Looking Beyond Just Numerical Church Growth
By: Pr. Matt Richard
There is no doubt about it that most American churches have felt the effects of the church growth movement, the pressure to expand the kingdom by filling the pews with more people through sociological and quantitative methods. While I can commend the Great Commission fervor of the church growth movement, I do wonder if this passion for the numerical expansion of the church has limited and reduced the perspective of church growth to the sphere of measurable statistics within the ‘here and now’? In other words, is church growth merely measured by numerical width or could there be another dimension to church growth that may have been overlooked or depreciated? I believe there is another dimension that is worth our attention.
Several years ago I was out for coffee with a couple, I will call them John and Susan. As we sipped on our coffee together, Susan shared with me the joy that she and John were experiencing in visiting with their son over rich theological subjects such as, baptism and the theology of the cross. This was extremely special to John and Susan because they never had the opportunity to visit about theology and the scriptures with their parents when they were young. These family conversations were something new, something that had not happened within their family heritage before. Otherwise stated, the Word was definitely invading the family lineage.
Now, the reason why I share this story is that it is an example where we do not see a lot of numerical width. Furthermore, their story is not necessarily a profound story of numerical growth that can be measured or statistically analyzed; however, it is an example of a different dimension of growth. It is an example of generational growth.
While numerical church growth generally measures growth in the realm of increased attendance in the here and now (i.e., width), generational growth is typically unmeasurable and often unseen. This generational growth is unmeasurable and often unseen because it is about growth that extends beyond the here and now, it is growth that comes to fruition in future generations (i.e., depth).
In thinking back to John and Susan’s conversations and catechesis of their son, what makes this set of circumstances so powerful is the generational growth that will continue with their descendants. Think about this, literally hundreds of individuals! John and Susan’s future daughter-in-law, their grandchildren, their grandchildren’s families, their great-grandchildren, and so forth will be baptismally regenerated, converted, shaped, and/or formed by the theological truths (i.e. gospel) gifted to their son.
While we can rejoice in the numerical addition of converts to the Christian faith, we can also rejoice in the sometimes unseen and unnoticed work of pastors, parents and churches who are laying the foundations of the Christian faith for the future growth of the church. Clearly church growth is not restricted and limited to just numerical width, but there is another dimension of growth that is found in the catechesis of individuals—catechesis that will carry forth and impact many future generations in the years to come.