I recently wrote an article for the Christian Standard, a church magazine affiliated with my Restoration Movement religious tradition, entitled Counting Sheep. The point of the article is that churches should beware of only using worship attendance as a measure of success. Since it's written in a more authoritative tone, I thought I'd go a little further here explaining why I wrote the article in first place. I've always been inquisitive and find myself continually questioning why things are done in a certain way. I'm not sure it's merely due to my rebellious nature; I'm not just trying to question authority. It's just that too many times we assume that certain principles are universal, rather than just contextual. And if our rubric is skewed, we'll never arrive at a truly healthy place.
This is my critique of the church growth movement: it was born out of an American post World War 2 society where unchurched people were looking to establish a faith foundation. It was appropriate to rely on a body count at the time, when people were coming to church for the first time. Now, almost three generations later, the nation's percentage of Christians is in steep decline. Churches are finding it more and more difficult to reach the growing unchurched population, so we find ourselves in direct competition with other churches to attract consumeristically-minded believers.
It makes sense. This culture lends itself to larger and larger congregations and everyone wants to be a part of something successful. And the numbers are amazing. Just twenty years ago, a church of 7,000 was absolutely prolific. Now, there are more than 70 churches in the United States with over 10,000 people in attendance a week. As a result, systems enabling such large structures are becoming the norm among church practitioners. But if you question why we want churches to grow this large, the undeniable answer has been to claim that it's biblical.
And that was the major issue I wanted to deconstruct: I truly believe that church size is not a biblical issue. It is well within the parameters of biblical permission to have a very small church or a very large church. But using the Bible to suggest that we MUST have large churches is poor hermeneutic and, perhaps, an abuse of Scripture. There are many things that we do in the church that have no prooftext. We shouldn't assume to pull out some Bible verses to try to deflect criticism. What I hope happens is that, as our churches grow, we continue to ask ourselves if our growth is truly healthy.
In the article, I mention that part of my arrival to this position is what I've experienced this with Echo. I've been blessed to see some amazing things in our congregation, things absent in all of my previous ministries. I'm not trying to insult those churches, as all of them were numerically superior than Echo is. But if I held to only a quantitative formula of success, we would have shut this thing down a long time ago.
And my fear as that other church leaders will not be as discerning as they do ministry. But pastors' egos are a fragile thing; if they don't see an assumed yield, they could easily interpret it as a failed calling. So it's critical that we identify this well. Not every congregation will experience phenomenal growth, but that doesn't make it any less significant.
So this article wasn't bathed in bitterness, but motivated by hope and encouragement. I hope all believers can take pride in their congregation, no matter how big or small. There's plenty of room in the kingdom for all of us.