so many Small Church pastors who now feel free to celebrate the ministry God is doing in their church, without stressing over numbers. I’m deeply grateful to God that this ministry has become a safe place for that.

But I’ve also noticed a very strange mini-trend that I never thought I’d see.

Every once-in-a-while, as I’m talking with a pastor who’s excited about what God is doing in their church, there’s an awkward pause when it comes to the numbers part.

They might be telling me about how their church is getting healthy, prayerful, missional, etc. Then, just as they’re about to tell me about their numerical growth, things get weird.

Sometimes they’ll change course awkwardly in mid-sentence. Or they’ll tell me about their numerical growth, then apologize for their enthusiasm, with something like “I know numbers aren’t supposed to matter, but sometimes I can’t help it.”

My response to them is always the same.

Never apologize for church growth.

Never, never, NEVER! 

 

Don’t Ignore Numbers, Just Use Them Properly

For the record, I have never said numbers don’t matter. Numbers matter. They’re just not the only thing that matters. And they need to be applied properly.

We need to remember that numbers don’t tell the whole story and that some of the most important things can’t be measured. Numbers can also be very seductive if we’re not careful. Butts in the seats are not the only (or even the best) measure of church health and growth.

But I have no problem whatsoever with churches getting bigger. In fact, I rejoice in it. We all should.

It is the very nature of the church to be a growing organism – both the worldwide church and local congregations. Church growth is a very good thing.

 

Always Celebrate the Growth of the Church

Is your church growing numerically? I have no problem with a pastor getting excited when the numbers are up. In fact, there would be something wrong with a pastor who wasn’t excited by that. My church has been growing numerically in the last couple of years, too. And I love it!

The problem with churches and numbers isn’t when we celebrate growth. It’s when we make butts-in-the-seat growth our only factor for growth and health. Or when numbers become such an overwhelming part of how we measure church success that it belittles churches that aren’t experiencing numerical growth.

When we think that increased numbers are the only way churches grow, we become unable to see and appreciate other signs of health. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pray for more people to be brought to Jesus and attend our churches. Church growth should always be a part of every pastor’s prayers, passion and strategy.

I will never idealize Small Churches, despise big churches or diminish the value and joy of growing churches.

 

I Want To Hear Your Whole Story

So yes, a lot of this ministry is about encouraging pastors and churches that are not experiencing the numerical growth they’ve been falsely told is inevitable. But that’s not the whole picture.

The next time you’re busting to tell someone about your church’s recent big Sunday, surprisingly well-attended outreach event or prolonged growth spurt, I want to hear that, too.

Or if your church isn’t small, but is growing larger and reaching more people for Jesus, I want to celebrate that too. We’re on the same team. Your successes are my successes. And they’re all for the glory of God.

This is a ministry that mourns with those who mourn. But we do so with the expectation that we’ll also get to rejoice with those who rejoice. And a growing church is always worth throwing a party over.

 

So what do you think? Do you rejoice when churches grow numerically as well as in other ways?

We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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(Thumb photo from DeiselDemon • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

What do you think? We'd like to know.

  1. Thanks for the ‘water in the face’ statement Karl. I also am seeing another angererous trend, which is churches being comfortable with non growth. I hear comments from pastors, if it is the Lords will for the church to grow, it will grow, or God measures faithfulness not success. As much as there is truth in those statements, I fear pastors and church becoming comfortable and forgetting the ultimate mission is to bring people to faith and disciple them. Our small church will be expereincing monumental change in the new year as it will need to adjust to having a bivoc pastor. The change will be from being a church where the pastor is paid to do all the ministry, to where I am preparing the leadership to now have to decide how they will continue the ministry.

    • You’re completely right, Ralph. Our contentment should never become complacency. Being OK with our size is not an excuse for settling – ever. There are way too many lazy pastors out there. God bless you as you make this bold step and transition your church in the coming year.

  2. Karl, this kind of drives me crazy – in a humorous way, of course. How long have you been writing on this blog?? And yet, you still have to write a post like this. I know, I know, it’s just the way it is, and with new readers we all have to repeat ourselves, but do you know what I mean? It seems as though we all have such a hard time with two things – 1) complexity thinking, that is thinking about complex things in a simple way, and 2) both/and thinking, in that – both can be true, it doesn’t have to be either/or.

    So, a small church not experiencing growth can be a very good church (meaning healthy, godly, etc. etc.) and a small church experiencing numerical growth, even at a significant pace all of a sudden, can also be a very good thing.

    Both can be true at the same time about two different churches, or the same church in the course of a year.

    Now, the complexity comes when we try to understand why those things are happening, which is kind of what we as leaders need to do.

    Also, this is a very good post, and you are just commenting on your own experiences talking to us pastors about our experiences. :)

    Finally, I just talked to a good friend who joked with me that he stopped listening to our 200churches Podcast when we started to rip on the “large church”. “What??!!”, was my reply! No, no, no. We do not rip on large churches, we just want to be sure to affirm small churches. It’s not an either/or – just because we celebrate healthy small church ministry, DO NOT hear what we are not saying – that we therefore do not celebrate healthy large church ministry. One of those pull my hair out moments… then I took him to lunch and he paid! LOL

    Thanks Karl for living out your passion on NewSmallChurch.com! We love you Pal!

    Jeff (& Jonny)
    200churches.com

    • Thanks Jeff (and Jonny). Yeah, this post could have been subtitled Brought to You By “Well, Duh!” (Why didn’t I think of that earlier! That would have been great! Oh well…)

      But, like you say, people tend to make quick assumptions. If we’re pro-small we must be anti-big and anti-growth, right? It can’t actually be both/and!

      Unfortunately, we are fighting against some divisive people who say small is bad and others who say big is bad, so their misunderstanding isn’t without some foundation.

      Actually, one of the reasons I wrote this is to have in in my catalog. Now, when the question comes up I have a quick link to send people instead of re-explaining what should be obvious. Thanks for your partnership and support in this.