Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Guest Post: When Growth is Overrated

When I was in my twenties I met Doug Meye while serving in Vegas. He was leading a church in town and then helped at our church during while we were searching for a lead pastor. Doug became a mentor in my life. He helped me walk through my ministry call. For the last couple years he's been helping us at Coastline in numerous ways. One of those ways in our preaching team. Last month he sent me this article, that he had written. I asked for permission to post here. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.


I was weaned on the Church Growth Movement. As a church planter I counted everyone and everything—children, babies, pets.  Later, when I was no longer able to count people myself, I graphed attendance counts that were turned in weekly hoping to discern telling trends.  You might have guessed--I’m an Enneagram 3. 

I believe growth is good.

But, today, more than ever, I realize that growth doesn’t tell the whole story. In fact, there are times when growth is over-rated.

Growth is over-rated when the people in the church are not growing up in Christ.

Numerical growth is ultimately empty without spiritual growth. 

The pandemic made this very clear. How many times have we heard? “They are gone, and they are not coming back.”

Most of the time, this absence can be traced in some form back to a lack of discipleship. The people came because we worked hard to get them there: flashy sermon series, timely texts, bounce-houses for the kids. 

Now we realize that while people came to our events, their confidence and outlook remained embedded in self, not rooted in Christ. While these people inflated pre-Covid church counts, they are gone today--like “chaff which the wind drives away” (Psalm 1). 

Some churches may have a unique evangelistic calling and capacity. But, when a church “baptizes” someone it also has the responsibility to teach that person “all things Jesus commanded” (Matthew 28:19-20). 

I would not want to be the pastor of a church and tell Jesus, “Discipleship was not our thing!” I afraid Jesus would ask, “What was your thing. I can’t see anything to show for what you did.”

Growth without discipleship will ultimately be exposed for what it is—fluff.

Growth is over-rated when the pastor pays too high of a price.

Most of us are familiar with Peter Scazzero’s story at New Life Church. He talks about it freely in his many helpful books. Lack of boundaries and overwork nearly caused him to lose both his ministry and marriage.

Unfortunately, Peter’s situation is not an isolated one. How many pastors have burned out themselves and burned up their families because they wanted to see their church grow?
Here’s the problem?  A pastor’s long and crazy hours do lead to growth.

And pastors are highly competent people, who are able to juggle the competing demands of a growing church and busy family, until…

They can’t!

Then they become another statistic. Their family becomes another tragic story.

A church will never be healthy in the long run, if the pastor is not healthy today. A healthy pastor recognizes the primary ministry he has to his family. A healthy pastor honors boundaries and limits. A healthy pastor finds his identity in Christ and leaves the growth to God.

Growth is over-rated when the pastor pays too high of a price.

Growth is over-rated when the staff is used, maybe even abused.

Because of their reputation some churches are easily able to attract staff.  Young staff feel honored to be part of these dynamic ministries. 

Unfortunately, the same church which can easily attract staff, may be tempted to easily hurt staff.  

Young staff come to the church because they love Jesus and want to be part of a dynamic ministry. But during their time at the church, they are underpaid, overworked, and never given the promotion promised to them.

These staff members help the church grow. But ultimately these staff are dispensable commodities; after all, the church has the capacity to easily attract new staff.  

Out with the old, in with the new. 

The church continues to grow, but the growth leaves a trail of wounded, disillusioned, angry young men and women who may never want to serve in a church again.  I hear about this way too often!

Those of us in church leadership are called to develop people, not use them. Growth is over-rated when the staff is used, maybe even abused.

Growth is overrated when it comes at the expense of other churches.

Since the days of Rick Warren and the founding of Saddleback, most of us in ministry have targeted the unchurched. We want to reach people who are not part of a local church; even more, who are far from God.

Yet, when it comes right down to it, many of the churches in our country are growing not because they are reaching unchurched people but because they are reaching churched people who are looking for a different ministry. 

This can happen for any number of reasons--some understandable, some regrettable.

While we claim to go after the unchurched, most of us I suspect, feel pretty good about those who come to the churches we pastor from other churches. Not only do they add to our count; they pamper our ego. We interpret their presence to mean, “You lead a better church than the one we left!”

I believe there may be valid reasons for leaving one church for another. I’m not against people attending a church which is good for their family and will truly challenge their growth. 

Let’s call it for what it is—people looking for a different kind of ministry.  And, if we are truly about the Kingdom of God, we will never feel great when our church is growing at the expense of another.

Growth is over-rated when it comes at the expense of another church.

Final Thoughts

I’m not against church growth. Quite the opposite. I pray almost every day that the God will renew His church and cause it to explode with the growth of new disciples who are on fire for Christ. I pray that this growth will happen God’s way in Gods time by God’s Spirit.

Otherwise, the growth may be way over-rated.

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