In setting vision for a Church, should Church leaders talk about numerical growth? I know there are many valid arguments to the contrary but I want to offer 5 reasons why I think Churches are right to plan for growth and set vision towards it.
1/ Number targets help us plan for growth. If we’re all (and not just the core team but everyone in the Church) are thinking about growth we’re planning for it then we won’t drop the ball on leader training. We won’t be distracted by dumb stuff. People will have the tools to process a message the pastor that says, “We have to change aspects of the way we do thngs.”
2/ Number targets help us feel uncomfortable. The great aim I had when teaching was to create classrooms that were at the same time safe but uncomfortable for the students. Safe in that they knew they wouldn’t be lynched if they said something dumb, but uncomfortable in that I would occasionally call on them for answers and so they’d need to be ready.
The same principle works for our churches. One of my favourite things at my Church is the authenticity and safeness that our Church fosters. But safeness and comfortableness are best mates so we’ve got to break that link so people are uneasy with the nature of our community because there are 10 000 x more people outside our community in Newtown who are perishing in their sin. Numbers remind us of our need to introduce more people to the risen Lord Jesus.
3/ Number targets help us celebrate growth. Celebrating achievement isn’t something we’re very good at in Australian culture and this has already permeated into our baby Church. Number targets remind us to take stock of our growth and celebrate it.
4/ Number targets are a quantifiable goal. The natural tension with a Church vision document is to want to promote ethereal targets, like growth in godliness yet at the same time recognising that this is difficult to demonstrate on a pie-chart. If anything, because of our individual sinfulness it becomes really difficult to measure corporate godliness.
So you might say, “well if that’s the case so be it! We don’t need goals that can be quantified”. I would suggest that throws the baby out with the bathwater.
The thing is there are all kinds of things that represent godliness that we can measure. Take marriage as an example. We would all agree that marriage failure represents a godliness deficiency. Over a period of time things that ought to have happened to keep the marriage alive did not happen and so the covenant is broken. So if our church has no divorces by the year’s end then we can be happy about that and call that a godly outcome. If we set a target to have no divorces in our church for one year what would that look like for our programmes? We’d probably have marriage courses, pre-marriage courses, structured mentoring arrangements, we might encourage couples to read and pray together in some structured way, the application in preaching would be targeted. All these programmes and initiatives come out of a numerical target (that target being zero).
With a quantifiable goal like bums on seats what will that mean for our programmes at a Church? More evangelism, more encouragement to be in the community, more social action, more gospel centred preaching, more reflection on reaching the community where they are at. All these things are good things and they flow from a stated aim.
5/ Number targets increase our dependence on God to build his kingdom. But what if the Church doesn’t make it? What if it plateaus? What if we do everything right and there is a ungodly personality clash that splits the church? God is sovereign over everything. He is jealous for His Son and for Him to be glorified. He will be glorified if we succeed or if we fail. If we don’t make it we will all learn to cling to God in his providence.