I think it is time for a new scorecard for success.
When we focus mostly on attendance growth we are missing the mark in assessing faithfulness to the call and purpose of God.
When the pastors on conference stages and magazine covers are always the ones with the biggest and fastest growing churches something is missing. …
We are focusing on who can grow the biggest tree rather than pooling our resources to cultivate a healthy Kingdom orchard.
Surratt opens his eBook by telling a little of his background. He’s been a lead or staff pastor in churches of all sizes, including the dual dynamos of Saddleback Church (as an associate) and Seacoast Church (as lead pastor). He is now the director of Exponential. and calls himself “a freelance Church Catalyst and Encourager.”
Surrat says he became disillusioned with the constant drive for bigger. “…along the way I realized that while rapid growth was thrilling there seemed to be no destination.”
He acknowledges that this destination-less, push for more is a hard problem to overcome, because “The idea of numerical growth being the major measure of success is deeply baked into our culture.”
So what is the answer? According to Surratt, “I believe we need a major paradigm shift … every church has a lifecycle of increase and decline … We need to stop emphasizing the tree and begin looking at the orchard.”
The Orchard is Bigger Than My Tree
The anchor for Surratt’s book is a parable about two men, one who cared for a single tree, the other who cultivated an orchard. The tree symbolizing a single church, the orchard being the entire church.
“…as church leaders, that’s exactly what we do. We focus our whole ministry on growing one church. … In the end, however, focusing on a single church often leads to disappointment.”
In case you think Surratt uses this parable to push us all to be spiritual Johnny Appleseeds, planting churches as the new measure of success, that’s not where he goes. Instead, he acknowledges that, because we all have different gifts, we all have different parts to play in the orchard. “While every church can be involved in orchard work, not every church can or should be planting churches.”
His book is simply a call to find our part in the church Jesus is building (or the orchard Jesus is growing) instead of having a narrow “my church only” focus.
Small is not a Sin
What may be Surratt’s boldest statement in the book is one that I almost literally stood and applauded when I read it. (The emphasis is mine, not his):
An assumption in the American church is that healthy churches always grow. … To admit your church has stopped growing, or even declined in attendance is akin to confessing sin. The reality is that American churches tend to sustain steady growth for about 15 years and then attendance either levels off or declines.
Wow. Did you catch that? Small is not a sin.
To that, I have just one thing to say. On behalf of myself and Small Church pastors everywhere.
Thank you, Geoff.
OK, I have a second thing to say. Get this book.
The great news is, it won’t break the bank, because the book is FREE! Just click this link to go to Exponential.org. All Geoff asks is that you Like his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter and subscribe to his newsletter, and the book is yours – all of which you can do from the book’s sign-in page. Obviously, he’s using the giveaway to build up his subscriber list. That’s a fair trade. Everybody wins.
You can also sign up for the Measuring the Orchard Facebook page and get in on a conversation about these important principles. I joined last week.
The book itself is a bit rough around the edges editorially, but not overly so. A bit like reading a really long blogpost. But Surratt admits this was a quick writing job. He even asks his readers to “…consider this a rough draft. You will likely find mistakes, inconsistencies and possibly outright lies along the way.” (I found a few of the first two, but not the third.)
Surratt also walks his readers through some of the stages churches will experience as they mature in ministry, and other helpful tips for churches of all sizes.
I highly recommend this book. It is a breath of fresh air from a church leader whose heart is for churches of all sizes and for every part of the body of Christ. It deserves to be a part of the conversation.
So what do you think? Does Geoff have it right? Is it time for a new way to define success and look beyond our own tree into God’s orchard?”
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