Changing Up The Priorities
"Go ye therefore into all the world, making more church members who will then make a pledge and prop up your church budget so you can be church in the manner to which you’ve become accustomed."
Said no one in the Bible, ever.
Transformed people and vitalized spirituality
Your church’s real marketing
Everything else is window dressing
End of story
Mark’s Facebook Post, May 31
There it was again….our unhealthy relationship with the numbers. I received an email from a pastor who described a recent conversation in a committee meeting. Their finances are drooping, catching their attention, requiring some kind of action. This committee was in agreement about the solution…reach more people; boosting their attendance and thereby their giving.
An unintentional consequence of the big boom in church growth from 1950-1985 in this USA is the current preoccupation with organizational development. So many have come to believe that our role as faithful church members is to keep the numbers up. Unfortunately, over time, maintaining our institutional strength becomes our motivation for reaching out to people who are not involved in a church. We want them for what they can do for us…build our numbers. We grow focused on building our organization rather than loving people like Jesus does. Is this what Jesus commanded us to do? Does this reflect the spirit of the gospel; using others to meet the needs of our institution? "Go ye therefore into all the world, making more church members who will then make a pledge and prop up your church budget so you can be church in the manner to which you’ve become accustomed."
-Said no one in the Bible, ever.
Obviously we need a healthier relationship with numbers in order to become our best selves as churches. I’m hopeful this article series has provided discussion starters for your church, initiating honest reflection and dialogue about your relationship with your mission and metrics. Honest engagement of this issue leads to the “now what?” question, with the following three recommendations for you to consider.
When we experience numerical growth, look for the spiritual reality to which it points.
Not all numerical growth is a sign of spiritual vitality or transformed lives. Sometimes churches are simply in the right place at the right time. On the other hand, numerical growth often accompanies spiritual movements. So when more people want to be a part of your church, explore what that’s about. You will likely discover where the energy is rising or transformation is occurring. This is great direction for leadership, positioning you to recognize your contribution to this progress. What’s your contribution to the spiritual movement occurring in your church? How can you do more of that? What’s your next step toward strengthening or expanding your contribution? When you discover what’s working well, directly and unreservedly do more of that.
When we experience numerical decline, courageously ask the necessary questions.
Not all numerical decline is a sign of spiritual bareness. Sometimes taking a stand for justice or pursuing a more robust faith influences people to abandon a church. Sometimes churches are in numerically declining communities where people are moving away at a frantic pace. Yet, these are the exceptions. More often numerical decline comes when our passion fades, our spirituality lacks vitality, people are not being transformed, or our way of being church is far removed from the way people in our community live. When our numbers decline, the temptation is to deny or blame as quickly as possible, absolving ourselves of responsibility. Instead, let’s make the courageous choice, exploring the meaning of the decline. Remembering that God is for us and not against us, as simple as that sounds, can boost our courage to directly face reality. Honest inquiry leads to insights which then provide the basis for action, when we are ready and willing.
We must constantly remind ourselves of what we are pursuing; life transformation and genuine spiritual engagement.
As noted in this article series, our tendency is to lapse into organizational development, focusing on the numbers (easier). Most everything in our world encourages and influences us to pursue numerical growth over the more substantive matters of our faith journeys; a direct route to spiritual bankruptcy. We must constantly refocus ourselves on the life-giving good news of the gospel, resisting the allure of “bigger is better” thinking. We want to participate with God’s transformation of the world; with our church partnering with God toward that end. Numbers are simply another sign post, pointing to something larger and better than themselves. Let’s not mistake the sign post for the real experience of encountering the Lord our God.