Market share, brand loyalty, followers, subscribers – there is the constant push for more and more and more and more. It seems that everyone wants you (sort of). In our work of beginning a new church in Worcester I think a lot about growth and the tensions of the right ends, healthy means, and appropriate expectations.
The Right Ends Early in the 1950’s there were outbreaks of polio which affected ~80,000 children. Life long disability, paralysis and death were potential consequences. There was an incredible push to develop a vaccine and when it was found safe there was the first instance of mass inoculations. On the opposite end of the spectrum I think of a celebrity trying to expand their following on twitter or some other form of social media. When speaking of adding people to the church people’s response will depend on whether they think of the Christian faith as similar to the polio vaccine or the celebrity gaining a following or the company looking for more consumers. As a minister, and even as a participant in a church there can be all sorts of mixed motives for adding people but the solution is not to give up on growth. I think of the Peter’s words to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” We need to search our hearts and ask God for truer motivations that reflect his love for a world that is sick within.
Healthy Means: Do I believe in conversion to the Christian faith? Do I believe in the complete change of a persons’s life originating from faith in Jesus Christ? There is ample evidence of it happening , Jesus says it is a reality – necessary for knowing God, and it happened to me. It is easy for churches to shuffle around people from one congregation to another, thinking this is growth. While this is an inevitable part of “adding” people, it is important to ask what, if any, percentage comes from real conversion. If five years down the road God has used us to begin a church in Worcester but there is little growth by conversion, what have we done? Have we truly added? If it is merely followers of a celebrity, consumers of a product, or membership in an institution the question of true addition (conversion) doesn’t matter. However, if adding to the church is like the vaccine we can strive for nothing less than the conversion of many. What are the best means to pursue this addition? We’re thinking. Each of us has a network of relationships and we must each pray for God to work within these and seek to share the gospel. On the other hand we need an avenue for a regular ministry where we can begin with people knowing we are Christians and having the message of Jesus up front. In all this we know that new life only comes from God but that he uses people. So we are praying and thinking.
Expectations If there really is a God who is full of love and power and actually works in this world, our expectations should be high On the other hand, God does not seem to do things the way we would expect (Jesus dying on a cross for example) and plainly says that many will reject Christ. What are my expectations for “adding people?” In the book of Acts we see the refrain…
And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. – chapter 4 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women – ch. 5 And a great many people were added to the Lord. -ch. 11 and more
At different times and places the rate at which God adds people to his church varies. This seems to be a reflection of both his plans and the faithfulness of his people. But what expectations should we have? Are there specific goals or numbers for which we strive? I heard a helpful distinction between goals and desires in church planting. Goals are things we can accomplish whereas desires are things only God can do. So I think our goal could be sharing the gospel with a certain amount of people or having ongoing evangelistic activities whereas our desire would be to see are certain number or percentage of people converted within a specific time frame. What is my desire then? Is it two people a year? Ten? How about 8% of attendees and with an annual increase of .5%? Again, I think of the polio vaccine and the needs of the city of Worcester and know that my desires need to grow. While there is an immediate, desperate need, I also know that important things take time. What does it mean to set my expectations towards a longer horizon looking for growth today but especially over 10-20 years?