Friday, October 15, 2010

Church Growth: Formulaic or a Good-Enough Formula?

This fall I have been conducting two Church Health Assessments. The upshot of that is that I have been thinking a lot about what contributes to and what detracts from church growth. Our churches are to grow numerically. The Great Commission demands this. You cannot get more numerical than “…make disciples of all nations…” (Mt. 28:19). I always churn a little inside when I hear that a church rationalizes no or low growth. This rationalization is often done in favor of personal spiritual growth, almost as if somehow the two are mutually exclusive.

From my perspective, the only rationale for setting our eyes on or settling for no growth will be the ultimate coming of the kingdom. Until then we should be concerned about church growth, not for the pride of touting our attendance number, but because it is our marching orders from Jesus to make disciples of all nations: everyone, everywhere, for all time until time comes for the fulfillment of the kingdom.

If that is our marching orders, we should also be concerned about how it happens. My thoughts recently have turned to this formula: Church Growth = CH + CR - GB. Of course as soon as you try to use a formula, you open yourself to being accused of making the faux pas of saying that church growth is simply formulaic. It is not. However, it may be convenient to have a Good Enough Formula to challenge our thinking a little.

So what is this Good Enough Formula?

CH is Church Health

There are various definitions of this each of which revolves around Mt 28, Acts 2, and similar NT teaching. Thom Rainer developed a tool called the Church Health Survey that is now administered by Chuck Lawless and The Lawless Group. This measures the church’s perception of the strengths of its worship, evangelism, fellowship, ministry, discipleship, and prayer. Rick Warren in his Purpose Driven model puts prayer in with worship collapsing the categories to five. Finally (although there are others) Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer have recently published Transformational Church, Creating a New Scorecard for Congregations (B&H, 2010). This comes out of a project of LifeWay Research where 7000 churches from 123 denominations were surveyed. The list in this survey has further definitions of evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, and ministry, taking their list to 11 categories of church health.

No matter what tool we use, Scripture gives us both descriptive (historical) and prescriptive (present and future) instruction for the local church.

CR is Cultural Relevance

All the health factors (whether you count 5, 6, or 11) can be in place and if we are not culturally relevant, our churches are not likely to grow. We see this descriptively in John 3 and 4 in the different ways that Jesus spoke to Nicodemus and the woman at the well. We also see it descriptively in Paul’s speech in Acts 17 when he quotes from a non-Christian poet and even the inscription on an altar. He later gives us a blend of descriptive and prescriptive treatment on this in 1 Cor. 9:19-23 where he tells us that he becomes all things to all men that he might win the more for Christ. Our culture gives us an audience for truth when they can relate to us. Culture does not define the message, but it does inform us as to how to package it.

GB is Growth Barriers

Finally, I believe there is still another factor that must be considered for church growth, and that is the removal of growth barriers. Some of those barriers may be our lack of health or our lack of cultural relevance. However, there is more. For some it is the way that we work together (or do not) as a board, staff, and congregation. For others it is a lack of worship, education, or parking space. For still others, it is timidity about financial stewardship or an inability to cast and execute vision. Whatever it is, the barrier has to be removed for growth to occur.

For now, these are good enough thoughts and they help me stay sane.

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