Bigger fixes nothing
Well, that’s not entirely true – but there’s a huge caveat to that. Pain (which can come from many sources) can motivate us to action, but sometimes that action is directed in ways we think will help, but won’t.
Think of some of the different kinds of pain in smaller churches: the relational pain of people coming and going for all kinds of (healthy and unhealthy) reasons, the pain of wondering what the future will hold, the pain of financial struggles, or the pain of realizing we can’t keep things exactly the way they were in the past (our images of what church was like during ‘golden years’). If we think that just with a few more people, a few more dollars, a few more leaders or volunteers, we could alleviate the pain… Vaters makes a good point – this just leads to more pain.
As he puts it – “when healthy small churches grow, they become healthy big churches. When unhealthy small churches grow, they become unhealthy big churches.” This is a really important point – and brings us back to the question of health, as well as healthy metrics for growth. Sometimes numerical growth isn’t going to happen. That doesn’t mean, by the way, that numerical growth is irrelevant – but it means we need to keep the central focus in view.
Vater’s “Ingredients for a Healthy Church”
Love and worship Jesus
Love, serve, and make disciples of others.
Ok – this is true. It’s like Jesus one command to the disciples: to “love one another as I [Jesus] have loved you.” It doesn’t get more core than that; and at the same time, learning to live that out takes a lifetime. And developing healthy culture and relationships within the church to live these ingredients out remains essential.
Instead of all trying to be megachurches, there are better and more faithful metrics for success. Vater describes an alternative way to describe healthy church growth as:
“Increasing our capacity for effective ministry.”
At Memorial, we’ve framed our goal this way:
“To expand the reach and impact of the ministry God has given to us”
In either definition, there is an emphasis on the kind of growth that empowers one another to live out their calling and gifting together in a way that both includes and transcends the original group. It’s about new people being equipped and set free to live out their faith, it’s about whether something is effective, not just popular. (And I’d add, sometimes small churches are just as guilty of holding on to things that are popular ‘we’ve always done this’, or ‘I like this’, even if it’s not particularly effective in terms of what the church is here to do.)