Church Growth Exhaustion

The exhaustion of church growth.

Rob Grayson, over on his excellent blog Faith Meets World, wrote a post a few years ago about church growth. 

It reminded me of my own story. 

In my first church I was employed by them as an evangelist, with the purpose of helping the church achieve its vision of growing by forty new members over the next three years. 

As the days turn to weeks into years, this vision, that people believe is from God, becomes a weight around the neck. 

As the vison becomes ever more unrealistic with the passing of time, so increases the inner turmoil as your plead with God to fulfill the vison that we honestly believe he gave us. So you pray, and fast, and repent, and read, and pray, and plead, and fast. You believe you need more faith, that you need to pray more, that you need to trust God more, and so you wrestle and struggle and find your faith takes a battering because with all your effort the vision still remains a distant unrealised goal.

So the problem must be sin.

Paranoia, calling out people for their lifestyles, ‘prophetic words’ disclosing sin, more fasting to expose sin and gain forgiveness. 

Then comes the spiritual warfare. 

Praying over the church buildings, casting out demons, speaking against the enemy.

And so it goes on.

Every person within the church is implored to get behind the vison, to go out and get people to come to church, made to feel guilty if they don’t get involved; these people are nothing but resources for the attainment of the vision.

And those beyond the church are targets, nothing more. They serve only to make the ‘vision’ a reality. 

With every stage and step, humanity is sacrificed on the alter and idol of the vision.

It is exhausting.

It’s exhausting because ‘God’ is never satisfied.

It’s exhausting because you are never good enough.

It’s exhausting because the vison will never happen.

The pursuit of the ‘vision’, the obsession with church growth and numbers leads directly to the loss of theological, spiritual and relational depth. The character and nature of God no longer matters, serious theological thinking no longer matters, depth of biblical insight no longer matters; the vison is the goal. The church gets bound up in ‘a culture of growth’ language, whereby everyone had to be pulling together, with the church creating the kind of community that ‘enables growth’, whatever the hell that even means; I suspect it means, ‘don’t question the leadership, get behind the vison, think the same.’ Theology is sacrificed for pragmatism as everything is filtered through the idol of church growth. Spirituality is sacrificed for manipulation as we lay ourselves on the alter of the vison. 

Pastors and churches need to throw away all church growth vison strategies, they need to stop and look at the people they sit with each week in church, hear their stories, hear how they are, speak authentically together, and take notice of God’s Spirit in their midst through their relationships. 

In the awakening to their relationships they will recognise God’s voice, the Word of Jesus declaring love and life, that God is discovered most in the depth of Unconditionality. 

It will awaken the church to the people of their communities, people not targets or projects, but a diverse common humanity, loved and graced. 

It will awaken the church to our own relationships in need of healing, those whom we sacrificed to the god of exchange, those who we rejected, hurt, or have struggled to forgive. 

As we become aware of the person before us, we become aware of the God within us, and thus the community around us. And in doing so we long for depth of love, not an unattainable vision that leads to exhaustion and guilt and pain. 

Pastors and churches have been brutalised by the idol of church growth, with many a testimony of how one way or another it destroyed faith and relationships. It is time we smashed the idol and pursued a better Way, the Way of Jesus of Nazareth who simply says, “Follow me.”


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