De-sizing The Church: Integrity Lasts

The Bible constantly calls us to strengthen our integrity. We’re never called to increase our numbers.

Three major church waves have appeared in my lifetime: revivalism, strategizing, and activism.

In the revival era of the 1960s and ’70s my father pastored a Pentecostal church that experienced many legitimate manifestations of spiritual gifts. Meanwhile, in places like New York and California, people like David Wilkerson, Chuck Smith, and John Wimber pastored churches that became touchpoints for entire movements.

Then, in the 1980‒90s, I watched as this wave of revivalism slowly waned, with little remaining aside from controversial niche pockets in places like Brownsville, Florida; Toronto, Canada; London England; and Redding, California.

(This article is adapted from De-Sizing the Church: How Church Growth Became a Science, Then an Obsession, and What’s Next, Chapter 12: Integrity Is the New Competence, available now.)

As revivalism ebbed, strategizing rose. From the 1980s through the 2000s, pastors such as Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and Andy Stanley led churches that became massive congregations. They wrote books and held conferences to tell thousands of pastors about the strategies they used to create an environment in which massive growth could occur.

Leadership became the buzzword as pastors looked to innovators and entrepreneurs, both inside and outside the church, for ways to create a better church culture, lead change, and cast a compelling vision.

Then, in the 2010s and 2020s, activism came in like a rocket on steroids. From the Tea Party and Make America Great Again on the right, to Black Lives Matter and the LGBTQ movement on the left, activists started demanding that their pastor pick a side and fly their (literal) flag or pay the consequences and be canceled.

Certainly, all three of these waves are always present. And, depending on where you live and how old you are, you may have experienced them in very different ways, at different extremes, and in different eras than I did. But if you look back through church history, these three waves, revivalism, strategizing, and activism are always rising and ebbing among us. It can be very confusing and exhausting, especially when you’re unaware of them.

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Revivalist, Strategist, Or Activist?

We all have a tendency toward one of these waves.

  • Revivalist pastors pray for an outpouring of spiritual fervor.
  • Strategists (my default) read, study, and experiment with new ideas, in search of better ways to do church.
  • Activists want a cause to believe in.

But they all have one thing in common: the success of their viewpoint is always confirmed by numbers.

  • The revivalist points to how many people have been attending services and how many days, weeks, months, or years it’s been ongoing.
  • The strategist plots everything on spreadsheets to assess, adjust, and confirm their results.
  • The activist wants to recruit everyone to their cause so they can vote in greater numbers than their opposition.

So, what’s the answer? Do we need a new revival? Yes. Better strategies? For sure. Passion for important causes? Absolutely. But they all pale when compared to one aspect of life that provides the foundation on which anything of lasting value is built.


Underlying Integrity

Integrity is not a wave. It’s not trendy. And it needs no numerical validation.

Revivalism cools. Strategies change. Activism burns out. Integrity lasts.

But what is integrity?

Simply put, when someone is living with integrity, their everyday behavior matches their highest ideals.

No one but Jesus ever lived that way, of course. But when Jesus called us to follow Him, integrity was at the core of that calling.

We see calls to integrity all over the Bible:

  • I beg you to live lives worthy of your high calling. (Eph 4:1)
  • Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Cor 11:1)
  • Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. (Luke 16:10)
  • Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do, yet fails to do it, is guilty of sin. (James 4:17)
  • Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)

Fascinatingly, we don’t see any such biblical calls for numerical increase. There are more than occasional mentions of numbers and counting, but there’s never a call to increase them.

We’re constantly called to strengthen our integrity. We’re never called to increase our numbers.

The base word of integrity is integer. In mathematics, an integer means a whole number. In life, integrity means a whole person.

God has called us to be people of integrity for our own good as well as to honor the one in whose image we have been created.

(This article is adapted from De-Sizing the Church: How Church Growth Became a Science, Then an Obsession, and What’s Next, Chapter 12: Integrity Is the New Competence, available now.)


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