A friend of mine pastors a wonderfully healthy Small Church.
One of the ministries they have invested in is a partnership with a nearby halfway house for men who have recently come off of drug and/or alcohol dependency. Each week, faithful church members drive 8-10 of these men to and from church.
The people in the church invite these recovering addicts in with open arms and hearts. They befriend them in many ways, including inviting them into their homes for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Through this church, these men receive tangible evidence of the love of Christ during a particularly difficult time of their lives. Many of them come to faith in Christ.
This wonderful, Jesus-style ministry to “the least of these” is just one evidence of the compassion, health and outward-reaching attitude of this great church.
But the loving care they’re showing towards these men has not and probably will never add one single permanent member to the rolls of their church. And it certainly doesn’t add to their financial bottom line.
After all, this is a temporary home for men who have nothing – literally nothing – but the clothes on their backs. When they’re done with this stage of their sobriety, they move away.
This church invests significant amounts of time, friendship, money and other resources into people who will never be able to give anything back to their church – not even to their permanent attendance numbers. But they do it anyway.
That’s a healthy church.
But Doesn’t a Healthy Ministry Mean a Growing Church?
But, wait a minute! I thought all healthy churches grow, don’t they?
As I’ve outlined in these previous posts
- We Followed the Steps – Where’s the Church Growth?
- Growing a Bigger Congregation Is Hard, Rare and [Gasp!] NOT a Biblical Mandate
- The Myth of Inevitable Church Growth
Numerical church growth is not an inevitable byproduct of a healthy congregation.
There are many healthy churches all over the world like my friend’s church. They invest in people who will never add to the church’s numerical or financial growth. But they are adding to the growth of the kingdom of God.
It’s not that small or large churches are better or worse. Or that churches with such selfless ministries can’t grow. Of course they can. Many do.
My point is simple, but since it’s so counter-intuitive, I’ll repeat it. Numerical growth is not an inevitable byproduct of a healthy congregation.
The key word in that sentence is “inevitable”.
Sure, there are a lot of numerically growing churches engaging in those kinds of selfless ministries. But church growth is not just the result of healthy ministry. As I’ve written about in my post, Why Some Great Churches Grow Big, But Most Don’t, there are two lists. One list for a healthy church (the Great Commandment and the Great Commission), and one for individual congregational growth, (a long list that includes items like a large donor base, available land, religious freedom, etc.).
Every church can and should do the two items on the first list. Large, healthy, numerically growing churches are doing the things on both lists.
But many churches don’t have some of the assets on the second list. Or they may be called to ministry where the ground is hard. All they have is a group of people with willing hearts to meet the needs of people who will never be able to pay them back.
A Song for the Unsung
No, this is not being offered as an excuse for not doing everything we can for church growth. In case I haven’t mentioned enough previous posts yet [sigh], I’ve dismissed such no-growth excuses regularly in posts such as, Small Churches Are Not a Problem, a Virtue or an Excuse.
But if you’re pastoring a healthy church that isn’t seeing the numerical growth you expected, hold your head high. Many great churches that are meeting real needs will never see the numerical growth that we’ve been told is inevitable. Lack of numerical growth is not the universal sign of ill-health we’ve been told it is.
Healthy Small Churches should never be second-guessed for their lack of numerical “success”.
They should not be made to feel “less than” for doing thankless ministry.
They should be celebrated.
They should be supported.
They should be honored.
And there should be more of them.