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Here is a bracing article by Tim Suttle entitled “How to Shrink Your Church.” This is how it begins:
“Pastors and churches spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year attending conferences, buying books, hiring consultants, advertisers and marketers, all to try and accomplish one thing: to increase attendance — to be a bigger church.
I’m absolutely convinced this is the wrong tack.”
Suttle then delivers a critique of churches that pursue success defined as “getting bigger,” instead of faithfulness to the Lord who calls us to take up the cross. Instead of heeding the call to die and rise with Christ, instead of laying down the church’s life for the sake of a lost and hurting world, churchgoers focus on having a great church experience while their leaders pursue what “works” in pursuit of the goal of getting bigger.
When Suttle’s own numerically successful congregation began focusing on taking up the cross, it got smaller. He writes, “Convincing the church she does not exist for the benefit of her members, but for the life of the world is a bad church growth strategy. It’s also exactly what the church must do. It’s a tough sell because crucifixion seems like a losing strategy unless you believe in the resurrection.”
What a challenge! Sounds a bit like Gideon’s shrinking army–see Judges 6-8.
My take on this? Well, while we might not necessarily be called to get literally smaller, we must decrease so that Christ might increase, to use the words of John the Baptist.
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Every year when we prepare our congregation’s statistical report, I find myself wishing that there was a way to report what is actually happening in the church. The report looks for numbers, and most of what happens at Morton isn’t quantifiable. I suppose we could try to estimate “number of sick people prayed for,” or “number reporting a deepened prayer life.”
In a recent post, Presbyterian minister Adam Copeland reflects on the “Online Dashboard” initiated by Bishop Will Willimon of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church. Every Monday pastors report in statistics of various kinds from their congregations. Check out his post if you want to know more and follow the links.
What interested me most are Copeland’s suggestions for alternative “dashboard” questions:
Alternative Questions for the Conference Dashboards
- For how many of your enemies did you pray in the last week?
- How many times did you push yourself to an uncomfortable place for Jesus’ sake?
- How often did you find yourself closed-off to the Spirit doing a new thing?
- How many Bibles have you worn out from study?
- How often did you pray your Facebook feed?
- How often do you respond to a sermon with a specific question or action?
- Is your faith static, or are you pushing for new ideas, new activities, new insights of the Spirit?
- How often did you make numbers and statistics your idol?
- To how many people did you show and tell that Jesus Christ is Lord?
What questions would you suggest for “measuring” congregational life?
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Landon Whitsitt is a Presbyterian pastor in Missouri and current Vice-Moderator of the PC(USA) General Assembly. He definitely has a way with words, both written and spoken. His blog is The Metanoia Project. Here he is in a bracing YouTube video about church growth with an interesting twist for Jesus’ disciples in small congregations: Mission: Metanoia – Church Growth. “Chill out!”
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