During the 1970’s and 1980’s, the church growth movement was hitting its stride. For the uninitiated, the CGM was an organized approach of studying the characteristics of churches that were experiencing noticeable numerical growth…and developing principles that any church could adopt and experience similar growth.
Components such as vision, mission, goals, objectives, programming, budget, hiring practices, leadership and the like, became the staple subjects of study. Surveys and statistical analysis and marketing and development were the cornerstones of the movement. The pastor role was redefined by the corporate model. He was no longer the minister. He was the CEO.
I studied church growth as a discipline. I have a master’s degree in it, for crying out loud. Church growth became both the goal and the method.
And somewhere along the line, I stopped buying what was being sold.
The science of church growth says if all of these certain components of church life are aligned properly, growth in numbers should, and most likely will, happen. And when it doesn’t grow, the assumption is the church has violated (knowingly or unknowingly) one or more of the strategic principles of church growth.
Or could it be that God has just designed certain churches to remain smaller for a strategic ministry purpose?
The truth is, the way we (North Point) operate as a church family probably has a certain built-in lid on growth…how we act, who we connect with, how we operate, how we govern, how we structure and program, how we budget. It is both intentional and a reflection of the personality and character of our family.
The majority of people who make up our framily are drawn to the lack of structure and the absence of hyper-programming…two of the critical principles of church growth. If we were to adopt a reach as many as possible – as soon as possible mentality of how we do church (and the systems and methods that generally go along with it), we would cease to be who we are.
Many people simply don’t live out their faith that way. I’m pretty sure our family would undergo a complete change, if we made the shift to the style and structure that demands getting bigger as a first priority.
Our singular focus, as a church family, is not to reach as many as possible as soon as possible. I believe numerical growth is certainly part of the overall focus or mission of the church, as a whole. But it is not necessarily the singular calling or design of each local family unit.
I believe it is absolutely essential for some expressions of the Body of Christ to function at a smaller level, in order to reach those who cannot or will not connect to the style or personality generally associated with something larger. And this seems to be happening more and more often.
I believe that North Point (and the myriad of other smaller, flexible, stealthy, unencumbered local church families around the world), are, in fact, partners in the greater mission of reaching as many as possible, just as much as the church that intentionally programs to get big quickly. And the numbers bear this out.
Look, there are things you can do on a jet ski that you simply can’t do on a luxury yacht, no matter how hard you try! Hey…I even miss some of the amenities I used to have on the yacht, back in the day.
In spite of what all the “leadership experts” say, growth is impossible to predict. Sometimes it happens despite our failures. Sometimes it happens when we aren’t looking and planning for it. Sometimes it doesn’t happen, even though you’ve followed the playbook, down to every detail. Maybe it’s just my rebellious attitude or the fact I am a natural skeptic, but I’ll probably always believe church growth is more of a mystery than a science.
If you are interested in being part of a growing network of people who see and appreciate the value of smaller churches in the Kingdom, here is a great blog for you to follow. Great ideas. Great encouragement. Check it out: