While reading this morning I had one of those sudden insights that for me happen only rarely but are often life changing when they do come. They aren’t particularly brilliant. In fact sometimes they are just old thoughts expressed in a new way. Whether this insight is a new thought or just old thoughts rehashed, I am sure that it will occupy much of my free time for the next couple of weeks as I mull it over in my mind.
You are getting the brand new insight in this blog before I’ve thought it through and rethought it through and rethought it through again. In fact I would welcome your input into what I write so that I can include your thoughts in my processing. If you have a few minutes to spare after you read this, I would love it if you would share those thoughts with me.
Incidentally the book that I was reading is one of the best books on leadership that I have read. It is written by Jim Collins and entitled Good To Great. It is a book on business written for business people but filled with amazing insights. Actually I was rereading it for the third time which tells you what I think of it.
The wrong question
For the past thirty or forty years people in small churches have been told that the most important question that they can ask is: What do we need to do in order to experience significant numerical growth? Churches have been told that it is God’s will that every church grow numerically and therefore those churches that aren’t growing are out of God’s will.
There are several problems with this.
The first is that it simply isn’t true. While it is part of God’s plan that churches be involved in evangelism, there is nothing in the New Testament to suggest that numerical growth is God’s plan for every individual church.
Second, it hasn’t worked. There are still about 8000 small evangelical churches in Canada. Percentage wise the number of small churches hasn’t change in the past forty years. The focus on numerical growth has not accomplished what it set out to accomplish.
Third, it has resulted in more churches becoming self-absorbed. When the focus is on how we can attract people to our church, there is a great danger that we will become focused only on our church. Most of the numerical growth that churches have experienced has come at the expense of another church. This is just as true of the large churches as it is of the small ones. Too often churches grow because there is pain in another part of the body.
What bothers me is that most churches not only don’t care that this is happening, they are excited about the fact that they are growing. What really bothers me is that I was just as excited as anyone else when new people used to come to the church that I served.
Four, most pastors in small churches don’t have the kind of leadership gifts that are required to grow a church numerically. Most pastors are pastors not CEOs. I once heard this statement in a sermon and have never forgotten it.
Real fulfillment never comes from a me-first mindset. Real fulfillment comes from faithful service to God and humble service to people.
That is one of the best definitions of a true pastor that I have ever heard. She is someone who faithfully serves God and humbly serves people. God has given great leadership gifts to a few of his people but most of us are just ordinary. Most pastors are pastors, faithfully serving God and humbly serving people. There have been far too many pastors who have been hurt because they aren’t CEOs and they don’t have the gifts required to serve a large growing church.
Asking the right question
So, if how we grow numerically is the wrong question, what is the right question.
If you read my blog regularly and amazingly some of you do, what I am about to share won’t seem all that new because I have said it numerous times before. What struck me as new, was the fact that I realized that this needs to be the one crucial question that we ask. After keeping you in suspense for the first two-thirds of this blog, here is the question:
How do we, as we are right now, make an impact for God and in the lives of people?
How do we, with the people that attend right now, make an impact? The question is not how can we when we have more people down the road make an impact. How do we with the people who attend right now make an impact?
How do we, with the building that we are in, make an impact? Not what could we do with better facilities but how can we make an impact with the facilities we already have.
How do we, with our present budget, make an impact? Not what could we do if we had more money but what can we do with the money that we have.
How do we, with our present leadership, make an impact? Not what could we do if we only had a charismatic leader who would attract more people but what can we do with our current pastor and leadership board.
How do we, with our present number of children and teenagers, make an impact? Not what can we do to attract more children and teens but what can we do with those already attending.
The final problem with a focus on numerical growth that I will mention is that too often it causes churches to look to the future. When numerical growth happens, just think of all that we will be able to do. We have to increase the numbers so that at some point in the future, we will be able to serve more effectively.
God is concerned with what you are able to do right now. He wants you to have an impact on the people attending your church and on the community in which your church is located and He wants you to have an impact right now.
How can you, as a church, make an impact in people’s lives right now?
That is the question that needs to be asked by every church over and over again.
Yes yes YES!!! I believe this is a great question for everyone to consider!
Ron – I also agree with your insight and find myself truly encouraged and inspired by simply reading your thoughts as you have poured them out in words. I have LONGED for believers everywhere to have more of a “Kingdom” perspective and less of a “local church” perspective. Our focus on our little church groups parallels with our western bent towards valuing “individualism” over “community”. We find it hard to celebrate the success of others who are doing what we are doing because we cannot see ourselves as connected to their success – as players on the same team, as contributors and encouragers to extended family members!! Leaders feel pressured into making sure their little church is “awesome” – making everyone happy because they know that individuals will quickly get up and go elsewhere, not because they have been called by God to serve in a new capacity – but simply because they are discontent with the service they are receiving – with little sense of what it means to persevere and endure, with no vision for the fruit faithfulness has the potential to produce.
So yes Ron – I think you are really on to something signifant in reshaping the main question we should be wrestling with. This said, I do want to comment that, for me, the word “impact” feels a bit cool – and I wonder if that is because it is not a term I use to describe what happens in personal relationships. . I’ve been trying to think of what word I would prefer to use to express this concept of making a positive, life changing difference, and or impression, in our neighbourhoods and communities – but I’m struggling to find a word that I think expresses it clearer. All this to say – “impact” has become a key word for you that expresses your heart and passion – and this might be the perfect word that communicates well for many others of your readers and hearers – but perhaps it is a word that does not hit home in the same way for everyone.