A Growing Congregation
Pastor's Monthly Newsletter article for August, 2014
What is a growing Christian congregation? There was a day when that was an easy question to answer. A growing Christian congregation was one where the total number of members increased, the average Sunday worship attendance went up, the budget became larger and the staff expanded. Those were the days when most of our neighbors had church memberships, and in certain instances the stigma of not being a church member kept people connected with us who might not otherwise have chosen to join a church. Any church where the music and preaching was above average was bound to see numerical growth.
In many communities those days are over. The fastest growing category on most religious surveys is “no preference.” There is no longer a significant social stigma associated with not being a church member. In years to come, churches will have a smaller and smaller “market share” from which to draw members. It seems that numerical increases will no longer stand as key measurements of a Christian congregation’s growth.
So what replaces it? That isn’t entirely clear yet. Most “experts” who are studying these issues are still struggling to find ways to describe what the future holds for congregational ministry in the United States. But it has, at least, something to do with a shift from the corporate to the individual. It may well be that a growing Christian congregation in the coming years will be one where its members grow, individually, in faith, hope and love. It may well be that such a congregation is measured not by numbers and percentages, but by the ways in which it helps its participants (1) to be at peace with themselves and their God, (2) to grow in their ability to live a Christ-like life, and (3) to make a difference in their communities.
Obviously, this will be harder to measure than numerical growth – and perhaps that’s O.K. After all, too much focus on measuring is a part of what has turned the Christian church on its head. If we insist on holding to those old ways, we could find ourselves claiming that if we help our participants to grow in faith, hope and love, then our membership will increase, our budget will become larger… The end result would be a congregation still confused about what it means to grow.
I want to suggest that the best way to address this is to continue to work on building habits of discipleship in our lives. As we pray and read Scripture daily, worship weekly, serve the community at least once a month, grow in generosity, and participate in a small group or faith partnership, our congregation may or may not grow numerically, but we will grow in faith, hope and love – and that is what it’s all about.
So keep practicing those habits of discipleship in your lives. And keep praying that God will empower you to grow in faith, hope and love. Let’s help this congregation grow in ways that truly matter.
God’s peace to you all,