All too often, as a pastor of a small congregation, I hear the drumbeat: “we gotta grow”. Tied to this is that if we are not at some arbitrary number we are not successful. Of course we get this idea from big mega churches and televangelists, but if we look to Scripture we’d be hard pressed to come up with any kind of “theology of growth and success”. In fact if we look to Jesus’ ministry (which I’m not convinced is intended to be a model for how Church looks), we see him going from feeding 5000 men plus women and children (so possibly up to 10,000 people) to 12 in the matter of 1 day.
Yet I would argue that if you look at the whole chapter of John 6, you will actually find what it really means for the church to grow and to be successful: that the Word of God is proclaimed and that disciples believe.
Really, if we want to talk about “growth” we should not start with some obsession with how many butts can fill seats (and subsequently how many of those butts have fat wallets to dole out money), instead we should be concerned with hearing, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting the Word of God. This is the food which sustains and grows the Church.
So what about success? Again, if we look to the numbers game, we should just give up now, as we have been promised people will flock to hear what their itching ears want to hear. Paul describes success in the Church in his inspired instruction to Pastor Timothy: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:1-5).
So are you at a congregation and want to grow and be successful? Gladly hear the Word of God. Encourage your pastor to preach and teach not what your itching ears want to hear, but what the Word of God says. Learn from it. Repent and receive absolution.
Will the numbers come? Maybe… maybe they will get worse. Frankly, that’s up to the Lord. If your congregation is faithful, it is a growing and successful congregation.
Edit: It turns out I’m not the only one saying this: Check out this article from the White Horse Inn - http://www.whitehorseinn.org/blog/2011/08/12/the-business-of-the-church/