"While in many cases, growth can be the byproduct of health and right focus, it is not always the best litmus test."
I’ve always wanted to learn Karate so I could break boards in a ninja-like way (and I realize Ninjas don’t use Karate, but humor the dream of an eight-year-old wimpy kid). There is a helpful Karate principle that appropriately applies to life and ministry. It pertains to the ancient art of breaking boards (very important coming of age moment for young ninjas).
If one is attempting to break through a board and is aiming for a central spot on the board, he will almost always fail. In trying to process the goal, the brain understands the barrier– and the potential pain involved– and the physical reaction is that the ninja stops short of his goal.
In order to successfully break a board, the ninja must aim about 2-3 inches below the board. In so doing, the brain is able to see past the board towards the ultimate goal, and the board naturally breaks in the process.
In recent years, churches in the West have gone through various transformations in their focus and goals. Much has been said both positively and negatively about the Church Growth Movement, and I will publish some further thoughts on that in the coming weeks.
While I do not totally jump on either bandwagon (love or hate), I think two important aspects to keep in mind are the goals of gospel fidelity and propagation.
More importantly: Growth cannot be the final goal.
While in many cases, growth can be the byproduct of health and right focus, it is not always the best litmus test.
I can think of very prominent, self-identified churches with tens of thousands of people coming each week who preach a loose gospel message of happiness, meeting personal needs, and positive-thinking.
Some of those are growing quickly, yet I don’t think their growth is exclusively a sign of the favor of God.
(Side note: most megachurches are more conservative biblically and have a higher level of involvement than smaller churches, but my point is that big is not necessarily more faithful.)
As I stated earlier, gospel fidelity and propagation are the goal and, just as every good ninja knows, when the goal is big enough, breakthrough can happen in the process.
Aiming at the gospel results in men and women being redeemed– receiving new life in Christ– and can bring about Acts 2 movement where the Lord adds daily to the number of those being saved.
It can also bring about alienation, persecution, and even death depending on where the gospel is being preached. The key is aiming at the proper goal and allowing God to determine the numeric outcome of the lives changed.
There seem to be two extremes with proponents and opponents of church growth, however.
One extreme is overly captivated with growth. The other is overly cautious of growth. I don’t think either is the right course of action.
First, some are overly captivated with growth.
One of the problems many have with the Church Growth Movement is that it has made growth the goal. Though fewer churches would identify themselves with the actual movement, they still are enamored with the same thing– growth is their central goal.
Several in the next generation are now seeing some of the problems of that aim and are reacting accordingly. They’re concerned, as am I, with some of the watered-down theology that can be present in the modern-day evangelical machine that can produce growth, but not necessarily the right kind of growth.