It has been fascinating hearing the questions I have gotten over the past year since my wife and I decided to embark on a new adventure of church planting with some friends. It has reminded me, not only of how much my heart and soul has changed over the last few years, but how segments of the general evangelical public views the church in America and what we think is important.
At first I was a bit surprised that just about every question I fielded regarding the church related either to, “how many people come?” or “is it growing?” After a handful of months, my surprise has turned from astonishment to sadness.
Please forgive me for some forthcoming, fairly broad, sweeping generalizations (who doesn’t love those 🙂 ) as I know, obviously, that this isn’t true of everyone….but ,some of the foundation of segments of the modern American Evangelical church is about building something not being something. Or in the words of Charlie Sheen, it’s about winning. Our local NFL team’s motto is “Bigger, Better, Faster, Stronger” and in many respects this has been co-opted by the American Church.
The vast majority of pastors I talk to spend most of their time devising and designing ways to “build” and “grow” their organization and move from one growth barrier to the next. The meetings revolve around money, staff, branding, growth, marketing, and communications. The desire to grow and build becomes the consuming thought and desire, and moves the pastor into the CEO role, and because the church has gotten fairly decent at marketing, branding, growing, etc, it means that more time is then spent on maintaining the growth that occurred because of the things just mentioned.
I know this because I was one of those pastors. I used to think, wrongly, that my job was to build a community versus be a community (and no question, I still wrestle with the temptation to build a tower to myself). Thankfully, over the years my eyes have been opened to the insidious desire we have to build something that we can point to and others can point to. I think that’s partially why so many “lay” people ask me how big our church is, or if it’s growing as we want to be apart of something that looks or appears to be “successful”. We want to be on winning teams. Also, we falsely believe that the point of the church is for it to grow numerically.
Is growing numerically wrong? Of course not. However, it should be something that isn’t incessantly strategized on, consumed with, marketed to get, as that becomes the aim and focus rather than what we’re called to be as Christians. To be a community.
A Christian is a witness to a sign that God hasn’t abandoned the world. Our communities of faith are to be a faithful presence to those in our church, neighborhoods and city. To faithfully serve the needy and the hurting, and point to the scandalous grace that is presented to each of us in Jesus Christ. We are called to, simply, observe the sacraments, meet together, bear each other’s burdens, break bread, preach the Gospel, take care of the poor, and let God be worried about how many people are coming.
I’ve heard some say that a church of 20 people doing the above is a failure. It is not. It’s a beautiful picture of the body of Christ living out our days here as salt and light, and being the hands and feet of Jesus to one another and to our cities.